Monday, March 14, 2011

The Bataan Death March 102 Km Ultramarathon Experience (Part 1 of 2)

My first BDM 102 experience lasted for all of 17 hours, 49 minutes, and 32 seconds. Truth be told, it was a largely uneventful exercise, which normally would be the case if one would run and walk for almost 18 hours straight. But BDM finishes are destined to be remembered, for one reason or another. Thanks to certain individuals and the crucial roles they played on that fateful Sunday afternoon, this humble BDM finish had a saving grace, and somehow became more memorable than I could have ever imagined.

Last-Minute Hitches

My issues during the days leading up to BDM 102 were well-documented. I developed shin splints on my left leg after the Condura Skyway Marathon on 6 February, which I aggravated by running the second BDM Test Run (52 kms) less than a week later on 12 February. At that point, my body might have already been telling me to ease up a little, and I did not listen. I paid a very steep price as my grotesquely swollen leg kept me off the road for two full weeks. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and physical therapy, I was cleared to resume running five days before BDM. Doc's send-off message for me was, "I'll see you after your ultramarathon." Nice one, doc. Thanks a lot.

The Team

For my first triple-digit distance run, I was going to be back-stopped by a lean and mean support crew: old reliable Mang Laynes, our family driver who was with me for the two BDM test runs, and my wife Bam, whose extensive running credentials consist of a 3k run at last year's Globe Run for Home. That was it. I was confident that I could survive BDM with just the two of them manning my support vehicle. Under the circumstances, Mang Laynes and Bam did a fantastic job. They got me to the finish line in one piece and within the 18-hour cut-off...with a little help from some friends. More on this later.

We hied off to Mariveles at 3:45 in the afternoon of Saturday, 5 March. 

Km 0 to Km 50

By 8:45 p.m., we were at Km 0 in Mariveles, Bataan. The atmosphere was festive. Runners of all shapes and sizes - all very serious ones - milled around and mingled with family, friends, and fellow runners. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced at the starting line of an over-priced and commercialized half-marathon at the Fort. There was an unmistakable air of competition that night, but there also was an undeniable feeling of camaraderie. No wonder ultramarathoners keep on coming back for more. I was getting an education in Ultramarathon 101 right there and then, and I gladly soaked in every single moment.  

With an hour to kill before gun start (only, there was no gun), I had time to do a bit of stretching here...

... and pose for posterity there.

A brief program followed - the singing of three national anthems (US, Japan, Philippines), an invocation by Tess Geddes (grand daughter of a true Death March survivor, and who would eventually make it to the finish line four minutes ahead of me), and finally a few words from the patriarch of local ultra running, Sir Jovie, good old BR, the Race Director.

At exactly 10:10 p.m., BR sent us off with a countdown. No fireworks, no music blaring from speakers, no fancy LCD screens, no hired pep squads. That was just the way hardened runners - ultramarathoners - liked it. It was just us and our respective support crews, the road, and the elements. And just like that, our trek to the old train station in San Fernando began.

It was a chilly evening - perfect ultramarathon weather. For a while there, I was worried that the rain would not stop, as it was raining for most of our drive from Manila to Bataan. I did not relish the idea of a rainy evening run for several reasons. For one, it would be very cold. Secondly, running in wet shoes and socks could lead to blisters, which could, in turn, make the rest of the run very uncomfortable, or even knock me out of the race. Non-stop rains could also flood the shoulders of Roman Highway, and force us runners to run on the highway itself. That would have been rather dangerous, considering how dark the Bataan evening was.

Fortunately for everyone, the rain stopped. It drizzled from time-to-time but there were no unwanted downpours. The cool draft kept all of us fresh and strong as we ran under the blanket of darkness. The rain also seemed to have kept the stray dogs and drunks off the route, which made for a very peaceful, almost serene, night run. The blinkers and headlamps of runners flickered like fireflies. Convoys of support vehicles traversed the race route and gave us runners a reassuring sense of safety and security. Believe you me - one can never ever experience anything close to the atmosphere that night by running in the big city. Only in Barangay BDM.

Making my way out the Mariveles Ecozone
Still in Mariveles, Bataan
A convoy of support vehicles makes its way out of
the zig-zag path in Mariveles, Km 3++

When I did the first BDM Test Run a few weeks back, I covered the first 50 kilometers in 6:48:28. This time around, my goal was to get to Km 50 in seven hours.  That would mean arriving in Abucay, Bataan at a little past 5 a.m. I could then go on a 20-minute break to have a quick breakfast, stretch, change my shoes, and put on some dry clothing. The plan was to be back on the road by 5:30 a.m. and still have 10 and-a-half hours to cover the remaining 52 kilometers.

Kilometers 1 to 40 were generally problem-free. I was strong all through out and ran without any issues. The recently-injured shin was doing fine and was never bothersome. The cool draft kept me refreshed. I was more or less familiar with the route, having done the first test run just a few weeks back. I was perfectly aware of the critical junctions in Kilometer posts 14, 23, and 32. After getting out of the famed zig-zag stretch in the first six kilometers, I employed a run-walk strategy with an 8:2 ratio - run for eight minutes and brisk walk for two minutes.  For the run segments, I kept an 8 to 8:30 pace, and for the walks, 9:30. For hydration, I turned to water and Pocari, and for nutrition, I had GU gels and bananas at regular intervals. I walked almost all uphills (and there were a lot in the Bataan segment) to conserve my strength. I was being very conservative as I wanted to have enough juice left for the home stretch. The idea was to be fresh at 50.

Everything was going according to plan, and I was right on schedule. However, shortly after clearing Km 40, I started feeling a mild, sharp pain in my right knee every time I pushed off it. The pain was almost negligible at first, but by Km 42, it was becoming too bothersome to ignore. For the first time since clearing Km 7, I was forced to abandon my 8:20 run-walk ratio in favor of a knee-friendly 4:1. The pit stops, too, grew longer. The result was a tough 9-Kilometer stretch that saw me register splits of 11:20, 9:09, 10:16, 13:11, 9:31, 10:57, 10:35, 10:33, and 9:57. Buoyed by thoughts of breakfast and a stool - rest - I was somehow able to pick up the pace at Kms 48 and 49, for splits of 8:48 and 8:32.  I made my last pit stop at Km 48, at which point I told my support vehicle to go ahead to Km 50 and prepare my breakfast.

By the time I finally reached Km 50, it was almost 6 a.m. I was not discouraged, though, because I knew I still made it in good time. Even if I were to slow down tremendously the rest of the way, I was confident that I would still have more than enough time to clear the last 52 kilometers and finish within cut-off.

As the night bled into a new day, I pulled into the plaza in Abucay, Bataan, the site of BDM Kilometer Post 50, to take in some much needed rest and nutrition. At that juncture, I had already been running and walking continuously  for close to eight hours.

Breakfast in Abucay

As soon I reached my support vehicle, a stool was already waiting for me. Man, it felt good to be seated and off my feet after almost eight hours of non-stop running and walking. I immediately took off my shoes (I ran the first 50 kilometers in my Nike Zoom Structure Triax 12) to let my feet breathe. No blisters at all, thanks to the right pair of socks (Nike dri-fit cushioned running socks), band-aids on my big and small toes, and duct tape covering the balls of my feet. Ice packs were immediately strapped to my knees and the lower portion of my shins. I was still feeling strong, and had it not been for my troublesome right knee, I would have made it to Km 50 on schedule, if not sooner.

Breakfast consisted of rice, pork adobo, Spam (regular, not Lite - I needed the sodium), fresh diced fruits (mango, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe), and water. As I wolfed down my meal, the only thing that was going through my mind was whether my right knee would give me a tough time the rest of the way. That would definitely be a problem because a bum knee could force a DNF. I tried my best to perish that thought and instead savored the meal that was my just reward for running through the night.

Breakfast at Km 50

With my crew chief, biggest booster, and No. 1 Fan
Morning had come by the time I finished breakfast. As I rested, other runners were still slowly trickling in for their first extensive rest after running non-stop for over eight hours. The scenes around me were reminiscent of pit stops in F1 races - a runner would come in, and the support crew would immediately work the runner over. Talk about being being spoiled.

Breakfast was followed by some stretching, a wipe-down with ice-cold water to wake up and refresh those tired muscles, a change of shoes (I changed into my  Nike Zoom Structure Triax 14), and slipping into light-colored running attire that would help repel the sun.  After all, it was already well past 6 a.m., and the sun was already up.

Thirty-two minutes after I came in for a brief rest, I was again ready and raring to hit the road, to finish what I started. I had 52 kilometers more to go and a full day of running ahead of me, and I felt strong and rejuvenated. The rest and nutrition lifted my spirits, and I was energetic once again.

Fresh at 50!

I overshot my arrival at Km 50 in Abucay by a little over 40 minutes, and my planned 20-minute rest was extended by more than 10 minutes. By the time I was ready to hit the road again, my Garmin showed that I had already consumed eight hours and 32 minutes. That meant that I still had nine hours and 28 minutes to negotiate the remaining 52 kilometers. I was still confident because, during the second test run, I covered that distance in only seven hours - and that was with an injured shin.

The ride had been smooth thus far. The recently-healed shin felt good and had not given me any problems. The question now is, can my right knee hold up and go the distance? The answer was about to come as the real challenge of BDM 102 began to unfold.


  1. nice first part of the story! very vivid and full of drama. will be waiting for the whole story...may "suspense" pa! parang

  2. ipost ang part2 biliiiiis!!!! :D


  3. @ Sir Jovie - Thank you, sir. BDM won't BDM without the drama. Abangan! lol

    @ Roelle - Working on it. :) Thanks for dropping by, pare!

  4. @ Jet - Thanks bro! It was good to see you at Km 0. Congrats also on your finish! Graduate na tayo! :)

  5. great race report, feels like i was right there with you. :-) can't wait for the next part.

  6. @ Rommel - Thanks a lot, man. I enjoyed writing it and sharing my story. Have some Boy Bawang ready for the second part. lol