Monday, April 2, 2012

El Paso Trail Runner

I am calling my new blog, El Paso Trail runner as I want to share my newly discovered enjoyment of this sport.  I recently completed the book "Born to Run" by Christopher Mc Dougall and was inspired by the characters and intrigued by the races described in the book.  Tragically, just a few days ago (March 30)Caballo Blanco or Micah True was found dead in the Gila National Forest after going out for a 11 mile trail run.  He had lived for years among the Raramuri in the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua and was the Race director of the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon.
I considered the Bataan Memorial Death March my first trail run and signed up to try it out.  My training consisted in running on the Rio Grande river bed and the levees of the upper valley of El Paso.  Having completed this event and greatly enjoyed the experience of running in the trails, I have set my sights on other trail runs.  My next event will be the Leadville (CO) Silver Rush 50 mile trail run in July 15, 2012.  I will post from time to time about my training and hopefully have a blog about the race.

2012 Bataan Memorial Death March

 I came away from this event inspired in so many levels that I wanted to share with everyone what a great event this is.  This year was the 23rd running of the Memorial March.  It was began in 1989 by the Army ROTC Department at NMSU to mark a page in history that included so many native sons and affected many families in the state.  In brief, on April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces.  The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines.  Among those seized were the members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.  They were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles.  Thousands died in the 'Death March" and those that survived endured many hardships in the prisoner of war camps.

Participants entering the Bataan Memorial Death March may choose between two routes. The 26.2 mile Full route or a 14 mile route.  I chose to participate in the full run and did the race with no backpack, as such I was designated as Civilian Light.

Pre Race Morning

I had been instructed to arrive early due to security and dutifully left the house at 0400 for the 40-45 min drive from West El Paso to the White Sands Missile Range.  The expected nearly 7000 participants and this required remote parking and getting on a shuttle bus to the football field where the opening ceremony was held.  They had us separated by category (civilian and military) as we waited for the start.  The ceremony included the playing of Taps, the Star Spangled Banner, Special Forces soldiers landing on the field by parachute from a helicopter, and a flyover by 2 fighter jets. Prior to the start they fired some very loud cannons

The Marathon
It took a while before we walked to the timing mat but finally at 0720 AM, I crossed the timing mat and started the run.  Initially we run on paved roads but soon we reached a jeep trail that was flat to a small downhill. The atmosphere is great from the beginning as I passed soldiers who were carrying 60 pound sacks marching and some from Ft Brag (Special Forces, I assume) who were running at a pretty good clip with their packs.  I followed a walk/run strategy from mile 1.  I ran for 1 mile and then walked for 0.1 of a mile paying close attention to keeping myself hydrated and fed.
At mile 6 we started a slow incline along the jeep road until reaching an aide station at approximately mile 8.  At this point, the 14mile marchers head back to the base.  I continued on a more steep incline of about 4-6% grade from mile 8 to mile 13.1 at which time we reach an aid station.  Initially, this part is on a paved road (asphalt) and then back to jeep trails which had sand and loose rock. I completed the half in 2:14.  After this point it becomes downhill on jeep trails with some slight up hills.  We passed some beautiful yellow flowers, Mexican Gold Poppies. 

After mile 18 we were back to the paved road and got to see the marchers that were making their way up the incline portion of the course.  I saw a group of soldiers who ran the entire 26.2 miles with gas masks and also the father who was pushing his handicapped daughter on a baby jogger who came from Florida. At this point a helicopter lands at the aid station to transport someone who had evidently collapsed from dehydration.  That made quite a sound and stirred up quite a bit of dust in landing.  At mile 20 we were back to join the 14 mile marchers and another aid station.  I decided at this point to just run and not take walk breaks.  Shortly thereafter I reached the most difficult running surface and this was about a mile stretch of soft sand which slowed me down quite a bit. The last 3-4 miles heading back to the base had some small hills but the biggest problem was a headwind was developing.  The day was also heating up as the noon hour was approaching.  At mile 24, I was handed a small American flag by a young girl and carried it the rest of the way.  I reached the end feeling like I gave it my all as I pushed it and did not walk any of the last 6 miles.

My total time was 4:42:44 and this put me at 18 out of 159 men my age but granted many were not running but only hiking and enjoying the scenery.

Post Race
As we crossed the timimg mat, we were all greeted by 5 or so survivors of the Bataan death march.  These were men in their 90's who sat in the tent and shook each of the finisher's hands.   I was very moved and had to fight back tears as I passed by their tent.

Post Script
I enjoyed this experience very much and highly recommend this event.  The event is well organized and the volunteers are great.  The participants are very inspiring and the beauty of the desert and the mountain trails aroung White Sands Missile Range with the Organ Mountains is a sight to behold.  As far as my performance in this race, I was happy to finish running and with no cramps.  I attribute that to a better hydration execution than in New York and taking salt tablets along with the gatorade, water and Gu.

Now its on to start training for a bigger challenge as I prepare for the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile Run...