Last January 27-28, 2013, we were witness to the 3rd edition of the Bataan Death March 160KM, the country’s longest continuous road race, so far. Of course, last November 2012, there was the West Coast 200KM but that was done in 3 days in increments of 70, 70 and 60 kilometers each. This time the 100-miler commemorating the heroic acts of our WW2 soldiers in Bataan starts at Mariveles, Bataan and finishes at Capas, Tarlac with a cut-off time of 30 hours. BDM 160KM holds a special place in my running heart because it was this last year’s edition that we were fortunate to finish it at 26:51 hours, in the midst of ITBS, dwindling spirit/energy and sleepiness.
This year, we were recruited by fellow trail ultrarunner CJ Paran to be part of his support team which included Boringers Rod, Mar, Bong plus Hugo & Thea (co-supporters for CJ’s BDM 102KM stint). They have started 4 am and have been running for at least 6 hours when I caught sight of them near KM 42 in Balanga, Bataan where our bus dropped us off. While awaiting for them, I encountered runners at position #5 downwards and was quite surprised by the leadpackers. Of course, all of these would shift and change as the kilometers progress.
While in 2012, CJ was already in near emotional turmoil 20 kms into the finish, this time, he was in high spirits, running side by side with the equally ebullient Benj Termulo. We were trying to estimate their standings and it was safe to say, they were in the low 20s so it was a nice 50-km opening salvo. By late morning, the sun has spread its searing rays but our two runners were still in their respective elements with Benj keeping the pace up. It was later in the afternoon when CJ finally found his groove and started taking on the other runners in front. Yes, our little boy was following our every instruction (‘tuhugin mo si ____, ha’ or ‘skewer that motha#%@!). Benj just couldn’t keep up with him but soon enough, his support vehicle arrived to be with him every 3 kms.
Near the 15th hour, CJ arrives at KM102 still eager and energetic. The plan was for us not to stay too long at this pitstop since many were already thrashed and in near-DNF mode. We regrouped at KM 105 where CJ changed outfit and had his much needed dinner. Bong was the first pacer up to KM127 with stops every 3 kilometers. Bong is the ideal pacer, keeping CJ’s spirits and pace up and running. In the latter part, it was undeniable that our runner’s energy was dwindling when he started requesting for short naps. I was totally against it but the group finally relented. I was just hoping it was for the best and not the break that would knock him out ‘til September ends.
Before midnight, I took over the pacing duties at KM127. Basically, it was just accompanying the runner to walk/run while lighting his way and providing much needed provisions both liquid & solid – a skill my 160KM pacers could do in their sleep. Some words of encouragement would be of help and if need be, some brutal version of tough love (‘you’ve prepared for months for this, are you just going to throw this away on the basis of your imaginary blister?’). It really was his mind playing on him as Coach Mar inspected it quite frequently. And so we had to tape on it some cushion so he can move on. That’s after I’ve recited my long and painful history of ‘the blister’ from 2011.
As you can see, in the wee hours of the morning, CJ had started hitting his fantasy wall, no hallucinations yet so I knew, there was still hope. Even if he started withering on one side of the street every few kilometers. I gave him a mere 2 minutes before I let out my imaginary whip and begin lashing him forward. He had also become irritable such that every time, he started hearing my footfalls, he would stop his running (‘You’re pacing too fast, I can’t keep up with you!!’). So what’s a guy to do? Just keep a comfortable distance from the back while still keeping an eye on my runner who anytime could find himself among the rushing nighttime vehicles (or talking to a rock).
Eventually, he was just too hot to handle and even too cold to hold. I just had to remember that he was not in a normal state of mind and body so what he blurts out should not affect me – I just needed to bring him to the finish line, by hook or by crook. But I guess, I’m just human so at some point, I was getting frustrated. Don’t worry, there was none of those shouting matches and altercation (DNF was out of the question, I kept reminding myself). It was more of our little psychological war. I had to trick the little guy into moving like hell (the lemmings are on our tails) in the face of sleepiness, fatigue and more importantly, mental breakdown.
And so I summoned my inner Deepak Chopra and kept badgering him with positive thoughts and anecdotes (‘there will come a day when you would suddenly feel like you’ve had enough and would just quit a race but this is not day’ blah, blah…). The guy was still mad at me for matching his ‘attitude’ but he was moving, perhaps, out of spite or my most encouraging adjectives (‘this is the perfect day to finish the BDM 160!’, ‘hell, you’re in a place I can only dream of – you’re in the Top 15 for crying out loud!’), I care not to know.
Daylight had started creeping in when we ventured into the final and most trying 10 kilometers. I was having a hard time to get him moving faster. Good thing two Boring vehicles were on hand to help me for the final push. And as always, we see a speeding Totoy appear and disappear in minutes. Few runners also came and went including ‘Mr. Tuhog’ Bong Alindada (ably paced by Aldean Lim) who was gracious enough to keep our lead until we finally relented. In the concluding kilometers, the competitive spirit (or perhaps, the need to just get through with this race) finally kicked in on CJ and we were running down a dream.
In a blink, I saw the hulking Bataan Death March monument before us and soon enough, it was Sir Jovie Narcise (Baldrunner) giving CJ a warm, sweaty hug. I was waiting for that tearful moment, just like what happened at BDM 102 but I think he’s too dehydrated to even excrete tears. But it was both exhausting and triumphant and I felt I was part of it all. To see CJ place #14 among the 43 finishers was something like seeing your child graduate from pre-school Magna cum Laude (except that there isn’t one and I don’t have a child). So anytime, I guess, I won’t hesitate to pace and support anyone in an ultrarace. It’s never without its exciting & exacting moments, trying and winning episodes – now that’s something I wouldn’t want to miss…
Photography by Paulo Navarette & Rod Apolinario (Team Boring)