Bib #15 – Bataan Memorial Death March 26.2

It’s 83 degrees, and the marchers have been out there for nearly 12 hours.


I’m sitting on my hotel room bed, typing my blog and enjoying a movie and a glass of wine. Before that, I made an emergency trip to the mall across the street after my hair dryer broke mid-blow out. Before that, a shower. A post-race snack at a local pub. The 40-minute drive from the White Sands Missile Range. My own race finish. And, in all that time, the other racers have been out there on the course.

Bib 15-6 (March 19)

Opening ceremonies at White Sands Missile Range, near Alamogordo and Las Cruces, New Mexico, began at 6:35am. 7,000 marchers participate.

Bib 15-7 (March 19)

Sun rises over the Missile Base during opening ceremonies. While a chilly 59 at sunrise when this photo was taken, the temperature would climb to 91 degrees during the course of the march.

My friend, Robert, and I commented as much on the drive back to the hotel, when we could see marchers out our window around the 16 mile marker, the temperature nearing 90. This is, after all a “death march.” (Check out my live, start line video here).

Bib 15-5 (March 19)

Members of the Black Daggers parachute demonstration team show off their skills before the march.

Begun nearly 30 years ago to commemorate the Bataan Death March, the Bataan Memorial Death March drew 7,000 marchers in several categories for this, the 75th anniversary of Bataan. Most notably, the Military Division, requiring marchers to wear full, regulation uniforms for their branch and unit; and the Heavy Division, requiring marchers to carry a 35 pound backpack for the entirety of the 26.2 mile race.


Marchers in the Heavy Division weigh their packs the day before the race. Bags will be weighed by race officials when marchers cross the finish line. Anyone not meeting the 35 pound requirement will be disqualified — after their finish.

The original Death March was not so easy. On April 9, 1942, the Japanese Army forcibly transferred 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of WWII, forcing them to march on foot approximately 60-70 miles.

The march was characterized by severe physical abuse and wanton killings, and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime. – Wikipedia

Thousands died along the way.

And thousands came out on the morning of March 19 to honor them.

Bib 15-4 (March 19)

Marchers coming out of the aid station around mile 8.5. After this short downhill portion, they will climb over 1000 feet over the next four miles.

A mix of paved road and sand trail (approximately 20 miles of the latter), the march is akin to a trail race.

Bib 15-3 (March 19)

Marchers coming out of the aid station at mile 14.

With high temperatures, deep sand in places, and the majority of participants in full military uniform and/or carrying 35 pounds, it is a slow race. The final finishers in several categories crossed the finish line over 14 hours after beginning, right around the time I was eating dinner and finishing my second glass of wine.

A lover of long distance races, I don’t typically have the “easy day.” But running in the Civilian Light Division, in technical shorts and a t-shirt, and with nothing but my body weight and a small, hand-held water bottle, I am acutely aware that my own 26.2 could not have gotten much easier. I’m reminded of the poem written to commemorate the original, 1942 march and read at the opening ceremony:

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan; No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces; No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces. And nobody gives a damn. Nobody gives a damn. – Frank Hewlett (1942)

The marchers and I can’t go back and change what happened in 1942 but, in our own ways, we can all give a damn.

Bib 15-1 (March 19)

Reading up on the original Bataan March, from the comfort of my hotel room after my race. The final finishers will march on for 3 additional hours.


4 Comments on “Bib #15 – Bataan Memorial Death March 26.2

  1. Hi Jenna – Congrats! I had a quick trip to ABQ and looked at races last weekend. The March caught my eye, but registration was closed when I tried to register. I ran at the bosque instead on Saturday. Wished I had known you were racing, I would have came to cheer. Congrats again.



  2. My Grandfather and Great Grandfather were both POWs in the Death March of Bataan they survived, they were Philippine Scouts and served for the US Army. My family would like to participate in this memorial March in 2019. Could I just ask you how long it took you to finish this? Were you running the whole time? The sand lasts for 20 miles? This will be our first 26.2 unless we do one before this March, we have only completed half marathons and 5ks. Sorry, I just got confused because your story is of you watching people come in to the finish line. Thank you!


    • Donna – Thank you so much for reaching out. The race is almost entirely runnable; a mix of pavement and tail, with just a few short sections where the sand is too deep to run. The run would likely be just longer than average for most Marathon runners. However, the majority participated in the Military Heavy division, wearing full Military gear and a 35 pound pack. For that reason, it can take 12 hours or more for many to finish. I participated in the Civilian Light division – regular running clothes and no pack. I hope that helps. It is a wonderful experience!


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