It seems that the ultramarathon community is strongly gaining ground as more marathoners are venturing into the 50 kilometer ultra distance and slowly aspiring to do the Bataan Death March Ultramarathon. The thing is, though there are many things already written about ultramarathons, I believe that there is no one source that narrates what does it really take for a person to train and prepare for an ultramarathon. Thus, I decided to write this article. I am writing this not just because I want to help other runners, but I want to review what actually works for me in preparing for my first ultramarathon event. There are ten things that one needs to consider. These then things I will be expounding further as one blog entry in the days and weeks to come, with hopes that at the end of it, readers aspiring to do their first BDM event would know what it would take to finish the toughest road ultramarathon event in the Philiippines. So here are the ten things:
One, have a realistic training program. I’ve noticed that there are many runners aspiring to finish a BDM this year and the list of interested parties seem to grow longer for each year. Whatever your reasons for running, it is important to have a realistic training program based on your current health status. I’ve seen runners who were fast during the start of the BDM but end up not finishing the race. It could be anything, the heat getting to them, the lack of proper hydration and nutrition, lack of emotional support etc. But at the end of the day, having a realistic training program that builds momentum towards the main event would help ensure that you will be able to finish your first BDM.
Two, you need to determine your goals. Why did you join the BDM? Is it because you want to call yourself an ultramarathoner? I hate to break it to you, but finishing just one long distance ultramarathoner would only make you an ultramarathon finisher. To use the title of ultramathoner you would need to be consistently doing ultramarathoners throughout the year. That is why they call it BDM Finishers, not BDM Ultramarathoners. There is a difference. Should the BDM Ultramarathon event continue in the next seven years and there are people who have successfully finished ten BDMs regardless if it was a BDM102 or BDM160, then that is the time that people can call themselves a BDM Ultramarathoner. For now, all of us BDMers are just FINISHERS and SURVIVORS.
Three, you need to prepare for your gear. What shoes will you be wearing during the main event? Do you plan to change shoes every 50 kilometers? Or do you plan to just wear one pair during the entire race route? What do you plan to do when the sun is up? Will you wear a cap, or will just wear a pair of sunglasses? Are you the type that goes for layers of covering or you just lather up the sunblock lotion or tanning cream to even out the tan lines? The type of gear that you have during the race will greatly affect your overall performance. For instance, some running shoes are good for a full marathon event, but they are not good going beyond the 42k distance and may cause blisters. Speaking of blisters, what do you plan to do with it when they start showing up uninvited during the race? Can you bear with the pain? Or you need to prick it and tape it?
Four, establish a support crew. Although I heard that there might be changes to the BDM event for 2013, the BDM has always been a venue to get family and friends involved as support crew. Your support crew is an extension of who you are and is suppose to be there to help you in your journey to accomplish in finishing the BDM Ultramarathon. Your support crew and make or break or race more than anything else that I can share here. If your support crew fails to encourage you or even push you to move forward, chances are you would give up at the very beginning of this race. You might have the proper gear, have all the food stocked up but if your support crew does not know how to MANAGE YOU, then it is over even though the race has only begun.
Fifth, do you have the stability? Now here’s something that has not been discussed but is implied in most ultramarathon races. I am referring here to emotional and physical stability. Why is this important in the BDM Ultramarathon? Well, if it is going to be your first time then somewhere along the route to the finish line you will face your demons. For those who are targeting a fast finish time, you will feel depressed not being able to meet your target time. To those who experience cramps and blisters, you will begin to feel doubt that you could ever manage to reach the finish line within the cutoff time. And there are those who are doing well and yet they still ask themselves — why am I doing this in the first place? Why am I willing to spend for something that would only give me a trophy that could gather dust and be forgotten in the years to come? These nagging questions will bite at your soul, while the heat of the noon day sun of the BDM route will get at your feet.
Sixth, are you running for a cause or sponsorship? There are those who make the BDM a statement in how they will run for a certain non-profit organization. They would raise funds to join and in the process they are able to raise funds to the organization that they have pledged themselves. This is an excellent opportunity for a BDMer because it will give you an added motivation to reach the finish line. And it will keep you in check because you will remember that you are not doing the run for your own glory anymore, you are running for the lives of other people — whether it be for the education of children, saving the environment, climate change and rallying for world peace, the BDM is a great avenue to making such a statement of your core beliefs.
Seventh, understand your nutrition needs. What do you plan to eat during the entire BDM? Are you going to live off gels and isotonic drinks during the entire leg of the race? Or will you be like most of the ultrarunners that I’ve met who take their time to eat, mingle with other runners and enjoy the food before heading off to get back to finish the race course? Nutrition plays a vital role towards making the BDM possible. And nutrition is the major culprit of how I was not able to finish the BDM160 back in 2011.
Eight, have a personal pacer for the BDM160. This one is for those doing their first 100 miler BDM event. The race organizers allow pacers for the BDM160 only from the BDM102k marker up to the finish line at Capas Shrine. And believe me, it makes a big difference to have a personal pacer to finish the 100 miler.
Ninth, train running under the sun. This is called heat training. The Bataan Death March Ultramarathon takes places at the time of the year when the weather is not too hot but also not cool either. And yet, for the life of me, having finished three BDM102s, DNFed one BDM160 at KM110 and finished the BDM160 last January, I can tell you that the heat will get to you, newbie or veteran alike. The heat is just overwhelming because of the road itself, mirroring the heat of the sun. There are instances there are is rain and a brief reprieve from the onslaught of the heat wave, but still the heat will get to you. So this is tied with your running gear too. IT bothers me to see why there are many runners attempting to do the BDM ultramarathon wearing an all black attired and even some wearing a tri suit. Like it or not, it is best to wear light colored clothing. It serves a dual function. One, it does not attract the heat so much.
Tenth, join the test runs. Many older runners and other runners complain about these test runs. Why? Well, for one thing, the test runs used to be free. Now, it is no longer free. You still get a race bib and there is an official tally of finishers at the end, but that’s about it. You won’t get a free shirt or anything even if you pay the 500 pesos registration fee to join the said test run for the BDM. But still, I encourage you to join it. First things first, I would like so speak as a race volunteer. I have seen the difficulty of staging a race event. And each race event involves logistics. Bald Runner Events during the first year of its test run did not charge anything simply because they did not know the cost of the test run. Now they know how much gasoline their vehicles would be needing, how much food they need to prepare for their team and how many race bibs they need to prepare. Have you considered the security as well? Bald Runner Events also talks to the local mayors and select barangays. You need to give them something. If not in cash, a token of some sorts. This is all part of public relations. There is a lot of logistical work involved in staging the BDM events, and all of them involves spending money. In addition, you are willing to spend money to join the main event. Regardless of having sponsors for the main ultramarathon, the test runs are still among the cheapest races out there for an utlramarathon.
Moving forward, the test runs gives you an idea of how the actual run would be. One, you would know the travel time from Manila to Mariveles. The normal travel time is around three [3[ hours. Since the BDM102 takes place in the late evening, will you travel in the late afternoon considering that there might be a traffic build up along the way? Or will you stay at a nearby resort with your entire support crew, knowing that most people who join their first BDM event are too excited to even sleep during the actual race day or even hours before the race day? Two, the route is treacherous. During the test run, you will encounter interesting people such as the highway night bars. There will be drunken men who will invite you for a drink. There will be women and gays asking you to hang out with them. There are dogs that will bark and scare the life out of you. Will this deter you from running? The test run also gives you an idea on what part of the route you will find most challenging. Use a watch to monitor your progress. At what particular BDM kilometer marker did you slow down? Will you run going uphill and then walk upon reaching the top? Or will you be walking up the hills and running downhills? At what kilometer marker will you start feeling hungry? How many kilometers can your body take before you are truly thirsty? You can even go as far as testing the different shoes that you will be using during the actual BDM event.
Just because you have finished other ultramarathons abroad and have accomplished 100 miler events and triathlon events under your belt — it does not guarantee that it would grant you success in finishing the BDM. I have mentioned it time and again and I will say it again here. The Bataan Death March Ultramarathon remains to be the premiere road ultramarathon event in the Philippines. It’s the rich history of the event that should draw us to do is as Filipinos. Chances are that one of your ancestors died along the route of the BDM if you are Filipino, American or even Chinese. The challenging route that includes uphills and downhills are things to look forward to. The mangificent scenery of the countryside and the changing colors of the sky from the blackest night studded with the gems of the stars serving as a canopy to the runners, to the noonday sun barbecuing the runners baking their skin and melting their souls/soles. This is one race that I really would want to do for the rest of my life on an annual basis. And I hope and pray that it becomes more recognized, more prestigious as the entire world vyes for a slot to join the ranks of becoming a BDM finisher. To join the ranks of a BDM ultramarathon survivor is not about bragging rights, though you can certainly brag about it since only less than 1% of the world’s population would even attempt an ultramarathon. But the experience changes you from the inside out, as you will face your personal demons, face interpersonal demons and come out a broken with a spirit recognizing that man cannot live without a sense of purpose. Our ancestors died for our freedom and civic liberties. Let us honor their memory and live our lives worthy of what the blood and lives that have been lost. This is the true essence of doing the BDM.