SEALFIT Coach Dan Cerrillo (Taco)
When I decided to do the Bataan I really didn’t know why it had popped into my mind. I had thought about it for about three years but my past career had always kept me really contemplating it. For some reason this February as the time got closer something in me just wanted to do it.
I thought it would be a great way to challenge myself and raise money for those who need it much more than I. What started out as an goal quickly turned into a passion. I started to think long and hard about how fortunate I was and how lucky I had been during my many adventures. I thought about the sacrifices my fellow teammates and fellow servicemen had made and this was fueled my drive. I know I am not supposed to feel sorry for my friends who are missing limbs or who have strong emotional problems but I do. I don’t know why I was spared and I don’t know why I was never seriously hurt. So in my heart I choose to use this march as a way to spend a few hours and just think about friends, family and life.
My training was a justification of my programming I had read all the recommendations and all the lessons learned however I believed in the fitness system we use and my ability to stay focused and keep moving. So instead of logging some serious miles I choose to continue to train as I have for the last two years with the exception of one long Ruck march a couple of weeks ago. That long Ruck showed me my fitness was good but that my feet were vulnerable. My feet have always been suspect as they gave me problems in BUD/S as well. I learned to understand my foot problems in BUD/S and how to spend extra time preparing both my feet and my boots. This time would be no exception.
I went to sleep at 5pm on Saturday and woke up at 11pm. I spent the next 1.5 hours doing prep work on my feet to include anti chafe gel, blisto bans and mole skin on the areas I knew would give me problems. What I forgot to do was add tinkret benzene, this would come to haunt me later. I stepped on the scale to have a before and after of my water loss. I weighed in at 237 with my race clothes on. Blaine and I left the hotel at 2:30 am, weighed our rucks and tried to get a few more hours of sleep before the race started. The wind was blowing crazy at about 35-50 miles per hour and we joked about how much this would suck, and it did.
Opening ceremonies were emotional, they introduced the Wounded Warriors who would be participating. As these fine men passed me I was back overseas for a few seconds. I remembered some of the things I saw and it really got my mind where I needed it to be. I was so proud of these guys, to know the pain I was going to endure and to see some of these guys with one leg or one arm preparing to depart on this epic journey. The Bataan isn’t just a Marathon, and it isn’t just a Ruck march. Its 26.2 miles off road in mostly sand with a 40lb Ruck on. There are two significant climbs, one in the middle and one at the very end just to remind you it’s never over till it’s over.
Blaine and I worked our way up as far towards the front as possible since Blaine was going to attempt to win his age group. Blaine is the under 17 world record holder in 24-hours where he set the record with 117 miles. I figured if I could make a big enough hole for him to follow he would get a clean start and be able to make a good run at it. As civilians in the Heavy division we were placed second from the last group so we had roughly 4000 people to get him past.
I was able to get him to about 1000 people from the front and he was off. This was the hardest part for me as now no matter how many people were there I was basically alone. Most folks are there as partners or units so it’s an unsettling feeling to know no one is there to cheer you on. I have never needed cheering I knew it may come in handy a bit latter.
Mile 1-3 were the hardest, my ego was really pressing me to take off running. I was getting passed by everyone in the book, old ladies, amputees, kids you name it. I had to remind myself the race is not won in the beginning but at the end. I kept my pace at about 60% of my normal walk which for my short little legs is basically a crawl. I was especially discouraged when this model beautiful woman blew past me as if I was standing still. She had obviously trained hard and her husband was even better looking than her so I really wanted to beat then because they were too good looking LOL. More on this latter.
I had prepared a great mix on my I-pod and these first few miles on pavement went by fast. The pavement really kills my knees so at mile 4 we hit the longest samdiest straight away of my life. I got to mile 6 and felt a tiny hot spot on the tip of my right index toe. I decided to stop and address it before it turned into something significant. This is where the problem began, because I didn’t use tinkret benzene as soon as I pulled my socks off all the prep bandages came off with my socks. I knew right there I was screwed, I brought a full med kit but I had planned on using this stuff much later. I anticipated the bandages would eventually come off but I wasn’t expecting them to come off for another 5-10 miles. What was supposed to be a 5-minute tape job turned into a 20-minute complete re-prep. The wind was blowing crazy and it took me forever to brush the sand off my feet and get the new bandages on.
I got back into the race and even though it took me way to long I was only 12-minutes off my 4-mile per hour pace. Miles 6-10 were uneventful with the wind at my back and the temperature wasn’t too hot. I had skipped all the water stops and had solely relied on my camelback which would come bite me in the ass later as well. I got to mile 10 and had made up about 8-minutes on my time, I stopped and refilled my camelback and was back at it. At this point the half marathoners were making their turn for the finish line and I was like shoot I can do 16 more miles in my sleep. Well I learned another valuable lesson, conduct a very thorough map study. I remembered a large climb was coming and that my climing ability and legs would allow me to pass a ton of people. What I forgot to do was pay attention to the loop. The climb loops around a mountain and back on the course for about 8-miles.
I started the climb at mile 11 and at mile 12 I had passed about 75 people and was I feeling great. I was very happy that I do a ton of squats and my legs were super fresh and my pace was basically double of most folks on the hill. At mile 12 the course loops back on itself and the runners were coming back on the course as we were just getting to the base of the mountain. I was hoping to see Blaine and cheer him on but in my mind I did not prepare for how long it would take to do the upcoming climb. I figured since I was seeing the front of the pack the turnaround was only about an hour ahead. How very wrong this turned out to be. Miles 11-12 were uphill, my pace was great and I was feeling crazy strong. I felt some hot spots on my feet and thought that at the next med station this would be a great time to take my second break. It was right about mile 12.5 that the sun and wind hit full strength and quickly sucked out the majority of my hydration and really heated up my feet.
At mile 13 my feet were on fire and I stopped at the aid station to get some much needed bandages. It took a lot longer than expected since so many people were being medivaced at this point. The heat was really taking a tool on my fellow racers, I counted 4-medivac helicopters and 6-ambulances and it was still only 11am. The nurse peeled my socks off since I could no longer bend over and my feet were just starting to show some blistering, she put some super huge pads on my heels and the balls of my feet and re-padded my toe. I drank 6-cups of Gatorade and this totally recharged me. Before I left I asked the nurse how many folks were being pulled out. She told me they had pulled out over 50 in one hour so far. This number would continue to climb throughout the day.
Miles 13-16 were all uphill and we gained almost 3500 feet of elevation, this took me almost three hours to do the climb. The dust and the heat really started to dry me out and my lungs were burning from the altitude and dust. These three miles took a lot to complete, I stopped each mile to take a short 5-minute rest and each time I stood up it was hell to get back going again. At mile 16 I crested the hill and did my best to run down. What took 3-hours to climb took me about 35-minutes to descend. I really wanted to go faster but at mile 17 my legs felt like they wanted to collapse. I wasn’t tired but my legs just felt like jelly. I decided to double dose my Gooh and start drinking much more. It was at this point that I noticed that no matter how hard I tried I just could not get enough out of the camelback at a time. As I tried to drink I would get very out of breath from the elevation which was about 7500 ft and it would take me a minute or two to get my breathing back in order.
I knew I needed to seriously increase my fluids as I felt myself get close to zoning out. For those that have been in this state it’s easy to see the signs, I got very euphoric and the music got very loud in my ears. Since I have been at this point 100s of times in my life it was easy to understand and I just kept milking the camelback and pushing the Gooh into my system. Mile 17-18 I did hit the preverbal wall, I stopped to drink as much as possible and when I restarted the pain in my feet and quads was just too much. I made a decision not to stop again for the rest of the race. At mile 18 I saw the two beautiful people again only this time they were not beautiful. The husband was pleading with his wife to stand up and each time she tried she just fell back or onto her knees. I got a little emotional at this point as I thought of Leilani and I could feel this guy’s agony of watching the woman he loved suffer so much. By now the temperature was about 85 with 0% humidity and the wind had slowed down to about 25-miles per hour. I stopped to ask if he wanted my help and she just said “Just keep going”. I knew she wasn’t being mean and I knew that last think I would want is a crowd around me so I gave her a couple of my Gooh’s and I took off. I never saw them again.
I hit the turnaround at mile 19 at 7:24 and refilled my camelback and chugged down 8-cups of Gatorade and 4-bananas all the while staying on my feet. I really wanted to just sit down and rest but I knew if I did I may not get back up. Mile 19-21 were all downhill and on pavement and I was able to do a slow shuffle and really make up some time. I wanted to run faster but each time I bent my legs they would almost collapse. So I was forced to run straight legged which kind of sucked.
My Ruck hadn’t bothered me the whole race and it was only know that I started to get some neck rash which was trivial by then. At mile 21- we hit the sand again and the second climb which must have been someone’s idea of a sick joke. This was the deepest sand of the course and the climb was just enough to really piss me off. I got my 9th wind by now and I turned on the gas. I was able to do mile 21-23 in just under an hour and I really improved my placing. I must have passed about 200 people and I just kept getting stronger. All I kept thinking was this sand is not as deep as it is in Coronado. There were tons of people laid out on the sides of the trail and I couldn’t believe they would want to rest so close the finish line. I felt like I was going fast and I was sure I had covered at least 4-miles and just kept saying 30-minutes and your done. Then I saw the sign that said mile 23 and I kind of deflated a bit. I was scared that I had started to early on my drive to the finish and I might gas before I got there. I was also super pissed that I had let myself set a time frame instead of just turning my brain off.
I decided to slow down a bit to ensure I saved enough to finish. Big mistake, I should have just kept my pace because as soon as I slowed down the ball of my right foot tore off and the pain really got to me. Also slowing down caused my both the quad and hamstring in my right leg to cramp up like crazy. I couldn’t extend my leg to speed back up without suffering Charlie horses so I just had to suck it up.
At mile 24 I was walking and berm on the side of the trail had a perfect seat worn into it. I don’t know why I sat down but I did. I told myself not too but I just couldn’t keep from doing it. I sat down for about: 30 seconds and a long haired guy with a big gold cross around his neck walked up to me and said “stand up son you’re almost done”. I am not a religious person but I think god was saying you have to stand up and finish because your body is getting ready to give out. What was wierd was I was on a long straight away, after he spoke to me I put my head down for a brief second and when I looked up the man was gone. I dont think I halucinated it but it was very hot and I was a bit tired.
The next two miles were miserable, each time I drank I vomited but I kept forcing myself to drink. The vomit tasted so gross as it was just a mixture of Gooh and bananas. I was angry that I was vomitting and just got mad kept walking and running as much as possible.
By now every 20-50 meters there were people lying on the side of the trail. As I passed each one I kept telling them to get up and finish, some did some just couldn’t. As I cleared mile 26 I rounded the corner to the finish line. It was great, thousands of people cheering and I was just felt great. By now my legs were complete mush and the cramping in my abs and my quads was crazy. My fingers looked like sausages and I could no longer push the buttons on my I-pod to turn it off but I was finished. My cardio never affected me but the cramping and blisters really made the experience much harder than it should have been. I crossed the line in 10:17, my last 9-miles were an hour faster than my first 9 but I failed to make my goal of 10:00 hours or under and this really upset me.
At the weigh station I weighed my Ruck and it was 47lbs, this really pissed me off since basically the last 9-miles I had been hauling 12-extra pounds. Oh well I have never been accused of being a rocket scientist. The 300 yards to the car were agony as now my body was in full shut down mode. I got to the car and Blaine told me he finished in 5:47 and that he thought he had won his division; only one team heavy beat him so this really made my day much better. Blaine is a great kid and is quiet, humble and a complete fucking beast. I am so proud of him and so proud to be part of his training. Blaine ended up having to get 2-IV bags which I should have done as well.
I had a rough drive home and contemplated turning back to the event to get some IV treatment. In hindsight I should have. At the hotel I weighed myself again and weighed 215. I had lost over 20lbs in fluid weight yet I dont recall ever sweating. On the ride home I drank 2-gatorades, at the hotel I drank 5-gatorades and 4-large bottles of water. I was so cramped up that it would take me about 5-minutes to get out of bed to go urinate and another 5 to get back in bed to get the cramping to subside. The whole night was miserable as each time I got to sleep I cramped up and had to get to my feet to attempt to straighten out. If it wasn’t for Blaine I would have been in a world of hurt. I tried to eat after the race but ended up vomiting this up later in the evening as well. I felt bad because I knew I was keeping Blaine awake and I tried to keep as quiet as possible. I woke up Monday morning and drank another three quarts of Gatorade and two more liters of water and spent the next hour packing.
I had a ton of time to think about my friends who are no longer here. I thought about my beautiful wife and how lucky I am to have her. I had time to reflect on my children’s lives and how much they have grown and how special each day has been. I thought about the special people who surround me each day and how hard they work. I thought about my career choice and what a great decision it was for me to run a gym full time. I thought about the man who helped me and how generous and trusting he and his family have been. I thought about what great friends I have made these last few years and the friends I have had for a lifetime. I thought a lot about my brother and sister and how much they have loved me and respect.