RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- "Bataan is special, it's one that I can run with others in uniform--it's a brotherhood," said five-time competitor Col. Eric Morgan, assistant program manager, health affairs, for the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG), as he recollected his trek through the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
The event is held annually since 1989. The 26.2 mile complete marathon covers paved roads, hills, and sandy trails. It is a grueling course that more than 6,000 marchers and runners participate in each year. Morgan finished second in the 50 and over - military light division, with a finishing time of five hours and thirty-eight minutes.
Morgan decided in October, 2017 to participate in the Bataan, but didn't start training until December.
"I started by running outdoors 25-44 miles a week in running shoes and switching to combat boots, because that's what I had to wear for the run," Morgan explained.
"The good thing about training in Saudi Arabia were the hash runs OPM-SANG personnel would participate in. They are five to six mile runs that cover hills, sand, and rocky terrains and I would run those in my military boots. My longest run was 22.5 miles five weeks before the Bataan."
Morgan became interested in long-distance running because his wife, Karla, was running marathons. "Karla was going to run a marathon in China and I wanted to go and cheer her on; I had to train to do more than the Army two miler I was used to doing twice a year," he said.
He completed his first half marathon in China that year. His first full marathon was in Tokyo in 2010, where he and Karla ran together. He completed more than 13 marathons since that day in 2010.
Morgan actually ran an extra mile due to a slight change in the course. "When I saw others running the opposite way telling me to turn around, that was tough. I was frustrated but I worked through that and didn't let it weigh me down."
Even with the extra mile and course confusion, Morgan remained motivated. One source of inspiration throughout the day was the dedication of Wounded Warriors who were testing their mettle, fighting through the course. "…so many wounded warriors that are participating in this race, some are doing this with not just one, but two prosthetic legs; it just makes it extremely special for me."
"Bataan is unique and very special in commemorating what the original men went through during the over 60 mile march the actual prisoners of war had to endure, I always keep that in my mind as I am running," Morgan said.
"It's just an incredible experience, and actually meeting some of the Bataan survivors is amazing, it is unfortunate that there are not many survivors left. I will be back to run it again in 2019."