31 tips to surviving the Death March
2020 will be my eighth year to march at Bataan, these tips are taken from my firsthand experience of successfully completing the 26.2-mile march for seven consecutive years. I’ve seen the carnage on the course by those who showed up ill-prepared and want to save you the pain and suffering. This is the difference between completing the march with a smile on your face and/or having to embrace the suck for 26.2 miles. It’s all in the details! I’m sure there are circumstances and situations that I have yet to experience, so it’s likely this list will continue to grow and change with each Bataan March. But for now, learn from my most recent mistakes. Happy Marching.
1. Make a gear checklist! The last thing you want to do is be out on mile seven of the 26-mile march and remember that you forgot your food or sunscreen at home. Be like Santa; make a list and check it twice. Download a gear checklist here!
2. Don’t wear new shoes or boots! Make sure your boots/shoes are well broken in. I wear Rocky C4T combat boots. I burned through many brands and models before I found these boots; they are by FAR the most comfortable and a great buy for the price.
3. Stop at aid stations (if you feel like you need to stop. Stop!) Do a quick check to see if your feet need tending, grab food and water.
4. Don’t wear thick socks! I’m sure there are people who swear by wearing heavy socks or multiple layers, but I have been running in combat boots for several years now and I rarely blister. Every person I know who has worn thick or multi-layer socks has come out with huge blisters. I’ve done 30-mile races without a single blister and it’s because I wear good quality moisture-wicking socks. My boots DO NOT go on my feet without SwiftWick I swear by them!
5. Keep your feet generously covered in Glide or Vaseline. Don’t forget the tips of your toes, in-between your toes and up the leg to where your boots no longer touch. Keep one or both items in your pack.
6. Wear leg gaiters if you’re wearing running shoes. These will keep sand out of your shoes/boots.
7. Wear long compression socks if in boots. I personally wear green striped SwiftWick Vision Twelve socks; I keep them just above my boot line and they keep the sand out of my boots while keeping me blister-free.
8. Wear comfortable, moisture-wicking clothes. The last thing you want is to be in sweat-soaked cotton clothes or wearing something that rubs you to the point of pain. I usually wear compression shorts. They are AMAZING. I do not get any friction burns, they wick the moisture away, and they help keep my hips and IT bands from fatiguing. I also wear lightweight Army BDUs having all those pockets is great of quick access to anything you use often. This will keep you from having to constantly dig through your pack. You can pick up one of our famous "What The Ruck Was I Thinking" Shirts"& our "Straight Outta Bataan" Shirts at our booth at packet pickup.
9. Wear a neck gaiter! The winds can be epic at times and where there’s wind, there is sand blowing. I suggest wearing a lightweight material gaiter, so you’ll stay cool and be protected from the sun.
10. Use a nice fitting pack and or hydration pack during the march. If you’re a woman, I highly suggest getting a female-specific pack. I’ve tried using packs made for men and they are always too large. I end up with massive back pain from the ill fit. After much searching, I finally found a great pack; it’s made by Osprey.
11. Carry extra socks! When your feet start feeling wet and developing hot spots, you’ll want to change out socks. See #7 for what I wear. If you’re doing the 26.2-mile ruck, I would take two extra pairs to be safe. Keep the socks in plastic ziplock bags to keep them dry and clean.
12. Take a travel size foot powder with you. Most of the aid stations have foot powder, but in my experience, some people don’t make it to these stations before needing to attend to their feet. This powder also comes in handy if you start chafing where the sun doesn’t shine…
13. Use and carry sunscreen with you. The weather in White Sands is deceptive. The temperature is usually mild with some cloud cover and a cool breeze, which leads you to think, “I won’t sunburn.” Yes, you will! Within 15 minutes you’ll burn. Make sure to cover all exposed skin including the back of your neck and ears.
14. Wear some sort of sun hat that has a brim. This will help to keep the sun off of your face and neck. You’ll want one with a drawstring. The winds can really kick-up and your hat WILL fly off. Boonie hats work perfectly.
15. Carry water with you! Unlike “normal” marathons, there are NOT water stations every mile. I carry a water bladder in my pack and top it off with fresh water at EVERY or every-other station. I also carry a 20-ounce water bottle with me that I keep filled with a hydration drink. I normally carry individually wrapped Gatorade packets, they make 20 ounces.
16. Eat often! It’s going to be a long day and you’re going to burn a ton of calories. I keep endurance nutrition products on me and eat bananas and orange slices at every stop. See Don’t Bonk Bataan March – I set my Garmin to go off every 20 minutes to remind me to drink and nibble on something.
17. Take wet wipes with you! Keep a ziplock baggie with baby wipes in your pack. You never know when you need or want to clean up and they come in VERY handy if/when you enter a potty without toilet paper.
18. Take about $10.00 – $15.00 with you. On my first Bataan, some point well into the 26.2-mile march I was starving for real food and we came upon a little tent village in the middle of the desert and I could smell hamburgers! OMG… I wanted one so bad… They looked and smelled delicious. Everyone who apparently knew about the BBQ and took money was sitting down enjoying their burgers, and me…? Well, I ate another banana. That hurt! Take money!
19. Drink, drink, drink, drink, drink. Drink even when you don’t feel thirsty. Due to sweat evaporating off of your skin as soon as it touches it, you’ll never feel hot and gross and you’ll think, “Oh I’m okay, I don’t need to drink anything.” And then BAM! You’re getting carted off by medics because you’re severely dehydrated. As I mentioned in #16 set an alarm on your watch to remind yourself.
20. Carry blister pads with you. I don’t suggest using anything thick. In my personal experience, everyone who has ever used moleskin or thick pads blistered up. I keep thin — almost bandaid thin, treatment pads with me. If I get a lingering hot spot where my boots are really rubbing, I’ll patch over it. I usually use this exact pad.
21. If you do happen to blister and you’re not at an aid station – you’ll want some sort of straight pin to pop it. Clean it off with some water. Dry the spot and then put on the treatment pad. I gave out at least twenty pads along the way to active duty guys who were wearing moleskin and were blistering BAD.
22. Condition your feet. If you’re a female and you get pedicures, stop it! You can still go and have your nails painted and let them rub your feet but you’ll need and wish you had tough skin during the march.
23. Train in the footwear you’re marching in. This means if you’re wearing combat boots during the march — train in the boots. This goes back to conditioning your feet and breaking in your footwear.
24. Pack a flask of pickle juice. No, I’m not crazy. Pickle juice is like rocket fuel for the body when you’re feeling sluggish and it helps you to keep from cramping. This was another thing I saw all along the 26.2-mile march; guys cramping up. If you’re drinking as much water as you should be, you’re also flushing out your sodium, and it needs to be replaced. “Those who drink pickle juice feel cramp relief 37% faster than those who drink water. Results show pickle juice can relieve cramps in just under a minute and a half. Drink 2.5 ounces at the onset of cramp.” — Dr. Oz — I use pickle juice during long runs, rides and even at Ironman Triathlons, it’s a magic potion.
25. Pack food. Take more food/nutrition in your pack then you think you’ll need. You WILL need it! And if you do end up with more than you need you can always share it with someone along the way. I also packed some individual Gatorade packets to put in my water bottle(s) to replace electrolytes and change things up from just drinking water all day. See Don’t Bonk Bataan March
26. Don’t rely on packaged nutrition products only. And don’t take/eat items that you haven’t trained with. Packaged nutrition products like GU, chews, sports beans etc., are great quick energy and/or electrolytes but if you take in too much and mix things your stomach isn't used to you could end up with gastrointestinal issues – which means stomach cramps, bloating and even diarrhea or vomiting. I suggest doing one GU at the top of each hour and try to get the rest of your nutrition from things like nuts, fruit, etc.,
27. Pack a couple of PayDay candy bars. I learned about PayDay candy bars from some Special Operators I met during my first year at Bataan. The salt, protein, sugar, and calories making them the perfect rucking snack. I carry them with me all the time now.
28. BRING MUSIC. When the suck gets deep, music can help you push through. Music can provide a distraction and help you stay zoned and keep pace. Many studies have been done about music improving performance. To that point, you’ll want to bring some sort of solar or another type of portable charger to keep your phone or music device juiced up.
29. Remember to check your ego at the start line. It’s going to be a long day and the terrain is at times tough (but very rewarding). Make sure to listen to your body and don’t over-do-it too soon or you might find yourself having to DNF (did not finish).
30. Take in the moment. White Sands NM is some of the most beautiful countrysides I’ve ever seen. Then you mix in thousands of people — many of whom are active-duty military and veterans in 50+ pound packs and full gear — then you sprinkle in the reason why the march is taking place in the first place and it is magical. As corny as it sounds, I had a spiritual awakening during my first march. I never felt so honored to share my day with so many great people in the most amazing country on Earth.
31. Wear layers and prepare for any type of weather! There is one thing you can count on at Bataan... the weather will change! In 2019 it was snowing the morning of the event and many marchers were literally caught out in the cold due to not having layers of warm clothing. Think layers!!! Race morning I had layers and a $4.00 robe from Goodwill to keep me warm. At a minimum have a bennie and gloves with you, you can always ditch them. Just as the day can start off cold to freezing, the day can range from mild to "hot as hell". In my seven years of doing Bataan, I have only seen one of these "hot as hell" days -- but it caught many off-guard and they were dropping like flies (not having prepared for this type of weather). About mile 17 my hiking partner Lisa and I took our shirts off, soaked them in water, and used them as a cooling towel. We also increased our water and electrolyte intake (see nutrition sections).
Have an AMAZING ruck and don’t forget to visit Memories of Honor booth during in-processing. We will be passing out Fallen Hero Memorial Back Bibs containing the names of fallen military heroes for you to wear on your ruck. Bibs are first come first serve — we will stay in the booth until we run out.
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Read about How NOT to Bonk / Bataan Course Nutrition.