Finding the finish line

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sean Devereaux
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing
Last year, I made the decision to ruck the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico. I signed up for the Military Heavy Division, which means rucking 26.2 miles while in uniform with a mandatory 35 pounds.

I remember deciding not to train because I felt I was in shape and I thought it would just be a nice walk with a little added weight. How hard could that be, right? Besides, training equals time. I didn’t have the time to ruck 8-12 miles on a Saturday, that’s half the morning. I also didn’t research how to ruck, the things I should bring, or the course terrain. It was no big deal. I got this. I’m already in shape. I’ll wing it.

Race day:
My alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. on Sunday morning. I grabbed my ruck, which felt extraordinarily heavy for some reason, and drove the 30 minutes to the Missile Range. It was about a half mile walk to the start and 35 degrees when I noticed my shoulders were already burning and I was hunching forward from the weight of my pack. It was at this point I knew I was in for a long day. I suffered in silence to not seem weak in front of the other seemingly happy, ready to go, participants.

Mile 10:
The sun had finally peaked and it warmed up to 85 degrees. The course transitioned from pavement to loose sand, and I was having serious doubts about finishing the march. My feet hurt and were blistering. I wasn’t prepared so my skin was burning without sunscreen. I was breaking down.

Mile 25:
I was no longer suffering in silence. Each step produced a whimpering, somewhat tearful, groan. I was dehydrated, my bones felt like they were snapping with each step. I looked around to find comfort in others suffering with me, but I was highly disappointed, others put in more effort to prepare and train than I had, and it was clear in their demeanor.

Lessons Learned:
I learned a valuable lesson that Sunday; if you are going to do something-anything at all-take the time to do it right. Whether it is giving a feedback, fixing a jet, or rucking in the dessert, take the time to get the details right. The consequences can be painful and may leave you looking silly, or in my case, with a bad sunburn and a sever limp.

I am marching The Bataan Memorial Death March again this year, but this time I will be ready. I have extra socks, sunscreen and miles logged on my feet.