Sundance trio complete Bataan Death March

By Sarah Pridgeon

Once a year, thousands of people honor the 75,000 U.S. and Filipino soldiers who were seized by the Japanese in 1942. The soldiers surrendered after defending the Philippines in extreme conditions with outdated equipment and few supplies for seven months and were forced to march 65 miles to confinement camps, where they remained until 1945.

Around 10,000 men died during what became known as the Bataan Death March, an event commemorated each year with a marathon following the same route. Among those honoring their sacrifice this year were three from Sundance: Bruce Speidel, Jon Snoozy and Kit Martin.

“It’s heavily military, so there are a lot of military competitors. It’s about 8500 people that do it to commemorate the Bataan Death March in World War Two where a lot of Filipinos and Americans died, so there were a lot of people from the Phillipines there,” says Speidel.

“It was amazing to see how many vets with one limb were doing it – and doing well. There were some we weren’t passing until mile 17, 18, 19 – even at mile 20 there was a guy with one leg who passed us and he was doing pretty good. It’s cool and encouraging to see so many people that had a go of it that was a lot more difficult than us doing such a great job.”

It’s a tough course, he says. Because it was Martin’s first marathon, the trio decided to walk it, which took a total of eight hours, two minutes and 19 seconds.

“We walked at a fast pace on this one and I felt like it was about as difficult as running, just because you were on your feet for so long. To do it in eight hours and two minutes is faster than most,” Speidel says.

“It’s a fairly fast walk, somewhere in the 17-minute mile range – it’s not booking it, but we certainly did not stop except just to get some gravel out of our shoes.”

Runners tend to find it’s a challenging course to run fast on due to all the gravel, uphill terrain, turns and plenty of sand soaking up speed, Speidel says. He believes the quickest runner came in at 3 hours 48 seconds – an impressive run time, he says, but a major marathon tends to see the first finishers come in around 45 minutes faster.

(Courtesy photo) Jon Snoozy, Bruce Speidel and Kit Martin, who walked the Baatan Death March, a marathon honoring those American and Filipino soldiers who died on the 65-mile march after their surrender in 1942.
(Courtesy photo) Jon Snoozy, Bruce Speidel and Kit Martin, who walked the Baatan Death March, a marathon honoring those American and Filipino soldiers who died on the 65-mile march after their surrender in 1942.

“It just indicates that the course is very difficult,” he says. “Regardless of whether you run it or walk it, there’s something magical – or horrible – about miles 21 and 22 where your body starts feeding on itself and it gets really difficult…It’s really quiet and you can see a lot of people breathing really hard and in pain.”

At about mile 23, Speidel felt a chunk of his toe fall off, he remembers.

“It was wet in my shoe and I thought, I don’t want to take my shoes off,” he laughs. “I foolishly sprinted at the end and I was really dizzy.”

Dehydrated and nauseous, he was escorted by wheelchair to the first aid tents. Treatment for his toe didn’t help matters.

“I puked, and then I got to sit in the tent for a while and had an IV and stuff like that. After a couple of hours of the tent, we got out and showered and slept, then did a 17 or 18 hour driving marathon back [home],” he says.

“It was a fun time, a challenge – and enjoyable for my friend Jon to see me find some of my bodily limits that he didn’t know were possible. He was kind of happy. On a lot of hunting trips I’ve made him suffer quite a bit, so he was thrilled to see me suffer just a little bit.”

Speidel has no plans to return next year to run the course. He’s made a commitment to never run the same marathon twice, he says – though time will tell if he sticks to it.

He entered the challenge, he said, partly to do it with his friends and partly to keep himself fighting fit for hunting season.

“It keeps me fit and healthy for intense mountain hunting, so it’s just another way to focus on preparing for the fall,” he says.