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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

February 6, 2013

2013 BATAAN DEATH MARCH 160K ULTRA: Ernie Endures One Step at a Time

One hundred sixty. 数百ろくじゅうい. Isang daan animnapu. Siento sisenta. No matter how you look at it, in any language,  160 kms is a daunting number for a runner to finish in one get go, especially when it is ran, jogged, walked and trudged thru a sun-baked  landscape with all its attendant humidity and pollution.   

Such is the experience of the Bataan Death March 160 km ultramarathon which had its 3rd edition celebrated from the early morning hours of January  26, 2013 to the late morning hours the following day of January 27. Thirty heroic hours of retracing the complete route of the original Bataan Death marchers in World War II  ( from Km 0 marker at Mariveles, Bataan to Capas National Shrine, Camp O’Donnell Capas, Tarlac).

And for the 2013 edition, 43 runners, out of 60 starters, survived and crossed the finish line within the 30-hour cut off time.  83neans in all corners of the globe are happy and proud to know that one of our  batchmates is one of these brave and indefatigable finishers. Ernesto Venancio “Ernie” Badong came in 42nd with a time of 29 hours and 35 minutes. 

Despite being 2nd to the last of the finishers, Ernie’s feat is no less remarkable and triumphant than that of the No. 1 finisher (Alfred delos Reyes at 22 hours & 23 mins).  He exhibited no less focus and endurance than all the other survivors. I should know because I was there when it happened.  Together with fellow 83neans Bobby Castilla and Ruben “Fards” Fajardo, we served as support and pacer crew for Ernie. 

Here is my account on those fateful hours of January 26 & 27, 2013.  My account  started from the Km 102 marker:

8:30 pm Old Railway Station,  San Fernando, Pampanga

I saw Ernie trudging towards the midway station where all runners have to check in. Cut off time at this station is 10pm and Ernie had  an hour and a half  to spare. He still had the eveready smile but judging from his limp and posture, it would seem that he had less to spare. The 102 kms had taken its toll on him.  Roughly 255,000 steps on concrete, asphalt and gravel surfaces have that debilitating effect on one’s body. The limp was a result of his right foot swelling. His leaning posture was due to his core weakening. We quickly sat him on a monobloc chair and Orly the driver worked on massaging his calves. I handed him a wanton mami from Chowking.  Earlier, I called up Bob,  who was Ernie’s support from Km 0 to Km 102, what Ernie wanted for dinner.  He did not want any solid food like fried chicken or pasta but was fantasizing about a hot soup.  Chowking mami  was the closest and surest thing to that request.  Ernie gulped it like it was his last meal.  

Fards, Ernie and Bob at Km 83
At Km 102, Ernie getting a massage
Fards, Bob and myself conferred while Ernie was resting. Bob, who was disengaging at Km 102 as he was going home to Bicol for his parent’s wedding anniversary the following day, sternly advised Fards and me that we should monitor  the time. With 58 kilometers more to go till the finish line, Ernie had more than 13 hours. This translates to  13.4 minutes per kilometer. To give us a comfortable  buffer, it was decided that we would manage Ernie’s time target to 10 minutes per kilometer the rest of the way. 

It was also decided that I would have first and most of the crack at pacing duty as Fards was still nursing an injury.  Knowing this, I immediately geared up with the strobe flashlight and simple hydration bottle the most critical of these gadgets.  

With 5 minutes before 9pm, Ernie pushed on from Km 102 with me at his side.  He was still limping.  I tried to cheered him on with his signature mantra for this BDM 160, “One time lang.” This seemed to have an effect on him as pretty soon we were eating meters at a brisk walking pace with the flashing strobe light our pace guide.  

A kilometer away, we caught up with a solitary runner, wearing Bib No. 21. Seeing that he was alone, we started a conversation. His name is Alain Llaguno and he is a runner from Albay.  At the start of the BDM 160, he was not alone. He was running with another Bicolano but this runner had to DNF before Km 102 due to severe dehydration; his companion was peeing blood. Such are the perils of ultra running.  To make matters worse, Llaguno had no more  support vehicle as the car and the crew had to attend to his dehydrated companion. 

We continued our talk with our fellow Bicolano but after half a kilometer, he faded and could not keep up.  Looking back at him, I wish him good luck and good health but in my mind, I was not very optimistic of his chances of finishing the BDM 160.

Ernie was successful at maintaining his speed of 10 mins per kilometre in the next 2 hours that I was pacing him. At 11pm, I turned over to Fards the pacing duty and I rode the Isuzu crosswind to get some sleep.

12 Midnight Outskirts of Downtown Angeles City:

After an hour of sleep, I was waiting at the junction which signals the entry to downtown Angeles. Parked nearby was an Isuzu DMax pick up, a suppot vehicle of another BDM 160 ultra runner.  I looked closely and I saw that the runner was lying down on the back of the vehicle. His support crew had given him a handful of minutes to take a power nap.  Mental note.  At some point before we hit the province of Tarlac, we should offer Ernie this luxury. 

BDM runner taking a nap at the outskirts of Angeles

One by one the ultra runners with their respective pacers passed by.  I observed that most of the participants had lovely pacers.  It was only our Ernie that was without the benefit of the charming and bubbly presence of these cute lady runners.  Ernie was stuck with 2 old foggys, Fards and me, for his pacers.  And as Fards would point out, 2 old runners with lingering injuries.  But to his credit, Ernie kept up with his pace and was uncomplaining.

One of the lovely BDM pacers
I took over from Fards as Ernie was about to enter the kilometre long road that is the ground zero of nightlife in Angeles.  The sight of people, many of whom in a partying mood, buoyed the spirit of Ernie and we even managed to do some Galloway 2:1 in this stretch. 

But when we exited the town center, Ernie’s walking pace slowed significantly. The power walk was replaced by a walking stupor.  Clearly, Ernie was getting very very sleepy and this was true to the other runners in his group. I saw even a lady runner  being held on her arm and guided by her pacer to walk even while she had her eyes shut.  We could have done the same for Ernie but he refused to be guided by the hand.To battle sleepiness, he did request for coffee and Orly gladly obliged. At every stop in the support vehicle, Ernie was handed coffee.  Later on, Orly disclosed to me that the coffee he was giving Ernie was of the strong barako variety.  The coffee kept him awake.  But a side effect was his constant need to stop walking and pee. This affected our progress and his pace had slowed to 14 minutes per kilometre. I tried to prod him on to a faster pace by walking faster and signalling him to match my stride. But he was unresponsive and I saw myself getting 20 meters ahead of Ernie.  So, I had to slow my stride so that he could keep up with me.  He was already sleep walking and I had to be very near him to make sure he does not trip or fall on a ditch.  

Egging on a BDM runner on the road to Mabalacat

Head massage and coffee to wake up Ernie
When we hit  downtown Mabalacat, I again turned over pacer duty to Fards.  This was in front of the Our Lady of Divine Grace Parish Church. Before boarding the Isuzu Crosswind, I said a little prayer that angels may guide and grace  Ernie’s every step.

4am 1 kilometer after the Bamban Bridge: 

The Bamban Bridge is the border between the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac. I woke up a kilometer from this bridge and I overheard Fards telling Ernie that he would allow him to sleep for 5 minutes only. So  much sleep he needed and Ernie was only being  given a handful of minutes.  Fards also informed me, in a manner worthy of his Colonel rank in the military, that I was going back to the fray in the next stop.  I said “aye aye, sir.” The  mood in Ernie’s camp was turning into an “all hands on deck” atmosphere.  Ernie has endured for close to 140 kms already and we did not want this to end in a non-finish for our brother in arms, more like brother in soles.

Waiting for my turn to re join the Happy Hour
I resumed    pacer duty as Ernie was passing the Municipal hall of Bamban.  At that point, I saw a few ultra runners whose faces I have not seen since I joined Ernie’s support crew at Km 102 way back in San Fernando.  Was Ernie slowing down that much that new slower runners are catching up with him or has Ernie’s pace quickened that he had been able to catch up with some who reached Km 102 ahead of him? That was the question in my mind. Looking at these new faces, I figured the answer was that Ernie was able to catch up with these runners as they had slowed down more significantly given injuries and muscle fatigue.   

One of these runners  was being helped by his pacer as he took one tiny step at a time.  I could not tell if it was cramps or an injury but he was literally being dragged by his pacer.  This brought a tear in my face as this image reminded me of what the original Bataan Death March heroes had to do to be able to survive their forced march at the shadow of Japanese bayonets. 

 Ernie  trudging towards  Capas

Compared to these injured runners, Ernie’s pace was faster.  However, it was not faster than the 10 min per km we originally set out to do.  His walking was slowing to a snail pace of 14 mins per km. I was looking at his posture and I wondered if Ernie had enough energy and spirit in him to be able to manage a run or jog when we reach the final 14 kms of this 160-km odyssey. 

6:30 am McDonald’s in Capas:

The McDonald’s in Capas is a signal to us that Ernie has  14 more kilometres to go.  3 hours & 30 minutes to tackle 14 kms. The numbers look promising for Ernie given that on a good day, he can finish 14 kms in roughly 1 hour and a half. But this is not any good day.  This is not even a normal day. Ernie has been running and walking for more than 26 hours already. Did he still have something left in his gas tank?  

I guess the answer is that Ernie is not powered by fossil fuel. He runs on solar power for as the sun rose and shared its sun rays with the runners, I saw Ernie going into a jog.  He was energized by the sun. He maintained the jog  for more than a  kilometer. This development brought a smile to the faces of our support crew.  This adventure will not end in a failure.

 Ernie jogging towards the Capas National Shrine
Ernie kept at his running on downhill and walking on uphill and pretty soon, we were at the entrance to the Capas Death March shrine. The BDM race director, retired General Jovie Narcise designed the BDM 160 km race route in such a way that the spirit of endurance of the ultra runner is tested severely. The BDM 160 participant will not turn left to the shrine but instead will run another 5 kms up the road before taking a u-turn and back to the shrine.  An additional 10 kms before tasting victory. Lesser mortals will go crazy with this but BDM ultra runners are made of stronger stuff.Ernie is BDM strong and he gamely trudged on, not even looking to his left at the shrine. He was focused.

At the last u-turn, I caught sight of a runner in red a few meters behind. It was the runner from Bicol, surnamed Llaguno. I would not have expected him to still be running but here he was ready to overtake us. As he passed us, I could not help but give him a salute.  

The rosary

As Ernie left the last u-turn, I saw in his right hand a small rosary.  It dawned on me that he could have been praying the rosary most of the time in this BDM ordeal.  I asked him about this and he said yes he was praying.  True to his Parochial, Seminary and Ateneo upbringing, Ernie has kept the faith, thanks to his rosary devotion. More than any other running gadget, the rosary  is Ernie’s secret weapon in this BDM ordeal.  
At last, we are inside the Capas National Shrine

9:27 am At the entrance of the Capas National Shrine:

By God’s grace, we are now here at the entrance to the Capas National Shrine. A couple hundred of meters  is the finish line where the Bald Runner is waiting. Nirvana awaits. 

After 160 kilometers, Ernie is ready to cross the finish line that will have his name included in the select list of BDM 160Km Ultra finishers. As we enter the Capas National Shrine gate, Ernie is in  the company of 2 other participants: Roger Villareal (Bib No. 19 ) and Ron Illano (Bib No. 96).  A true gentleman up to the very end of an ultra race, Ernie let the 2 go ahead of him.  He figured it is best to give these runners a solo stage for their respective finishes.  We had time then to linger at the tall flag pole that marks the entrance to this historic shrine.  

Ernie triumphant
Waiting for his turn
How sweet it is to be a pacer
Ernie trotting towards the finish line

When he saw that the 41st finisher has reached the race director, it was only then that Ernie trotted towards the finish.  And to my eyes, bias or not, it was a marvellous trot, truly befitting a man born in the year of the horse.    

Finally, we hear the cowbells enthusiastically being struck to signal the arrival of yet another brave finisher to this most famous of all the ultra races in the country. Ernie, with the ever present smile, crossed the finish line with roughly 24 minutes to spare before cut off.  He got the customary hug from the race director. Later on, after the 43rd and last survivor has crossed the finish line, Ernie got his BDM medal, trophy and belt buckle.

BR, with cowbell at hand, warmly welcoming Ernie to the finish line
Ernie showing his BDM medal, trophy and silver buckle
BP, Ernie, BR, Fards and Rolando Nerona (5th place finisher)
The BDM 160Km Ultra is an extraordinary experience for extraordinary runners.  We in the Ateneo de Naga High School Class of 1983 are honoured and happy to have 2 batchmates in the select list of BDM 160 finishers.  

Congratulations to Ernie Badong! 

Ernie reflecting on his BDM 160K Ultra experience
In closing, allow me to quote a few lines from a poem on the Bataan Death March by famed poet and USAF veteran Karla Dorman.  Her words evoked emotions I felt as I witnessed the steadfast courage of  my running buddy Ernie in taking one step at a time to survive the BDM ultra:

I cannot imagine what it was like to be
Marched until you couldn't take.  One.
More.  Step.  What were your last
Thoughts as you stared into the gun
Pointed at your head?  Was it fear?
Or resignation?  Did you pray?

And if you weren't shot where you fell:
You kept on.  One foot in front of the
Other on the road to Hell.
You were one of the lucky ones.  Will never
Know what you endured.  You kept it deep
Inside, in a secret place, that none should
Touch, all the way to your grave.


  1. thank you BP! wow! with Fards, Bob and our Maestro, it was indeed an unforgettable experience! thank you God and mama Mary for the strength and guidance. thank you sir Vic for the pacing, motivating words, hot noodles, support vehicle, kuya Orly for the hot coffee and massage. thank you pading Fards for the support vehicle,pacing,gymboss,hydration/nutrition,pharmaton, herbal na pang haplas, kuya Larry, sir Lando Nerona, sa 3mins na turog hahaha!thank you pading Bob and Errol for the support from km0 to km102. thank you also to my fellow 83neans for your prayers and support. Pading Art, Ed, Ghibz, Bitoy in SG, Jobel,Boots, Odjie, Boro, Atty Bisenio, Pidong, Boodjie, Epoc and to all batchmates in Naga, Manila and abroad, Baldrunner/RD and race organizers,to all i forgot to mention, Dios Mabalos saindo Gabos! there is nothing compare how very happy i am in this feat. as i said before "one time lang" para satuya ini gabos mga padi! Mabuhay ang 83neans!!!

  2. Your welcome Ernie. I hope you are back at work and ready for some running again. Your BDM 160Km achievement is an inspiration to us all.