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Bataan Memorial Death March: 26 miles of high desert and perseverance

VASQUEZ ROCKS NATURAL PARK, Calif. – Capt. Jessica Pratt (Left), 21st Space Wing executive officer, and her sister Lt. Jamie Stewart, Francis E. Warren, Wyo., deputy flight commander, compete in the Spacerock trail race half-marathon through Vasquez Rocks Natural Park, California in 2016. Spacerock is well known as the backdrop for popular movies such as “Joe Dirt”, “Austin Powers”, and “Star Trek.” (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Bataan Memorial Death March is a challenging 26.2-mile trek through the desert terrain of the White Sands Missile Range. The march honors heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II.

The U.S. surrendered the Bataan peninsula on the main Philippine island of Luzon to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. Approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops on Bataan were forced to make a vigorous 65-mile march to prison camps.

The prisoners, sacrificing their freedom, health, and in many cases, their very lives, trudged along in extreme heat and were subjected to harsh treatment by Japanese guards. Thousands perished in what became known as the Bataan Death March.

Participating in the Memorial Death March this year is Capt. Jessica Pratt, 21st Space Wing executive officer who will compete in the 30-39 year old division. Her younger sister, 1st Lt. Jaime Stewart, Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, deputy flight commander, will participate in a separate division in the event along with Ryan Stewart, father to Jessica and Jaime, Mar. 25, 2018.

“I was going to run last year but couldn’t because I had photorefractive keratectomy eye surgery,” said Pratt. “This year I’m ready to go.”

The three will compete as individuals but run as a team for the event. Pratt will compete in the Military Individual heavy division, the toughest division, wearing battle dress uniform, boots, and a 35 pound backpack for the hike through hard packed sand.

Each backpack is measured before and after the event to make sure that weight is maintained.

“I’ve run two marathons before,” said Pratt. “My last one was the Chicago Marathon last October and my first one was the U.S. Air Force Marathon at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio in 2012.”

“I like to have tiered goals when I run and my first goal in Chicago was to complete it,” said Pratt. “My second goal was to do it faster than my first marathon, and I did by 40 minutes.”

Her final goal for the Chicago Marathon was to finish in under four hours. She finished in four hours and three minutes.

“I just didn’t quite have it,” Pratt said.
Pratt said training for the run is very similar to how she trained for other marathons. She has various short runs throughout the week and one long one to build up stamina.

“Running shorter distances is good but you’ve also got to do long ones to build up stamina,” said Pratt. “If you don’t get those long runs in it’s difficult to do well and feel well.”

“The most important thing to have for the march is well broken in boots,” said Pratte. “I read that around 25 percent of the people that do the march drop out because of foot injuries.”

According to the Marathon Guide, the Bataan Memorial Death March is one of the top 30 marathons in the country. At the finish line several surviving Bataan prisoners are there to await the competitors to congratulate them on completing the grueling run.