Athlete Profile: Don Balcom
Navy veteran Don Balcom is a member of Team Warfighter Sports. Setting his sights on the marathon distance at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Don has used some of the more challenging events on the Warfighter Sports calendar such as the Hood to Coast relay, Navy/Air-Force ½ Marathon and the Bataan Memorial Death March as part of his training. In this interview, Don discusses his first Bataan race and his tips for others who want to try off-road, adventure-style races.
1. How long have you been doing distance races? What motivated you to get involved in running?
DB: My first running race was the 2012 Hood to Coast Relay. Back in late 2011, I was watching a program about the Ironman Championships in Kona and thought a triathlon would be fun to compete in. I then began running to lose weight, get into better shape and begin training for a future triathlon. After being invited to Hood to Coast by DSUSA and competing, I was hooked on running and have competed in nine races (one relay, four 5Ks, on 5-Miler, one 10K and two marathons). I competed in my first distance race over seven miles at the Lower Potomac River Marathon in Piney Point, Maryland at which I qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon.
2. How does the Bataan Memorial Death March differ from other running events you’ve competed in?
DB: Bataan was a very unique race. All of my training and races have been on paved roads or on a treadmill at fairly low elevations and relatively flat terrain. The Bataan race over the high hills, desert and sandy trails provided a great and challenging race experience. Also, the reason for the race in honoring and remembering the Bataan survivors added a special environment. Most of my previous races were in small venues with less than 200 participants and very few spectators. It was a real treat to run in a race with 5,000 plus participants and the huge crowd cheering us on.
3. This was your second marathon in one week. Do you feel that had an impact on Bataan race day?
DB: Competing in two marathons in a week definitely impacted my performance at Bataan. My legs were not completely recovered from the previous week and I could definitely feel it during the race, especially on the ascents. It took about half of the race for the tight parts of my legs to loosen up. By the time they did, other areas were getting tired from compensation.
4. This was your first time running with guide Kenny Burd, and Kenny’s first time guiding. How did you two work together? What sort of communication did you have prior to and during the race?
DB: Kenny and I worked very well together. Bataan was the first race other than the Hood to Coast where I had a guide. We discussed how he could guide me prior to the race, but since neither of us had much experience with guides, we decided we would wing it and figure it out as we ran. We made a very conscious effort to start out front to make sure I was not in a crowd, which is difficult with my severely limited peripheral vision. At the beginning of the race, we ran side by side. Eventually, we decided that Kenny running in front of me worked out better. He stayed about 10 feet ahead and made sure to verbally point out obstacles such as holes, loose sand, rocks, curbs and other runners. Having the guide really reduced the stress I normally have during a race in that I didn’t have to worry about missing turns or running into or tripping over items, especially in a trail/off-road race.
5. Do you think you will do Bataan again? If so, is there any way you will adjust your training, not knowing what to expect?
DB: I would love to do Bataan again. There are a few ways I will adjust the training and approach. The first is I most likely will not run a marathon the week prior to Bataan. The second is a lot more training in preparation. I only had 10 weeks of marathon training before my first marathon. Most marathon-specific training plans are 10-16 weeks minimum. Both of these changes should help me be more competitive and place much higher overall. I am very competitive and my goal is to win the civilian light division.
6. What was your favorite aspect of the Bataan event?
DB: I found the overall atmosphere to be the best. To run the event with other members of Team Warfighter Sports and military personnel made for a great atmosphere. It was surreal hearing all of the cheers and support as I ran the course. The views were amazing also.
7. Any advice for future Bataan runners/marcher?
DB: Train, train, train! This is a very hard event and it requires adequate and appropriate training. Also, make sure you are properly fueled and hydrated before the race and maintained through the race. It is also important to train with the equipment you will be using during the run/march. As with any distance race, nothing new on race day.