What is your team’s name?
The Hudson Valley Haulers is derived from the
location of our home here in Newburgh New York. The
area between Manhattan and the Catskills is
considered the Hudson Valley. We fly the C-5A
Galaxy, the largest cargo plane in the United States
military inventory, hauling massive amounts of cargo
around the world.
What category were you in?
National Guard Military Light. We are in the Air
National Guard and therefore do not really carry
rucksacks unless tasked in a special deployment
What are the names and ages of the team members?
Kris Geis (39), Team Captain 2004. Nic
Caputo (36), Team Captain 2005. Alta Wood
(39), Team Captain 2006. Lew Benassutti (40).
Tom Albrecht (37). Ryan Dannemann (28)
Where is the team from?
Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh, NY. We
all live in the local area. Nic is from Connecticut,
Kris is from Ohio, Alta is from California, Tom, Lew
and Ryan are native New Yorkers.
How did you hear about the Bataan Memorial Death
A fellow officer mentioned that people like
ourselves would possibly be interested in competing,
given our background in adventure sports.
Had any of your teammates done the march before?
Our first time would have been 2003, had it not been
cancelled due to military obligations throughout the
services during the Global War on Terrorism.
Our first year of participation was 2004.
Did any of you have prior experience with other
marches or marathons? Extreme sports?
Yes. We’ve all done something in the realm of
extreme sports to include adventure races (Kris Geis
has competed in the Subaru Primal Quest), rock
climbing (we live under “The Gunks”, the premiere
climbing area of the northeast), mountain biking,
running (Nic Caputo and Alta Wood competed in the
NYC marathon) Tae Kwon Do (Tom Albrecht is a
five-year Black Belt and instructor), and various
other sports such as kayaking, rugby (Lew Benassutti
is on a local rugby pick-up league) and snow
Why did you decide you enter?
We have an immense pride in the uniform and our role
in the military ranks as Air National Guard members.
We are always looking for the next challenge and it
was the draw of honoring the actual Bataan Soldiers
How did you decide what category to enter?
We wanted to compete in our uniforms and represent
the Air National Guard.
How did you put the team together? Tell me
about your teammates, what are they like?
We’re all very good friends and junior officers at
the same base.
Kris is the “work horse” of the entire group and
if he hasn’t tried a sport, it either is not
worth doing or hasn’t been invented. Always
positive and motivating.
Alta is the lone female of the group, but
seriously considered one of the guys when it
comes to athletic ability. She has an innate
drive to excel and absorbs each new aspect of a
sport like a sponge.
Tom is the giraffe at 6’4” and makes the rest of
us shorter people look like midgets. He’s the
most laid back, go-with-the-flow type person
you’ll ever meet with a heart of gold and
determination; the true team player.
Lew is almost exactly opposite of the rest of us
in that he never has really exploited his inner
athleticism. He became our “project” and quite
honestly was our true success story during our
first year, with the team rallying around him to
get us all across the finish line together.
Ryan is the young guy where he can slouch on
some the more intense training and allow his
youth to take over. He is very head strong,
determined and intelligent, having a good talent
for poetry and storytelling.
Nic is all encompassing. He is our coach, our
team captain, our mentor, and our cheerleader.
His intentions are always sincere, heart felt,
and for the betterment of every participant of
the race. He is the epitome of a team player
and a leader.
When did you start training?
Our official training schedule usually starts in
November, however we all try to get a jump on each
other to get ahead of the game. This past year
we threw in an extra month because of our
performance goals this year.
How often did you train?
About four-to-five days a week but many times ended
up with the occasional six with different
disciplines or if we counted a great day on the
local ski slope as “training.”
Did you have a training plan or was training more
We had a very formal training plan, published and
everything by Kris, our official team trainer.
This is one of Kris’ true talents being so organized
and leaving nothing to chance or guess work.
It was a sad day at the gym if you ever forgot to
check the schedule for the days training regimen!
Did you train individually as well together as a
We always made the effort to train as team.
The first year we were so in tuned with each other
we could almost feel each others emotions, physical
strength and thoughts as if they were our own.
The first year we even made a comical log book that
we still refer back to and laugh. If you’ve
ever trained as a group you’ll find that some of the
most comical events will unravel right in front of
you that will become the topic of discussion at
almost every get-together following the event.
Give us a general idea of what you did (built up to
the weight, distance, etc.)?
The first year we spent a good deal of time in snow
shoes, having been a great snow year in New York.
We trained at lunch for an hour either doing hill,
speed or endurance training. Each year we had
three progressive “hikes” or runs (12, 17 & 23 miles
long) throughout the training season. We are
fortunate to live in a very beautiful recreational
landscape having done a lot of our training on the
Appalachian Trail, Shawangunk Ridge Mohonk Preserve,
Catskill Mountains and numerous state parks.
Although many of those training sessions were done
in the most diverse weather, to include below zero
runs in the snow, we were able to do much of this
year’s training in the sanctuary of our own
newly-constructed base gym on the treadmills. The
dynamics of the training gradually changed with each
passing goal. The first year it was all about
hiking, hanging out with friends and taking in the
sights. This year we had to bring out a
“Fun-Meter”, with the top of the scale being “Almost
Fun”. Our goal was to run this event in a
respectable marathon time of 4-4.5 hours, which
meant we had a long way to go from the days of just
running the flats and hiking the hills.
How did you train for the extra weight?
Although we competed in the light category, battle
dress uniforms are heavy weight cotton and no matter
how light the combat boots, they turn into cinder
blocks by mile five in New Mexico. Training in
the winter, forces you to use hiking boots while
running, snow offers the resistance similar to the
sandy conditions experienced on the march and extra
layers add to the weight of Camel Baks and food
stores on the long runs. Our good friend Lew,
however, was roped into this event well before he
ever knew the full meaning of “training” and the
exertion he would experience at this event. As
tuned in as we all were, none of us anticipated that
we would run 75 percent of the course, least of all
Lew, which makes our success even that much more
Did you enter with the goal of winning or placing
The first year we never even dreamed of placing or
doing as well as we did, in fact, we decided only at
the last minute to stick around for the awards
ceremony. We were outside the tent because it
was standing room only, when they announced the
National Guard Light category winners as “The Hudson
Valley Haulers”. We all looked at each other
and mouthed silently, “Are they serious?” or
“really?” to each other in disbelief. So just
think of the surprise and elation we felt when they
handed Kris the traveling bronze trophy as a prize?
The marked expression of sternness and defeat by the
commander was all we needed to realize we were being
challenged for next year, and since the Army has
captured the trophy for the past 14 years, we were
the “Newbies” of the event that just took their
property home with them as if it were being stolen.
From this point on, we always anticipated
returning home with the trophy. While we had a
goal of just finishing the first year, the second
was to reclaim the trophy without using a tow rope
and the third was to place first in every category,
even though we could only compete in one.
Do you have any training tips you could offer future
Team events are the way to go. All of us have
done individual competitions and nothing is more
enjoyable than training and competing with a good
group of people. Start your training well in
advance of the event and above all else train for
“The Hill.” Everyone including ourselves
always underestimates the hill. There is
definitely a need to stress the importance of
nutrition and what works well for your body.
Never try anything new the day of the event (we’ve
got funny stories for this too, but not pleasant for
What were you expecting of the event?
Most of us expected to be moved by the event but
nothing could have prepared us for how much it would
move you and get the emotion to the surface. I
don’t think there has been a dry eye on the team in
the past three years while crossing the finish line.
Had you ever been to southern New Mexico before?
Some of us have and having been adapted to high
humidity every summer here in lower New York, the
dry air was actually good for us.
What was the attitude where you came from? Did
the altitude here affect your performance?
Although we did most of our training from 250-1500
feet above sea level, the altitude in New Mexico did
not affect us at all. We prepared for the
higher altitudes by properly hydrating and
increasing our aerobic threshold. Our team
trainer ensured that the team properly hydrated
throughout training up to the event (100+ ounces a
day). This alleviated headaches, cramping, and
breathing issues, which are all early signs of
altitude sickness. Secondly, increasing our
aerobic threshold and intensity levels by performing
the scheduled interval and hill training, took the
team out of the “comfort zone,” which improved
cardiovascular fitness, speed and overall aerobic
power. This was our greatest training
accomplishment this past year because we allowed our
bodies to perform more efficiently at higher
altitudes making us more competitive on race day.
What was the hardest thing about the event?
What was the most difficult segment of the course?
The hardest aspect of this event is that even though
it is considered a marathon it has far too great a
diversity to be considered “just” a marathon.
Changing from hard pack to asphalt back to hard pack
and then desert sand is enough to buckle any
athlete’s knees. Add in the harshness of
battle dress uniform in dusty conditions and a
five-mile long hill under full sun separates the
weekender from the diehard athlete. Even
though the hill is considered a very tough aspect I
believe the last four miles of the event is the most
difficult for three reasons. First, the sand
is unstable, rutted and your feet are well on there
way to becoming lumps of clay. Second, you are
able to see the finish line that doesn’t seem to
draw any closer because of the route around the base
and psychologically is depressing. Finally,
the wall creates an air block that soaks up the heat
and wind which just adds to your fatigue. For
the participants that come through this part later,
it becomes a harsh sand blaster as the winds pick
up, making it even harder.
Was anything easier than you expected?
The “Sand Pit,” while difficult, is not as bad as it
always is made out to be. For one, it is much
shorter than described by many and we train all
winter in the snow that over-prepares us for this
How did you physically feel early in the event?
Mid-event? Toward the end?
It’s all relative to your conditioning, hydration
and energy stores. Our team spends a great
deal of time dialing in what works best for each one
of us. We all have our strong and weak points,
such as, Tom is great at opening his giant stride
during the down hill sections, while Nic excels at
the hill climbs. Alta and Kris have a great
pace which never changes regardless of the terrain,
making them efficient at all stages of the course.
Ryan has had his difficulties as well as Tom and Lew
throughout the events due to dehydrating, but there
isn’t one real place when anything feels really
good; it’s work! The beginning is always tough
because we always burst into a high-paced run to
bank time for when we don’t feel as strong.
The hill is never-ending on hot pavement in black
boots; not a lot of fun is ever going to happen in
conditions like that! Toward the end you just
try to work through your demons to get to the end
within your goal, whether you’re ignoring an
excruciating blister (In year one, Kris actually
named two heal blisters after Lew, whom he towed
using a bungee cord the majority of the course),
dealing with a sore knee and joints or feeling
lethargic in the heat and realizing you should have
Did you ever “hit the wall?” What gave you the will
to keep going?
None of us have ever hit the wall because we always
had each other. The first year when Lew
couldn’t run any further, Kris was towing him, Nic
was lifting him from the bottom of his pack and Alta
was pushing him, moving as one unit not five
individuals. Another time, Tom had developed
severe knee pain and relied on Nic and Kris to pull
him along a couple of miles. We make it a
point of continually talking throughout the event so
we all stayed in tune with each other and offer
advice or in many cases, instruction. Every
one of us has a job whether its motivator, reminder,
teacher or mule, each one is equally important.
Something as simple as, being reminded to drink
(Alta’s job) can be a Godsend at the end of the run
when you are adequately hydrated, instead of dying
from when your blood becomes the consistency of
pudding moving through your veins when you realized
you didn’t listen.
Did you have any issues in keeping the team together
along the route?
Not really. We always had the mentality of
starting and ending as a team and you can’t do that
if you leave someone behind. Bathroom breaks
consisted of running ahead of the team, with the
intent of rejoining the team as they passed when you
were done. Also, we all know our abilities
considering in the first year Nic needed medical
attention for blister repair. The team went on
ahead into the sand pit, slowing down the pace to
allow Nic to catch up within that zone. Not
all that fun for Nic, but he soon rejoined us with
the encouragement of a hooting and hollering team
when we caught sight of him and picked up our normal
Is there any unusual incident that happen to you on
the route, or was there some really interesting
person you met along the way?
One of our most favorite stories is about the first
year: We all wore bright-blue, long-sleeve
compression shirts made by Under Armor (seems that
this is our trademark for the last three years).
This made us highly visible and easily recognized as
the team from New York and as Air Force
representatives. As we passed participants on
the course, we exhibited extraordinary teamwork,
which was noticed by many (Lew was being towed by a
much smaller Kris with a bungee cord). There
was a Major from Oklahoma that we befriended, who
never had the intention of running the course but
stayed with us until the finish. Then there
were two female civilian athletes who we kept
running into that actually, in the last stretches of
the course, came up and assisted Nic and Alta with
helping Lew get through to the end. At this
point our team was pretty beat up with all of us
having blisters by this point, tired and having been
scarred by the rigorous course. In a
surprising burst from behind, these women came in
yelling and excited saying, “We’ve watched you guys
get this far and we can’t let you die out now.
Let’s go!” Finally, we had a group of
civilians, who we are friends with to this day, that
we met the second year from Arizona. They
became our personal fan club, having made up signs
for their backpacks, advertising our team and
cheering when we finally passed them before the sand
pit. There were many more acquaintances and of
course all of the wonderful survivors and war
veterans we have met over the three years doing the
How was support along the route (water points and
Absolutely fantastic. Everyone was
enthusiastic and motivating. They all had a
smile on their face. The refreshments were
fresh, clean, cold and juicy. The massage
therapists were absolute angels.
Did your team have any injuries that had to be
Each year we have learned how to prepare better and
better, which has limited out injuries to minor
blisters. Most of us walked away with missing
toe nails and bandages the first year, except Tom,
who ironically wears cotton socks and Alta who,
being female takes exceptional pride in her feet.
Did individuals on your team assume a particular
role? Was there a “spark plug” person on your
team -- the person who gave you the encouragement to
We are all motivators, but Nic and Kris get the
title of “Cheerleader”, but specific roles were as
follows: Tom is the pace setter, Kris is the
mule and dictates to Tom whether to adjust the pace
or not, Alta is to announce the drinking and eating
intervals, Nic is the motivator and announced the
team statistics of pace, distance and speed, Lew’s
sole job was to listen to what his teammates were
telling him and therefore became a robot (he did a
great job). Ryan was the only member without a
job, however, considering he didn’t get the
opportunity to train with us together much, it could
be said that he spent the time on the course
becoming our teammate.
You say your female team member was really good?
How so? Did she keep up with the guys?
Really good is a gross understatement. What
sets her apart from most people is that she will
never quit and her strong will, compounded by her
athletic prowess gives an extremely competitive
advantage over her peers. Alta makes our team
stronger, never weaker. The reality is when
training or racing, there are no individuals on the
Hudson Valley Haulers; we think of Alta as a
teammate rather than a female. She is
the epitome of a team player because she demands
nothing and accepts whatever role is needed to
better help the team succeed!
What did your take along the route (power bars,
cookies, sunscreen, etc)?
Was there anything you didn’t take that you wish you
The first year we packed like we trained, taking
every energy source and the kitchen sink too.
We all love to eat, but try choking down a crumbly
Fig Newton or Pop Tart when you are gasping for air,
which we are chalking up to lessons learned.
We usually fill the Camel Baks with energy drink
like the Power Bar Endurance (it doesn’t have to be
watered down like Gatorade). Carbohydrate gels
are the food of choice being easy to digest with
almost an instant energy kick. The Power Bar
brand even has electrolytes to further prevent
cramping. A pack of dried apricots offer an
enormous amount of potassium and good energy boost.
We always put on sunscreen prior to going out on the
course, mostly due to Alta being very good at
protecting herself from the sun. We eat a good
carbohydrate breakfast of oatmeal in the car ride
over to the event. The only items we wish we
would have taken are the items you dream about while
you’re out on the course, which is primarily our
greasy hamburger and bar fries tradition following
Was there anything you wish you had known before you
We are borderline professional tour directors for
this event. The first year we had six people,
the second we had 11 and finally last year we had 19
Stewart personnel join the event, which consisted of
two teams and 9 individuals. We arrive on the
Friday preceding the event, spend some good quality
friendship time and sightseeing on Saturday,
participate in the event on Sunday and travel home
on Monday. We have promoted this event so much
that an alarm here at Stewart may go off if you
change anything on the web site. (kidding!)
What did you think of the overall event? Did
you attend any of the activities (history seminar,
The Great Raid movie?)
We obviously love the event! Most of us have
read the Ghost Soldiers and last year we had a Team
Movie Night and watched the Great Raid together.
This past year we were able to attend the
discussions at the community center and were
fascinated. Even more awe-inspiring was our
visit to the war memorial in Las Cruces where we met
Tony Montoya, a Bataan Survivor who gracefully told
us of his personal experiences impromptu under the
shadow of the bronze Bataan Death March Memorial.
For 45 minutes we got a first hand view into history
that was both inspiring and emotional.
Did you know anything about the history of the
Bataan Death March before you came?
Yes, but your information on the web site helped
reacclimatize all of us to the actual events.
Did you meet any of the Bataan survivors? How
did that impact you?
We have met many of the survivors, listened to their
stories and above all else got to shake their hands
honoring their sacrifices and bravery. Our entire
group is part of the military, therefore we can
relate to there sense of obligation, true meaning of
their service to their country and sympathize with
the cost their experience has rendered upon them.
You say this was an enriching and rewarding
Our team and fellow participants share a bond that
continually resurfaces. We have become closer
by the very nature of being a team. We’ve
experienced pain, happiness, laughter and a slew of
other emotions together. Nothing is more
tangible than meeting the actual survivors of
Bataan. It is an extreme honor for all
of us to be a part of such a phenomenal event that
allows us to listen to those amazing stories by true
American heroes and understand what they really went
through. For a brief moment we actually felt
like we were there. Crossing the finish line
is a great accomplishment; shaking the hands of the
men that we honored was Priceless!
As a military member, do you think there is value in
participating in this event? Did it require
any skills that you might call on at some point in
your military career? (teamwork, etc.)
There are hundreds of reasons to participate in this
event. A few of the most prominent and
meaningful are teamwork, physical fitness and
history. As a Soldier, team work is of the
utmost importance; together you become a machine
working towards a common goal. Participating
in the event promotes physical fitness and better
health, because you can’t just walk off the street
and do this course expecting to perform at a high
level. This country is molded by its history
and we should never forget what events and
sacrifices made us what we are today.
Do you think you will ever do the Bataan Memorial
Death March again?
We’ve done it the past three years, we’re holding a
trophy the Army Guard wants desperately to reclaim,
the event is just as challenging the last year as it
was the first, all members of our team continually
get stronger every year and we are looked up to by
many of the would be members contemplating
participation….I think there’s a good chance you’ll
see the Hudson Valley Haulers again.