Racing on Mars

That’s what it seemed like racing the XTERRA West Cup at Lake Las Vegas.  Mars.  Arid, rocky, sandy terrain.  Most of the course, with the exception of areas near the resort, was lifeless.  Not even so much of a plant.  I’d top a hill and look down upon a valley that looked like something straight out of a science fiction movie.  I fully expected a Gorignak to spring up and snatch me off of my feet.  Then, just as I was sure I was on a lifeless planet, a lizard would bolt across my path as if his feet were on fire.  I could hear his thoughts (ooch, ouch, ooch, ouch).  It was truly racing on Mars.

But before I get into the race day, I should preface the race report with the pre-ride.  Tim, Jo and I decided to share a suite in Vegas for the trip, so naturally we decided to tag along with one another for a pre-ride.  We headed up to Loews and headed out on the course.  Jo arrived on Thursday night and Tim on Friday.  They had the opportunity to ride the entire course on Friday.  Since I had arrived late Friday night, I had to opt for a short brick session on Saturday.

L to R: Marcus, Tim, Jo
Loews Resort

The course, as described was quite desolate.  Just as you would expect in the desert from which Las Vegas sprouted.

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Not wanting to completely blow my legs up, I decided to skip the largest, most steep climbs on the course.  These are generally “walkers” that the vast majority of the riders dismount once their forward pedaling momentum grinds to a near halt.  It’s at these points in the race that walking can sometimes be just as fast as riding.  If you look carefully in the picture below (you’ll need to click on it to get the full image), you’ll see the first of the “walkers” and little black specs of people walking their bikes up and over the hill in the center of the picture.


After hitting a couple of these hills, there’s one section that’s very steep, loose, sandy, and rocky.  You could tumble just walking down this descent.  Can you imaging riding it?  Again, clicking on the image, you’ll see two riders (indicated by arrows) riding the dicey descent.  We opted to watch, while discussing which lines to take as opposed to riding it, especially since both Jo and Tim had ridden it already.


We continued on the rest of the course, stopping to check out lines and options that seemed smoother and faster.

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Many portions of the course was covered by loose, gravel sections.  These sections, if picking the wrong line could slow you down quite a bit or toss the bike around.


And in classic desert fashion, there were sections of dried lake beds that were also reminiscent of a movie scene (water, water, I need water).

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The Pre-Ride Crash

Shortly after taking the last photo above, we continued on down more portions of the bike course.  At one point, we were descending another sketchy section with head-sized boulders strewn about, traveling at a pretty good clip.  I was following closely behind Jo when something caused her to go down.  Since I was following too closely (I should have known better), I had near-zero time to react.  We were in a narrow valley of sorts, so there was nowhere to go (right or left).  I had one of two choices:  roll right over the top of her or ditch the bike.  Of course, I picked the latter of the two.

I slammed on the brakes and tried a very poor attempt at a “controlled endo” with the intent to stop the bike short of her position, fly over the bars and land on my feet (or at worst, do a T.J. Hooker combat roll).  I had performed this maneuver once before in a similar crash, so for some reason in the very split second that I had, I thought it would work perfectly a second time.

My goal of stopping the bike short of her worked flawlessly.  However, because of the downhill aspect of the terrain, the bike still tumbled right on top of her.  Flying through the air, I realized that my combat roll maneuver had evolved into a full-blown forward flip in mid-air and I came down flat on my back.  My hydration pack took the brunt of my landing.  The cell phone in my shirt pocket also took a blow from a large head-sized boulder as it was sandwiched between the rock and my rib cage.  Catching my breath, I immediately jumped up and helped pull the bike off of Jo and to see if she was alright.  The result was quite a bit of road-rash on her left leg and a pretty, nasty bruised palm.  We shook off the accident and kept riding.  On the next climb, I looked down to notice a flat rear tire.  I changed the tire (better to flat on a pre-ride as opposed to in the race), and completed the ride sans Jo and Tim.

We hooked back up at the resort for a quick dip in the lake.  The pre-swim was quite painful.  I found myself not being able to stretch my stroke completely out and breathing to my left would also result in the same.  “Guess I’ll just have to breathe asymmetrically”.

After our swim, we hooked up with the rest of the MelRad team.  We were hooked up with goodies were handed out from Nathan, Avia, Profile Design, Bellwether, Titec, Lazer Helmets and more (product reviews coming right up).  We talked strategy a bit, socialized and snapped a team photo.

Fast forward to race day.

My sleep the night before the race was intermittent.  Although I had no issue with position, any movement caused pain, followed by tensing up, which caused more pain.  As long as I remained still, I slept fine.

After the cannon fired, I was off on the swim leg.  It involved the usual washing machine thrashing at the beginning of every race.  I was elbowed in the noggin, kicked in the face and generally assaulted.  “As long as someone doesn’t hit my ribs,” I thought.  Luckily, it didn’t happen.  What did happen any time I tried to stretch out my stroke was a spasm.  Each time I would let out a verbal “mmmph” in pain.  “Just get through the swim”.  I did.

My bike was tough, but uneventful (in anything blog-worthy) for the most part.  I didn’t have any crashes and made it down the dicey descent without dismounting (at least on the second lap).  However, I was fairly tired from not sleeping well and as the race progressed, my core became weaker which gave way to more rib movement/pain.  At the tail-end of the ride, I was ready for it to be over with.  Just when the thought crossed my mind, teammate and captain, Alexia passed me.  On her way by, she says (which is my official quote-o-the-day for this race), “Marcus, you’re getting passed by a girl.”.  Thanks, Alexia, it was just the thing I needed to help me suck up the pain and pick the pace back up.

Transitioning to the run, the first few miles I spent fighting quad cramps that began about mid-bike.  They gave way and the first half of my run I was feeling a lot better and faster.  However, with each pounding downhill, I kept exacerbating the pain in my ribs.  I tried my best to cover up the thought of the pain by carrying on conversations with those that I passed and those that were passing me.  One gentleman in particular was Paul Adema who I’d been leap-frogging with the entire race.  We exchanged a bit of words about how we had been passing each other and chuckled on how we had been doing it the entire race.

Upon nearing transition, I began to climb up the famed ridge run that consists of a single track trail with drop-offs on both sides.  You can look down on the finish line and transition area from this ridge and hear the music/crowd.  I approached Chris Robins from behind.  He seemed to have a decent pace, but I knew I could pass him.  The problem is, I just didn’t know when.  As soon as the single track widened up (which just so happened to be on the descent), I passed by and him and picked up the pace a few clicks, barreling down the hill.  I guess he must have seen the age on my calf because he picked up the pace and passed me back.  As he passed, I said, “I didn’t think you would give it to me that easily.”

We made a right turn onto the pavement and both began to sprint to the finish.  We sprinted the entire distance, shoulder to shoulder.    I made it into the timing chute first, but just barely.   Thanks, Chris for such an awesome finish!

Shout-outs go out to my teammates for such an awesome race day.  I’m eager to hear their reports.

Podium shots:


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Jo, you're never going to get that thing closed."

UPDATE 4/27 6:30pm:

Just got home from the doctor’s office.  It’s official, I am the proud owner of one broken rib.

I could kind of tell that already from the crunchy movement, but needed the doc to make sure it wasn’t worse.

During the exam, he poked and prodded until he popped it out of place.  When he let go, it popped right back.  That was not fun.  XRAY also confirmed.

Below you see the XRAY.  The circle outlines the sore area.  The yellow arrow is a little metal bead that they told me to stick where it hurt.  The red arrow points to the break.

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The doctor’s report stated, “CONCLUSION: Nondisplaced fracture of the 11th rib. Clear underlying right lung and pleural space”

More to come…

Be a Warrior,