2001 Mojave Deathrace

2001 Mojave Deathrace

JUNE 9/10 2001

Welcome to our Millennium Race, we hope you survive it!  This is not another pretty 5 or 10 K race on Sunday morning at the beach.   If you and your team-mates are not up to an Adventurous & Hazardous Endurance Team Challenge then go to the beach and collect seashells.

Most athletes that take on this challenging event will have more war stories and adventures to talk about than they have friends who will listen!

We’re gonna test you to see if you’re a challenger or a wannabe!
If you enter the race and don’t survive, don’t expect us to come looking for you.

We’ve heard about a lone telephone booth in the desert someplace.
Find it and call your mommy to come get you!

Heck, if you go out in some spectacular fashion you might get an honorable mention here on the web page…… maybe.


Cramps, Needles, IV’s, Ambulance rides, Helicopters rides and BIG Medical bills,
More Bills, Bruised egos, Terrible record times, and even Death!!!!

These can be yours if you do not drink enough WATER. The desert is as magnificent as it is brutal. Each person should be drinking water hours before you participate. Drink 1 quart of water each 1/2 hour, 5 hours before you receive tap-off. Any less and you might be drinking it through a needle!

This is not a nice friendly 5K or 10K early some Sunday morning at 8:00 o’clock. Also the idea that you are not competing until late in the evening or early morning at 2:30 am doesn’t exempt anyone. The desert doesn’t care. The air is dry 24 hours a day. Ever heard of freeze dried bodies laying along a lonely desert road?


Despite a recent, near disastrous run across Vietnam, the urge for an adrenaline fix has once again come a-knocking. Recognizing cold as my nemesis, I’ve been scouring the globe for an adventure race taking place in a toasty warm climate and the above ad for the Mojave Death Race is the magnet that grabs my attention!

This unique event is the brain-child of a California Federal Marshall named Ron Cooke. Having a somewhat twisted sense of humour, Ron devised this challenging race consisting of 12 person teams for a tortuous run and bike relay across the Mojave Desert. Oh yes; and it takes place in the middle of summer!

The race used to be a brutal 250 miles, but just for fun, Ron decided to add another 33 miles this year, upping the total distance to 283 miles, or 460 kilometers; perhaps in an attempt to have the race live up to its name! The race course starts in Primm, Nevada and continues on in Southern California.

Ours is a mixed team, one of 27 teams entered in the race. Most of our team members are accomplished endurance athletes; marathon and ultra-marathon runners, Ironman Triathletes, ex-pro cycling champion, mountain climber, etcetera. Three vehicles are required to help sort out the logistics of this demanding race, and accordingly, we have at our disposal a motor-home, a van, and a 4-wheel drive for the off-road areas.

At the frailest light of day, the sound of the starting pistol punctures the air, and runners unleash pent up vim and vigor as they beetle off into the desolate desert to take up their toilsome task. The time is 5 a.m., and onlookers are shaking their heads, probably thinking we are all a few sandwiches short of a picnic; a not unreasonable diagnosis under the circumstances, I have to admit!

Our slowest runner is the first to go, and puts us far behind the other teams. The second stage of the race is run by Ivan Steber, a National Disabled Cycling champion, marathoner, and Ironman finisher; not too shabby when you consider he has only one leg! Half way through his run his prosthetic leg is bothering him, so he stops, whips it off, and throws it to me, while another team-mate finds his replacement leg in the van. It’s a most peculiar feeling to be holding onto a person’s leg, while he runs away from you to finish his run!

During stage four, our cyclist Carl has a wipeout on his bike, but fortunately is unhurt and bounces up off the dirt with everything intact except his pride. Riding his guts out through the rest of the stage to make up for lost time, he then treats us to a show of projectile vomiting at the finish. Good ride buddy!

On the next stage, Dave Molinaro, another Ironman, is riding at break neck speed over the dirt road and hits a sandy patch, launching him over the handlebars into the air. As he picks himself up, he spots a lizard up on its hind legs skittering away from him with great urgency. The fleeing lizard no doubt scared to death, having never before been exposed to the intrusion of a flying human in his bleak and barren surroundings.

It’s now 12:35 pm, and time for me to get my fit together! This isolated 17 km stretch is acknowledged as one of the most formidable stages of the race, due to the pitiless heat and tough footing in an inhospitable sandscape resembling a ginormous litter box. I am the only Canadian on the team, which I’m convinced has something to do with me getting assigned this stage of the race!

The bullying sun is beating down with both fists, and taking the scorch north of 100, it’s hot enough to fry a scorpion! As I leave the car a lungful of the desert air instantly turns my mouth dry as dust, reconfirming that running shade-less miles of desert is borderline ‘insandity’. Sneaky sand seeps into my shoes and begins blistering my feet and stymying my stride through the granular, cacti-cluttered terrain. I can’t help but think this is further proof that sand should remain quarantined at a beach where it belongs!

Testing my mettle against the sun’s hurting glare, I fling the salty sweat from my sunburned brow and hobble on into the jalapeño heat. As I am reflecting back on my contrasting Skagway to Whitehorse run in Alaska, a four wheel drive medical ambulance drives by with its sirens wailing. Somewhere up ahead the Mighty Mojave has claimed another victim.

Shimmers of heat vapor dancing above the sunburnt sand have me panting like a panther, but mercifully in the distance I spot the motor-home in the transition area. It was a robust run, and we have moved up several places in the standings. Exhilarated to have my first part of the formidable challenge over, I’m locked into the thought that at this point all I really want is some quality time with a full keg of cold beer; and a very long straw!

Our team races hard through the day, and climbs from last place after stage one, up to the middle of the field. It is 8 p.m., and the thermometer reads 101 degrees before beginning to fall. One of our riders named Carlos has an interesting experience in the dark driving him batty. A strong light on his cycling helmet is attracting a multitude of bugs, which in turn are providing dinners for the cloud of bats dive-bombing him as he accelerates along the darkened roads.

About this time, race director Ron drops by and informs us that so far, four competitors have been taken to hospital. Three with heatstroke and one with a broken collar bone; with many others suffering fatigue from the mighty Mojave’s mugging. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I swear I can hear shreds of satanic glee in his voice!

My second run of the day is only a 10 km run, but I’m drained from all the day’s activities. After a quick puke I begin, with the SAG vehicle following alongside to illuminate the road so I can see where I’m going. Gasps are interlaid with grunts and my mental endurance is strongly being tested as it feels as if I’m shackled in invisible leg irons.

Still, all is okay until I’m about 30 meters from the transition area. From the SAG vehicle, Rob screams ‘SNAKE’, and at that exact moment, I also see it belly-slithering across the road in front of me. With an adrenaline-fueled effort that would shame a Maasai tribesman, I leap over the snake and sprint to the end like a steroid-snacking cheetah on the chase; grateful not to be requiring the services of a toxicologist! Teammates all seem to have a good chortle at the hiss-terical encounter with he who slithers!

Dave, who crashed earlier on another stage, gets a flat tire in the thorny terrain and while repairing it, hears a strange sound behind him that turns out to be a rattlesnake warning him off. Obviously ‘rattled’, and eager to avoid venom in his veins, he hastily finds another spot to repair the punctured tire. Snakes in the desert apparently shelter as the yellow hammers down and only venture out when cooler to forage for food.

Things seem to be under control for the team with no major problems; that is, until we get within the last two stages of the race. The driver of the motor-home (don’t worry Dave, I won’t mention any names) makes a wrong turn on one of the barren dirt roads.

Dissolving into sand, the road turns into nothing more than a narrow nowhere, leaving us no choice but to try and go back. In trying to turn the 29 foot rig around, it gets badly stuck in soft sand. All six of us scoop sand from beneath the tires and try replacing it with rocks. But unfortunately this is to no avail, and only buries the motor-home further into the sand.

Teammate Tom ‘Tominator’ Reid is a hulking California Sheriff who knows his way around cars, and he suggests we try a blanket under the wheels for traction. This sounds like a good idea except for one important thing; we’re in the Mojave Desert and we don’t have any blankets! Grabbing all the sheets of the beds of the motor-home, we wedge them under the tires, but the attempt is also thwarted as the wimpy sheets are too thin to do the job.

We spread out looking for anything we may be able to use; not knowing when, or if, anybody else will venture down this lonesome road. Someone spots some old 6 x 6 fence posts, so we use rocks to dislodge the barb-wire from the posts and carry them back to the vehicle. After more digging we lay the posts down. Tom then suggests grabbing all the rubber floor mats from the vehicle to provide more traction for the tires.

He then jumps in and revs up the motor until it sound like a jet engine. He pops the clutch and floors the gas, causing shattered wood and sand to fly through the air as the big rig fishtails, swaying dangerously back and forth and nearly rolling over. As it lurches onto the dirt road, we’re all yelling with delight and giving each other high-fives. The ‘Tominator’ is undoubtedly the hero of the day!

Unfortunately we miss the end of the race because of our escapade, but a couple of hours later arrive back for a reunion with the rest of our teammates. We have all raced to the end of our strength, and are elated to learn our time for the race was 25 hours 2 minutes, placing our team second in our category.

The insufferable heat has sucked the life out of all of us, and the only exercise any of us are now interested in is diddley-squats. Twinkle, twinkle, little star: Point me to the nearest bar! Courtesy of Corona Brewery, we happily succumb to being awash in a ‘tsunami of beer’ in a sillybration of our achievement, and given the horrid heat, I swear I’m so damn attached to the bar it’s going to require the ‘Jaws of Life’ to remove me!

The physical and mental challenge of traversing hundreds of pitiless miles of inhospitable terrain is balanced by the satisfaction of personal achievement. The ravenous hunger for personal challenge, adventure, and an adrenaline rush has again been satiated; at least for now!

Mark Colegrave       2001