THE SPEED PROJECT 5.0: RACE RECAP 2019
Have you ever had the desire to do something totally irrational? I mean, the kind of thing that makes your friends and family look at you and say, “What the f*%$ is wrong with you?” We do. Constantly. That’s what brought us back into the desert for the second year in a row to make the trek from Santa Monica to Las Vegas on foot as part of The Speed Project. We had some familiar faces, as well as some newcomers who are just as bonkers to attempt this journey.
For those who weren’t around for our first crack at this truly absurd race, here is the rundown: In 2014, Nils Arend and 5 friends wanted to attempt the irrational. They set out on a 340-mile quest starting at the Santa Monica Pier, traveling across busy highways and rugged dirt roads, tagging each other out mile after mile until they made it to the infamous Welcome to Las Vegas sign. No rules. No set course. No medals at the finish. Just a hunger to see if they could. The desire for a challenge was infectious, and each year new teams toe the 4 am start line-- knowing they will not see that famed sign for close to 2 days. This year’s winners did the trip in 31 hours 15 minutes.
Before we continue this story, let’s just make one thing clear. We are not the winners.
Ours is a story 13 people, 8 runners, and 5 crew members, who are recklessly committed to fun. We drank fireball out of the bottle. We ate fluffernutters as thick as our trembling quads. We competed to see who could poop the most times. We drank beer by the dozen.
We were not the winners.
But, we are a group of coworkers who thoroughly enjoy spending time together, love to run, and had just launched a new line of limited edition glasses centered around everyone’s favorite city of sin. So into the desert we went; stocked to the ceiling with avocados, Fritos, peanut butter, bananas, and butt wipes.
We set out with only 3 rules for our 340-mile trip:
1. Be safe.
2. Have fun.
3. No pooping in the RV.
While there are technically no rules to this race, the rules in our RV were ironclad, none more so than the 3rd. Have you ever pumped an RV? Me neither, and I don’t have any interest in changing that fact.
So, this goodr crew gathered in Santa Monica at 4 a.m., watching our fastest runner take off down Ocean, and given that it’s L.A., we barely beat him to the first exchange: 5:52 pace. He tagged our second runner in, and she started with a 5:52 pace as if she isn’t a 4-hour marathoner. The open road reminded her very quickly. And that’s how it went. Fast and slow, road and trail runners alike, tagged in and out as we made our way through Los Angeles, out into the Valley, then disappearing into the desert.
In a race with no rules, we were able to decide our plan of attack. Armed with only a spiral bound book of the segments the original crew had broken down, we headed towards Death Valley ready to tackle the distance 6 miles at a time. Then 3 miles at a time. Then 2. Then down to 1.
I cannot tell you, even as a marathoner surrounded by a team of ultra runners, how far a mile can feel when you jump out of the sanctuary of your RV, tag in, and then watch the RV drive past you and into the distance.
In the beginning, when we were still doing 6 miles legs, it was almost an exhilarating fear watching the RV drive by and continue far past what your eyes can see. Just you, the road, and the old school Britney you’re blasting in your headphones. The excitement then doubles when you catch sight of the RV in the distance, hearing the cheers of your teammates, and tag out for what will probably be close to 5 hours. Plenty of time to stuff a fluffernutter in your mouth and put your feet up with a Modelo.
Day two is an entirely different monster: you’re tired. You’re in the middle of nowhere. Some of your teammates ran all through the night while you snuggled with three other people on one of the three beds in the RV. Six miles might as well be 50; it’s all but out of the question. When you get dropped off for a 1-mile leg, and you watch the RV inexplicably keep driving down the roadway past where you thought they’d stop, the only thing you can think is, “Nope. They must’ve have made a mistake.” That lasts for the entire first five minutes of your mile. And let me tell you, five minutes is a long time. You can cook two and a half hot pockets in that time. You can do one of those mindful meditations on that app you downloaded and then never touched again.
We continued this for the last 30 miles. Methodically cranking out miles with the Vegas lights finally on the horizon. Last year our fastest runners took the lion’s share of the descent into Vegas. This year our whole team stepped up to the plate. While we can’t all throw down 5-minute miles, we had runners who ran 10s and 11s the whole race throwing down 7s at the end. It’s amazing what the body is capable off when you’re running on excitement, delirium, avocados, and the knowledge that your destination has beds and toilets. Though, I will say there is no feeling quite like being completely connected to nature through the bond formed wandering around in search of the biggest bush to hide behind. And it’s the desert, so there are few.
And like King Cash now living in the High Roller room, we rolled into Vegas donning our black and gold shades on a runner’s high unlike any other before, amplified by sleep deprivation and copious amounts of sugar. This ragtag group of runners finished at 1:44 am, coming in at 46 hours and 43 minutes, running in that last quarter mile as a team. No cheering crowds, just us popping champagne bottles-- knowing what we had done and celebrating each other. We were not the winners. But fuck, it sure felt like it. We drank, took pictures, then piled back onto that RV for one last time to make our way to the hotel.
Kilroy J. Oldster said, “A narrow hallway is all that separates rational from irrational, creativity from insanity, and intelligence from stupidity.” I imagine the road from Santa Monica to Las Vegas being this long hallway, and we toed the line for 340 miles between rational and irrational. Creative and insane. Intelligent and stupid.
And we’d do it all over again.