Last month I took on a The Speed Project. I wrote about the race a year ago, observing from the outside, but this year I got to live it myself.
The Speed Project is an ultra relay. 344-something miles from Santa Monica Pier to the “Fabulous” Las Vegas sign. Crazy right? Crazy enough for almost 40 teams, and some hundred runners to fly from 20 different countries to participate. There’s no monetary win. Just, a pool party, a cool vintage medal and of course bragging rights.
What started as a dream project turned into this ridiculous challenge to be apart of a TSP legacy.
This year I got to join the Mission I’m Possible family. Unlike most teams that stuck to 6 runners, we had about 12 runners + crew. Being the third year participating in this race, we had a few seasoned runners who knew what to expect out of this race and call the shots on segments.
What made this race different from others was that being nearly 40 teams, this race was going to become more competitive.
Thursday March 29th, 2018
Teams gathered at TSP HQ for briefing, packet pickup and to kindly meet the competition. I was getting goosebumps seeing all the RVs and chaser vans lined up in the tight parking lot and seeing the excitement in all the runners. Kraft Runners one of the anticipated leaders of the race, get awarded most low key RV by hiring an artist to tape up their vehicle (and lost their $1000 deposit as well… lol)
During the meeting Nils, founder of TSP had to be stern about listening to cops and not ending up arrested. Unlike other countries, we gotta take our authority more seriously.
“There are no rules, but there are laws”
Being at the briefing, we realized how small the running community was, and saw some familiar faces from the Bay Area including @concreterunners and female team @dthxsqd. Our friend Jenny @sherunsf, who we haven’t seen all year even stated “Is this what it takes to see each other? TSP just to run with each other again?!” I guess so.
Friday March 30th, 2018
It was about 3:30am as we were pulling up to the Santa Monica Pier sign. From what it looked like, some teams had been there for some time, maybe even slept at the start.
The starting line looked eerie. The plan was to start an hour earlier than previous years to get out of LA sooner and avoid traffic. There was still some fog rolling in from the beach but it just made the whole atmosphere look THAT more epic. The TSP media team was giving their final speeches, and this was probably the last time we would see all runners together until we got to the Vegas.
At 4am the race began! I was nervous, jittery, anxious but also excited. MIP decided we wanted to start with sisterhood so Jenay and I would be starting off the first leg. Although I wasn’t the very first runner, I would be meeting Jenay 3miles in to finish up the first segment. Our strategy was to keep each leg mileage short so that we could recover quicker.
Half our team went ahead where we would meet later that morning. Throughout TSP, we had two vehicles: a chaser van support vehicle to hold runners on deck and an RV for food and sleeping when you weren’t running.
Around 9 am, we linked up with the RV and switched runners from the RV and the chaser van. Sophia mentioned that we were already so much ahead of our time the previous year, but also, the race being an hour earlier than last year made a huge difference and allowed us to get out of LA traffic much sooner.
When in the RV, one of the most important things to focus on is recovery. With the sun being up and the energy still giving you that runner’s high high, you want to be awake (because FOMO) and recover your calories. However, you don’t want to eat too much so you don’t have to take poops in the wilderness. Rule #1: no pooping in the RV. Tuna Cracker Snacks, and Smucker’s Uncrustables were my food of choice for majority of the trip. (I’m pretty sure I ate most of them… sorry team)
As we were waiting for another switch, we parked in this vacant lot somewhere in Palmdale where we were caught up with Concrete, Death Squad, and I think AM:PM(Australia). In the middle of our break, the homeowner of the property came out and initially we thought he was going to kick us out of the lot. Rather than scolding at all these runners, he basically, opened up his home to us offering water, food, (but most importantly, a toilet) after a little curious questioning of what the hell we were doing causing traffic in their quiet town. He also had the cutest puppers that just wanted to play with some humans. Turns out, his kind soul was just home cooking for his friends that are at work all day so that they don’t have to worry about it when they come home. That’s friendship.
By 2pm, MIP was reeling in to the RV again. I myself wasn’t going to run in this next segment so I got to relax for another 5-6 hours. We drove ahead and made our way to the next rest stop before entering the Airplane grave yard.
This area was one that were highly briefed about at the meeting. It was known for stray dogs, rattlesnakes and also meth heads. In the handbook, it pointed out specific directions to stay close to the runner, just in case something/someone starts attacking. Just to be safe.
It was roughly 7pm, but it was light enough that we were still able to see the graveyard of huge airplanes and broken down cars. We were also running along another team, and we were trying our best to stay close by. As if playing catch up with Vans and RVs. Again, we were way ahead of MIP’s time last year that we got to see the TSP course in a different but also competitive light- literally. Throughout the night we continued being neck and neck with these other teams.
Due to a high volume of complaints leaving Palmdale, support vehicles were asked to drive ahead and not follow too close behind runners when we got back to the paved paths. If you thought you were afraid of the dark, try running a mile in it by yourself with no support. Although I had the full moon and a headlamp to light the way, it was so spooky just being alone on the road, when all you can hear is the water in your hand held bottle swooshing back and fourth and your feet hitting the pavement. It was meditative, but still spooky-A…F.
Once we got to the next transfer location close to midnight I was so happy to hear that the rest stop had showers. I wasn’t a fan of the idea of having to shower in dinky RV shower (shout out to Body Wipes) , but had to balance with the fact that the showers would only have ice cold water to bathe in. Good for recovery, I guess. I then treated myself to a strawberry shortcake ice cream because day one was over and yea, I damn well deserved it.
Saturday March 31st
Overnight, the majority of brothers of MIP covered trail portions in the dark.
Simeon Ran this same unsupported 9 mile leg 2 years ago and had to have a support vehicle come find him- he didn’t complete his leg that time. This year, he needed and wanted to redeem himself.
During that same leg, our van found another runner going the wrong way. In true MIP spirit, we picked him up, and dropped him off with our runner. We had them stick together for the rest of segment since it honestly didn’t matter at this point who was ahead or not. Coincidentally, Sim was wearing his volt Nike Pacer shirt not only for visibility, but acting upon that life role for the other runner. Their team was so thankful for us saving their mate.
I tried to get a good sleep, but was restless. You kinda stress about about having to get up to run your next segment. It was still pitch black outside, close to 4am. At the rest stop, we were waiting on Bryan, who was in the middle of a tough trail portion. Yea, I’m the dark. He described this portion like he was running but not going anywhere- as he compared it to running in quicksand. But like him, still had a smile on his face the entire time. We saw nothing but little flashlights in the distance so Julian went out and met him a few meters in for the exchange. Next was Ozzie and DZ.
By 6am we were heading into an even tougher trail portion. There was this one specific hill during the entire race that we have been warned about. No support unless you have a 4Runner.
In the chaser van, we were strategizing that I would take on the beginning half, have the van meet on the other side of the hill and Sophia run the second. Just before my portion, we stopped by a gas station as DZ was running his portion. Everyone needed this rest stop to restock on water, ice, and snacks and the toilet.
As we were driving back, we see some runners hopping over the hill thinking “DAMN, they got here quick!” Knowing DZ, we figured he would make it to our checkpoint fast, but for some reason, waiting, he was no where in sight. we then realized… what if he was one of those runners we saw over the hill?
We drove ahead on the highway, looking out for our runner in his gray shirt and there he was! Thankfully this portion was in viewing distance of the highway. Jupiter, our driver, was contemplating if we should drive ahead and meet him where we had originally planned to exchange Sophia, but next thing you know he makes a U-Turn along the dirt median, cuts traffic and pulls over. I then had to hop out of the Van with little to no thought, jump under barbed wire slide down a rocky path and meet up with DZ on the trail. All he said was “WE’RE AHEAD!!” as he was trailing another runner.
That runner happened to be Sandra Villines, of Firepower -Ultra Marathoner and Bad Water 2017 Winner, an ultra race through Death Valley… no big deal. For a team of Top females and 6 ultra runners, this group was hanging on to our team of 12+. I think at the moment I passed her on this trail portion-(hell yea i passed a champion), things began to get more competitive en route to Vegas.
In the light of things, DZ and I found a slab of wood on the ground that was an accurate shape of the state of Nevada, so of course we took it home with us.
During Jr’s portion, a 6-mile unsupported trail just before Baker, he called me saying his back was killing him, and I can tell he was in pain. Being the worried girlfriend that I am, I asked if anyone from the team could rescue andtake over the last portion of his leg for integrity purposes . Bryan, still tired from almost 10 hours of back to back segments still hadn’t recovered but knew he had to help Jr out. He described running to him as running into nothing but salt flats. It was tough running 2 miles out and back.
When we got to Baker to fill up on gas, SammyJo, Alexa, and Tony from MIP LV met up with us and something about their high energy gave us our second wind. Aka “fresh legs.”
It was about 11am, and Bryan said it was getting real, we were now entering the “Gates of Death Valley.” For the next 6 hours or so, the brothers would be running the desert through the hottest portion of the day. It was a segment that would take all heart. Thankfully, both SammyJo and Mia are trainers so they were able to help our runners recover in between legs.
We heard stories of the guys turning 2 mile segments into 1/2 mile segments since it was getting so hot and unbearable throughout the day. Everyone was out of it but they knew they shouldn’t even think about the mileage they had to cover and just run to get it over with.
Tony who was water boy even got in a mile to help the team recover just that much longer, however being water boy, the team forgot to get him water… lol.
The RV was parked at the end of the segment and we really used this time sleep and finish up RV decals. Crazy, but we saw Coach Raul of Nike Run Club LA, but also a TSP veteran just running on his own as he was training for Boston Marathon. WHO DOES THAT?
By 6pm, the Death Valley Squad was coming in for the exchange. While we went ahead, they said @wmnruntsp team met them on top of our RV without invitation. But rather than a hostile environment, it was a moment of peace and camaraderie. With the race being so competitive and nearly two days in, it was nice to just sit and enjoy each other’s company.
While running through Tecopa, the latter half of Death Valley, we were reaching higher elevation and got to enjoy a beautiful golden hour. Sammy Jo who only ran 2 miles said she was having trouble breathing! I even ended up getting a bloody nose due to the altitude during my segment and could tell my quads were giving out. Probably the slowest I ran the entire race at this point. Everyone was reaching their peak and exhausted, but knew we just about 6 miles each to run until the next exchange. I was also getting hangry.
More than 40 hours had passed by and closer to midnight, Jupiter was the last to exchange with those who were not even rested in the RV. This was the 30-something miles before the Las Vegas sign. I don’t know why we were stalling, but Simeon took off before we knew it. We had to catch up to Firepower who was just a couple miles ahead.
It was a continuous uphill segment, and Bryan said it felt like he was just walking(which Im sure was still probably 8min/mile pace) but once we got over the hill you could see the lights of the Vegas Strip. HOME STRETCH!
During that uphill, we took a lead on Firepower, but they were still on our tail.
With less than 20 miles left in the race, the guys were doing mile segments to quicken the pace. By the time Bryan was even able to get his things together in the Van, you hear DZ slamming on the van for the next runner to go!
“She’s right there!”
Adrenaline was pumping! Once we caught up to this team, there was nothing holding the guys back. Roy even texted us in the RV “if anyone can put in a 7-8 minute mile it would help us rest our legs” — but yea, at this point, us slower runners wouldn’t really contribute.
Not that we didn’t want to help the team, but we couldn’t maintain the pace they were already going. Eventually Jenay and Laila joined van to get in their last miles.
The Finish Line. It was a close race. We met up with the MIP 400 meters out to run them into the Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Compared to the year prior, we had a 12 hr PR! It was early in the morning, and although we didn’t have Vegas family and friends waiting for us like previous years, there was something about the intimacy of just have the team and a few spectators that made this moment so special.
They say there may not be a Speed Project next year, but we’ve heard that before. Until we meet again on the RUNway…