We get the low-down on The Speed Project
The Speed Project needs little introduction. A 340 mile ultra relay from Santa Monica to Las Vegas, an entry into the unsanctioned, unsupported race is in some ways harder to get than a BQ. For starters, there’s no website, no application form, and no details on how to enter.
The intrigue of the event grows each year, as does its reputation. The Speed Project has now become the event for those looking for something more than another big city marathon. However with only 20 spots available in 2017, most were forced to watch through their social media feeds.
For the event’s creator, Los Angeles based Nils Arend, the growth of the event can’t come at the expense of the authenticity.
The Speed Project is hard, no matter how much you train or how well you prepare. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
“I do anything in my power to make this a get together and bring in new teams, but I don’t want to lose the rawness and adventure of what we’re doing here. It’s still running through the desert for 340 miles”.
“We’re not about high-fives just for showing up. Just showing up isn’t gonna cut it for The Speed Project”
The OG way to run The Speed Project is in a mixed team of 6 (min. 2 of each gender), but some teams run with up to 10 runners (the course record is measured on a mixed team). Each runner in theory will cover around 56 miles, including a long stretch through Death Valley. As brutal as it sounds, Arend is having no trouble entering teams from around the world.
“2018 is going to be a wild one! This year we have over 300 athletes within 40 teams and from approx 20 different countries participating. It’s cool that this really becomes a global get together. That was one of my goals and we are heading in the right direction”.
While this fourth edition of the event will be the biggest, Arend never started it with the intention of blowing up.
“I never thought it would get this big this fast. When we first did it, it was for the sake of running it and experiencing it, not for the sake of creating a running documentary or an event.
Then when we were planning the first one we had some friends that wanted to make a film out of it. So they produced this 17 minute documentary to release, and after we released it...nothing happened. Everyone was hungry for edgier and different running content, but it didn't have an impact”.
It was after this that Arend realized maybe showing people the run wasn’t enough. Maybe he had to take them on the run.
“I was talking to an RV driver from the original trip. And he was like ‘dude that was the sickest thing i've ever done in my life’. And this guy was just driving! So then I realised that the impact on people comes when they do the event with us, not just watch the video. So that's when we decided to invite other people to join us.
The first year we invited people to join us we had 6 teams, and I had no idea what to expect when we got to Vegas. Were people going to hate me or hug me at the finish?”
“We don’t promise anything to any of the teams. We don’t say ‘you’re going to have the best time of your life’...But you might!”
Like anything organic, authentic, and incredibly popular, there are questions and rumours about the future of the event. Will sponsors get their hands on it and strip it of its appeal? Will it become an event with 300 teams, drink stations, and overnight rest stops in the future?
Arend is matter-of-fact about how he would approach the next stage of The Speed Project.
“Growing TSP would enable us to do other cool things. So there’s a chance we make the current event way bigger so we can fund something crazy”.
"If people think my new TSP ideas are insane, that tells me we're on the right track to keep challenging the norms within the sport!"
Many people speculated that the 2018 edition of The Speed Project would be the last one. Unfortunately, Arend can't put your mind at ease just yet.
“People are saying to me ‘I heard this is the last year’. No, I just never commit to doing it any further out than the next one. If we feel like doing it again, we will. If we feel like doing one of the other ideas we have, we might do that!”
“There’s so many race events out there but the mainstream ones, they all suck. People are getting tired of that. Right now I feel like we have this responsibility to do cool shit”
With the expansion of the event in 2018, Arend is looking forward to a whole new group of people getting to experience one of the most rebellious events in running.
"The upcoming 2018 project is all about giving access to these who we met along the way and who haven’t had the chance to experience the desert with us! As well as the old-timers who are coming out to make it another fast year!
I am especially excited to see so many all women teams participate, this is gonna be the race within the race!"
The 2018 edition of The Speed Project takes place in late March. We're just as excited as you are to see what Nils Arend cooks up beyond that. You can follow the event through their social page here.
Editor's Note: TEMPO will be bringing you a number of related stories in the lead up to the 2018 edition of The Speed Project. Subscribe to our mailing list to keep up to date.