Nils Arendt says, “When the police pull you over, be very nice.”
“Personally, I have my issues with authority, but with the Speed Project they are representing all of us in every interaction.”
“So be nice, cooperate. And when they ask what you’re doing, just say, ‘Oh, we’re a bunch of friends going to Vegas.'”
“They don’t want to know anything more or anything less.”
Arend is sitting in a bar in north London, explaining the basic rules of one of the world’s most demanding extreme races.
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To be polite, but prudent before the law, the 560 km race between Los Angeles and Las Vegas through Death Valley is part of the instructions given before the start of The Speed Project (TSP), which does not regulate and It does not have any sponsor.
It doesn’t even have a website, no button that says “Register here”, no rules, no special route, no audience and, until a week ago, no official start date.
This is the equivalent of “Fight Club” (film about underground fights) for the world of runners, created in the image of its founder.
Before running the marathon, when she moved to Los Angeles in the mid-2000s, Arendt hosted a rave party at a brothel she borrowed in the tolerance district of Hamburg, Germany.
Despite the clandestine status of the race, many of the world’s fastest athletes and some of the biggest sports brands appear on the start line.
But, how is it that they happen to get there? Well, it’s a long story shrouded in secrecy.
Arend relayed for the first time in 2013 with five friends, three men and two women. That competition format is now known as the Original Way (OG) course.
Since then, three more categories have been added, including, incredibly, a singles event in which British extreme runner James Poole has competed for the past two years.
“It’s hard to say no to being so hypocritical, self-righteous or saying everyone is doing the wrong thing,” Poole says. Eating nothing except food and drink from gas stations along the highway.
“But I think once you have a box full of medals you’ll never see again and a collection of jerseys that mean nothing to you, going independent is the purest way to exercise your choice.” Is.”
Arend shares the same love of cynicism. and a complete opposition to the formal style of long-distance running competitions.
“When I moved to Los Angeles, I ran a few marathons,” he says. “But I felt very out of place. Like they weren’t my kind of people.”
“So the next thing for me was to start doing my own thing. We create a safe space for everyone to come as they are. No marathon can do that. To be able But they won’t. They are running their show just like 25 years ago,” he says.
“There are two levels of motivation for why people are attracted to TSP.”
“One is, ‘Okay, I want to go out there and compete and break it,’ and the other says, ‘I want to use TSP and its community to amplify my voice, my mission, my cause. I am leaving. As long as they align with our community, they are what we want.”
Most of the world’s sports brands want to be a part of Arend’s vision.
The Speed Project celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and the list of brands sending teams includes the sport’s elite, from Nike to Tracksmith, from New Balance to OnRunning.
His presence at the most discreet start—the race begins at 04:00 a.m. at the Santa Monica Pier (Los Angeles County)—is one of the many contradictions of an event that equally invites and eschews publicity. Time.
Despite being free of all the paraphernalia of high-profile racing, the appeal of TPS to big brands has skyrocketed.
Poole understands that strange irony more than anyone else.
The 47-year-old sponsors a short film of the event in 2022, with him in a motorhome to refuel, sleep and assist with navigation.
This year, however, he unsupported the event entirely, the only entrant to do so. a decision which Arendt herself regarded as “madness”.
This meant that Poole was not only responsible for running more than 500 kilometers through wildly variable conditions – he spent most of the 2023 race bundled up in a jacket and pants because of unusually low temperatures and snowstorms – He was also accused of finding his way and looking for food and a place to sleep.
How to deal with monotony
“I have some discomforts from TSP, but I’m sure I’ll be fine,” he says.
It’s been two weeks since she got back from Los Angeles, and Poole and I are running 10km along Regent’s Canal (in north London) and her other usual routes in the east of the city.
After talking about his plans to run a marathon in a few days, Poole tries to explain the charms of TSP’s 560km route, notorious at first sight for its monotony.
Part of the 2023 trip took them on the Yermo Highway, a straight 120 kilometers of pavement without any curves.
“You run six hours and you’re on the same road,” he says. “You hit another six and keep going down the same road.”
“If you’re running 120 kilometers a day like I did, you spend the whole day on the same road without turning once.”
Paula Radcliffe, the great British long-distance runner, repeatedly counted to 100 in her head while running a marathon.
“Can you imagine how many times I would count to 100 if I did the same thing,” Poole asks with a laugh. “I think the important thing is to just be in the present. And I think that’s what Paula does by counting to 100, she’s not thinking about the future.”
“You must enjoy the moment as much as possible. If you start thinking at 80 kilometers that you have 400 kilometers or more to go, it blows your mind.”
Poole, who carried a camera during the race and captured some of the images in this article, continues: “The TSP route is somehow beautiful in its brutal style. There is beauty everywhere. It all depends on how you look at it.” How to see. Gas stations are the ugliest thing, but they are beautiful when you meet them.
“For a Brit, we don’t have extensive places like that or the old American ghost towns,” he says.
“I could sleep in abandoned buildings like I did, which is difficult in the UK.”
How scary is that?
“A little,” he replies. “When you sleep in buildings riddled with bullets, you think, ‘How safe is it?'”
“I remember last year I saw a car full of bullet holes, but there was a chair behind me and I was so tired I thought about sleeping in it but decided it was a stupid idea.”
“Apparently there were people who used it for target practice. You see?”.
Alternative to simple
At first glance, Arendt’s process from throwing underground rave parties in Hamburg to leading an ultra-endurance race in Los Angeles might seem improbable.
But he insists that there is a connection between the two.
“It is what it is, it’s an endurance sport for people, many people who have given up on nightlife,” he explains. “A lot of people who’ve had problems, alcohol, drugs, whatever, find themselves in that game and we’re creating an environment where they can understand.”
Poole feels the same way, insisting that TSP’s run should be seen as a reset button to distance himself from societal norms. It’s an extreme, yet conscious retreat into the woods away from the monotony of 9-5 life.
“There’s a certain joy in being self-sufficient[in TSP]and taking care of myself without needing anyone,” Poole says.
“Nowadays, everything is easy enough, isn’t it? We live in a world of convenience, especially in the UK and US.
“You can order your food from Deliveroo (delivery service). You don’t even have to leave your house.”
“It’s the other extreme. Nobody brings you something. You don’t have it until you find it. And if the venue is closed, that’s how it works.”
Overstepping the bounds
Poole knows a lot of that.
This year’s race repeatedly featured stretches where they had to endure eight to 10 hours without the option of a food or water supply.
Arend also knows, and revels in, the feeling of escape and pushing the limits of physical endurance.
In fact, if rumors are to be believed, going eight to 10 hours without food or water would be a short walk compared to their plan.
Speed project in Latin America?
In our conversation, Poole said Arend is looking to bring a Speed Project-style race to Chile this November.
It will be similar to TSP in terms of distance and ethics, but much more extreme as it will send runners across the Atacama Desert, one of the harshest environments in the world.
A run through the Atacama would have zero re-supply options. Teams will have to be completely self-sufficient by carrying all their equipment in off-road trucks given the characteristics of the terrain.
Arindh is evasive when I ask about other plans. “That’s a tough question,” he replies. “We are searching for other elements.”
“I am always working on my own adventures, and just like how TSP was born, if I find myself on an adventure that I feel is worth sharing with the community, I do so Will continue to do so.”
But the pool is less ambiguous.
If Arendt takes part in the race for the Atacama, he will be the first to put his name on the list, despite the risks. Because
“What I don’t understand are the people who run the London Marathon over and over again and try to spend the rest of their active lives under five seconds of time that nobody cares about,” he says.
“My answer to that is stop chasing something that isn’t important and do something that is exciting.”
“There are many subtle reasons not to do things like TSP. But in the end, the short, somewhat blunt answer to why you do these things is because you can. And if you can, do it.” why not try it? (yo)