Woman running on a desert road

 

THE SPEED PROJECT: L.A. TO VEGAS ON FOOT

It's as hard as it sounds

 

It’s a hop, skip, and a jump by plane, but for some adventure-loving runners the best mode of transportation is their own two feet. Here, we hear from Brianna Sacks, a member of the Altra-sponsored team that took on The Speed Project, an unsanctioned 340-mile foot race across some of the hottest and harshest terrain the U.S. has to offer. 

 

07-11-2021

 

 

Two women in red Altra shirts holding a banner

 

 

Jumping over another piece of a tattered rubber tire along the edge of a freeway in the middle of the California desert at 2:30 a.m., the woosh and rush of semi-trucks lifting and pushing my body, again and again, I couldn’t help but smile and wonder if I might die at the same time, which basically sums up The Speed Project. 

The Speed Project is a grueling, 340-mile relay race that starts at the Santa Monica pier and ends at the Las Vegas sign. It’s an unsanctioned endurance event that draws runners from across the globe, who can do the entire trek solo, with an “OG” team of six members, or with as many smelly people as they can squeeze into an RV. The only rule in this absurd, “no rules” race is to get to Vegas on foot as fast as you can. That means running in narrow tunnels as cars speed past, on overpasses, along winding canyon roads, past active train tracks and airport graveyards, over steep, sandy trails, and eventually through Death Valley, at all hours. Anything can happen and a lot can go wrong, like your RV breaking down, getting chased by dogs, or making a wrong turn and not realizing it until hours later (all of which have happened). Teams can also take shortcuts, piling runners onto the back of ATVs or in Jeeps as they bump along 40 miles of dirt road, praying that they don’t get stuck and need to be towed (which has also happened). Sometimes, you get lost out there, which is how I ended up hustling along the 15 freeway completely alone after my teammate had to scramble under a barbed wire fence because he couldn’t find the dirt side road on which we were supposed to run, so we decided, “F*** it," and quickly improvised. 

  

 

Woman in a grey sports bra and black shorts, running on a road in front of an RV

 

"THE ONLY RULE IN THIS ABSURD "NO RULES" RACE IS TO GET TO VEGAS ON FOOT AS FAST AS YOU CAN."

 

 

By that point, we were almost 200 miles in and had been running for nearly 24 hours, mostly in thick heat, and we were still far from the most brutal part of the journey. Despite all that, my legs were still churning in my Altra Torins, and I was in that electrifying, in-my-skin alive feeling that we runners continuously chase. Although the fact that I had to run up an off-ramp to get back to the RV might have also had something to do with it.

 

 

A woman in a blue sports bra and shorts running on a sidewalk next to a rock wall

 

 

It’s hard to describe these dark, quiet hours, as runners sleepily cycle out of now-filthy RVs and into the inky abyss that exists between midnight and sunrise, grinding ahead with no idea where they’re going. These moments are grit and magic, and epitomize why I love these types of “runventures,” as I call them. I’ve run 100-mile, 100K, and my fair share of 50-mile races, as well as recently setting the Fastest-Known-Time (FKT) for a woman on a 68-mile traverse through the Santa Monica Mountains called the Backbone Trail. I’ve also paced friends for the last chunk of their 100-mile journeys (usually for 13 hours at a time) and raced for six days straight across Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. During these ultra-challenges, things can get dark. You’re battling sleep deprivation, dehydration, digestion issues, physical pain, and, often the hardest thing: your own mind, which is clawing at you with every reason as to why you should pull back or give up. The beautiful and unique aspect of The Speed Project is that you’re not alone; you’re part of a team with a shared goal, but you’re all also going through your own individual battles and pushing your bodies to their limits at the same time. And for our team, most of us were strangers until we met for the race. In these circumstances, hurtling through the heat smooshed together and running hard until delirium, you get really close, really quickly – for better or for worse (which included multiple sweaty people sleeping in one bed, dance parties, many bathrooms-in-the-brush trips, and watching Eric pound a can of Vienna sausages from Costco at 7 a.m., among other moments). 

 

A woman in green shorts holding a pair of Altra Torin running shoes

 

 

"...MY LEGS WERE STILL CHURNING IN MY ALTRA TORINS, AND I WAS IN THE ELECTRIFYING, IN-MY-SKIN ALIVE FEELING THAT WE RUNNERS CONTINUOUSLY CHASE."

 

 

Two women high fiving while one is running

 

 

The sunrise of the second day is a strange mix of invigorating and daunting. You've made it through a surreal night but then are about to enter “ground zero” of the race – Death Valley. It’s about 70 miles of scorching nothingness with some long, relentless climbs thrown in. It’s a slog, to say the least, for which the new Torins were perfect. The Speed Project was actually my first time running in Altras and I am now hooked. The Torins were light, with the right amount of cushion, and an absolute workhorse of a shoe. They transitioned seamlessly from my last long leg (a 7-mile stretch of rolling, rocky dirt road) to mile repeats along Death Valley’s steaming pavement. I actually kept them on for about 14 hours straight because they were also really comfortable post-run. 

 

A shot from the back of a woman in a white shirt and black shorts, walking on a dirt path

 

 

After another sunset around 8 p.m. the second day, we finally crested the last, endless climb and all we had left were 26 miles of glorious downhill with the glitter of Vegas in the distance. The theme for these legs? "Drop it like it’s hot." As with most ultra-races, The Speed Project is so special and addicting because it shows you what your body can do, despite all logic. You sink into yourself and see more of what you’re made of, as well as those around you. Even when we thought we were on empty, that last stretch, we were dropping some of our fastest times and leaving whatever we had left in the tank out in the dark Nevada dust. At 11:39 p.m., we hit the Las Vegas sign, 42 hours and 39 minutes after we left Los Angeles. Then we all got what we really, really needed: a (champagne) shower. 

 

Three women on top of an RV in red Altra shirts

About the Author:

Brianna Sacks is a journalist, ultrarunner, and cookie monster from Los Angeles currently playing around Denver.

 

 

The author, Brianna Sacks, in a red Altra shirt, standing in front of an RV

 

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