The Speed Project: A ‘Fight Club’-style secret race between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“When the cops pull you over, be super nice,” Nils Arend advises.
“I have a problem with authority, but in The Speed Project, you represent all of us in every interaction.”
“Be nice and cooperative.” And when they inquire what you’re doing, simply respond, “Oh, we’re just a bunch of friends running to Vegas.”
“They don’t need to know anything more or less.”
Arend is sitting in a north London bar, explaining the rules of one of the world’s most prestigious ultramarathons.
The Speed Project (TSP), an unsanctioned, unsupported 350-mile race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas via Death Valley, includes a pre-race instruction on being pleasant yet discreet in the face of the law.
It has no website, no “register here” button, no rules, no official route, no spectators, and no official start date until a week prior.
It’s a running-world “Fight Club” fashioned after its founder. Arend organized a dance night in a borrowed brothel in Hamburg’s red-light district before discovering marathon running after migrating to Los Angeles in the mid-2000s.
Despite the race’s obscurity, the starting line is packed with some of the world’s fastest athletes and biggest companies.
How are they getting there? That’s a long story, steeped in mystery.
Short grey line for presentation
Arend initially ran the course in 2013 as part of a relay with five companions, three of whom were men and two of whom were women. Competing in that style is now referred to as the original (OG) way of racing.
However, three more categories have been created since then, including a solo class in which British ultrarunner James Poole has participated in the previous two years.
“It’s difficult not to sound holier than thou, preachy, or that everyone else who is doing their thing is wrong,” says Poole, who completed the 2023 race in just under 119 hours while wild camping in derelict buildings surrounded by used gun cartridges and fueling himself entirely with food and drink from roadside gas stations.
“But I do believe that going off the grid is a purist way of doing something you love once you have a box full of medals you never look at and a collection of T-shirts that don’t mean anything to you.”
Arend and I both enjoy playing leftfield. And a general disdain for the conventional approach to elite distance running.
“When I first moved to LA, I ran a couple of marathons,” he explains. “However, I felt completely out of place. ‘These are not my people,’ I thought.
“So the next step was for me to start doing my own things.” We create a secure space for everyone to be themselves. No marathon can accomplish this. They might be able to. But that is not what they are doing. They’re still running their old software from 25 years ago.