Race Day: The Full Monty
1. Pouring the Coal
It’s race day—at 4 a.m. PDT, fifty-odd teams are taking off from the Santa Monica pier for Las Vegas. There are over 300 runners gathered to compete through the desert.
“I wish it could be my first time again,” Forrest said on Wednesday night at Hinano’s, a dive bar in Venice Beach. The guys double over laughing and reminiscing about the last time they raced together.
It’s a TSP tradition to get burgers and beers with the other teams before heading to the desert. There’s a pool table on the other side of the dimly lit and crowded space. The crack of billiards crashing into each other competes with the sound of the burgers sizzling on the grill. The smell of grease overwhelms the salty air. Newbies and veterans alike press into the bar and cheer for the basketball game playing on televisions.
One such veteran is Leigh Gerson, one of the OG team runners who still remembers the night Nils, the founder of Speed Project, was convinced to turn the idea of running from LA to Vegas into a race, almost a decade ago. We talk briefly, swapping injury stories. I tell her about going to PT for some knee and hip trouble earlier this season—she has me step back, sizes me up, and immediately identifies the problem: “You have a lot of internal rotation.” She’s now a strength and movement coach in LA with every imaginable certification the California Department of Health could come up with to require. We part ways to go greet other friends.
The night at Hinano’s is also when everyone goes in on the Side Bet—a bucket of guesses of what the winning time will be written on five-dollar bills—whoever guesses the closest time wins the lot.
Aside from the unpredictability of injury, my main source of anxiety has been coming up with a plan for nutrition and the fear of bonking and cramping up. Marcus has been preparing everyone mentally for the point when the fatigue will hit—and it will hit. He and Forrest have both warned from experience about how towards the end we won’t want to eat but must force the calories for energy. Also sleeping and recovering between segments—part of the challenge is keeping legs from getting stiff and lactic acid buildup. We have compression recovery boots and Theraguns, which should help.
Our team spent most of Thursday running errands to Costco and getting the RV before the mandatory check-in and all-teams meeting at TSP headquarters. To keep things from getting too crowded in the main cabin of the RV, we’re all trying to limit our belongings to the necessities:
When we pull up to the TSP meeting the legendary old limousine is parked in front of a warehouse entrance that is covered in tape spelling out “TSP” and “LALV.” As RVs pull into a parking lot next-door to the LAX runways, it becomes more and more clear why The Speed Project has a reputation for being Burning Man for runners. A DJ plays a house remix of Bella Ciao inside a metal dome cage as the runners and their support teams load cases of Liquid Death and Maurten sports fuel into the RVs.
Another item GRIT has been avidly discussing while #bonding is brainstorming what we should get for team tattoos once we make it to Vegas (sorry mom). Many runners from past years sport ink featuring the line of the course and the abbreviations: both Marcus and Forrest have LALV on their Achilles. We’re open to suggestions in the comments.
2. No Spectators / No Rules
“It’s not that there shouldn’t be spectators—it’s about participation, it’s about contribution,” Nils tells the assembled athletes, explaining the ethos and tagline that sometimes leads to confusion. “Each of you, regardless of if you’re the RV driver, a crew member, or a photographer—you’re contributing, and you’re participating—that’s the spirit of what TSP is about and that’s why you guys are our community, and we are yours.”
He went on to joke about how incredible it is to see so many people map their own routes and all the different ways people have approached the challenge. He thought people would just follow the original course they set out and he would have to come back and break the habit, but instead, people have embraced the spirit of finding faster ways to get from LA to Vegas.
In the midst of all the chaos leading up to the race, one of the greatest assets that has cut the fear and eased a lot of my worry is a master spreadsheet execution plan drawn up by our GRIT teammate Drew, who is a master at coding.
He broke down the whole route segment by segment and optimized the order of runners based on our strengths, taking into consideration elevation, temperature, and safety.
The first solo runners have already started to arrive in Vegas after setting out on Monday. It’s been difficult to pull away from watching their progress on Instagram—it’s a photographer’s dream: the landscape and the athletes at their limits.
Probably the most entertaining and uplifting story so far on the course has been David Kilgore’s support crew taking over the remainder of his miles when he sustained an injury after leading the pack over the first 100 miles. They could have just stopped—the Tracksmith team called off their solo race after an injury on the course this year—but no, Kilgore’s party decided to tackle the miles and finish as a team effort.
They arguably appear to have had the most fun on the course as well, blasting the Mulan soundtrack in the desert while four-wheeling across a “shortcut” down the powerline road through the night. One crew member, Chris Lotane, isn’t even a runner and hadn’t run at all leading up to the event and still jumped in to help chip away at the miles. He also seems to be carrying the team’s morale with a jovial spirit and libertine stunts like running naked.
While all of the solo runners are obviously insanely impressive for taking on the distance alone, there is something gratifying about seeing a support crew making the choice to finish the run and get to Vegas on foot instead of abandoning the project. They’ve embodied the spirit of No Spectators/No Rules to the fullest.
Read a Travel + Leisure write-up on Malcolm Ebanks, one of the solo runners currently on the course!