“When the police pull you over, be the best you can be,” says Nils Arend.
“I personally have a problem with authority, but in The SpeedProject you represent all of us in every conversation.
“So be nice, be friendly. And when they ask you what you’re doing, just say, ‘Oh, we’re just a bunch of friends running around Vegas’.”
“They don’t need to know more or less.”
Arend is sitting in a north London bar explaining the rules of the world’s most sought-after competition.
Being friendly, but smart, in the eyes of the rules is part of the brief of the race that they offer at The Speed Project (TSP), an unofficial, unsupported race of 350 kilometers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas via Death Valley.
It has no website, no “register here” button, no rules, no official process, no viewers and, until last week, no launch date.
It is the “Fight Club” of the athletic world that was created according to its founder. Before he found racing after moving to Los Angeles in the mid-2000s, Arend hosted rave nights in a rented house in the Hamburg district.
Although the race is underground, the starting line is filled with some of the world’s best, and most famous, athletes.
How do they get there? Well, that’s a long story, shrouded in mystery.
Arend ran for the first time in 2013 as a competitor with five friends – three other men and two women. Competing in this way is now known as the original (OG) method of running.
Since then, three more categories have been added, including, surprisingly, the individual class in which British athlete James Poole has competed for the past two years.
“It’s hard to make the holier-than-thou, the preacher, or anyone else who is doing what they’re doing wrong,” says Poole himself, among the old camps in dilapidated buildings surrounded by used firearms and feeding himself with food and drink. along the way, he completed the 2023 race in less than 119 hours.
“But I think when you have a box full of medals you’re not going to look at and T-shirts that don’t mean anything to you, then leaving the group is a way of doing things. that you like.”
Arend shares the same love of the left. And a real dislike for the staid way of running a competitive distance.
“When I moved to LA, I ran a few times,” he says. But I felt useless. I was like ‘these are not my people’.
“The next step in all of this was for me to start doing my own thing. We create a safe space for everyone to express who they are. No marathon can do that. They could. But they’re not doing that. They’re just running their own program like it was 25 years ago.
“There are two motivations for why people are attracted to TSP.
“One is ‘OK, I want to go there, sing and smash it’ and the other is ‘I’m going to use TSP and its communities to expand my voice, my purpose, why I’m here’. It’s about who our community is, that’s who we are. we are.”
Many of the world’s top athletes want to be a part of Arend’s vision.
The SpeedProject celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and the list of teams that have sent teams are those in the sport, from Nike to Tracksmith, New Balance to On Running.
Their presence at the very low-key starting line – the race starts at 04:00 at the Santa Monica Pier – is one of the distractions of the event where all courts avoid announcing at the same time.
Stripped of the usual trappings of high-speed racing, TSP’s appeal to large corporations has skyrocketed.
Poole knows more about this unusual joke than most.
47-year-old assistants made a a short film about an event in 2022accompanied by a camper to help with fueling, sleeping and sailing.
This year, however, he ran the event unaided, the only person in the field to do so – an idea that Arend thought was “crazy”.
This meant that Poole not only ran over 500km through various terrains – he spent much of 2023 in a jacket and trousers due to sub-zero temperatures and torrential rain – he also managed his route. his food, and his lodging.
“I have a few niggles from TSP but I’m sure it will be fine,” he says.
Less than two weeks after returning from Los Angeles, and Poole and I are on a 10k run along the Regent’s Canal and some of its more established routes in east London.
Having started discussions about the plan to run the race in a few days, Poole is trying to explain the appeal of the 350-mile TSP and a route that, in his eyes, is famous for its lack of features.
Part of his 2023 route took him down the Yermo road – a straight distance of 75 kilometers without a single turn.
“You run for six hours and you’re on the same road,” he says. “If you do six more then you’re still on the same track.
“If you’re doing about 75 miles a day like I was, then you spend the whole day on the same road without making a single turn.”
Paula Radcliffe used to count to 100 in her head while rehearsing for a marathon.
“Can you imagine how many times I would have gotten to 100 if I had done that?” Poole laughs. “I think the important thing is to just be there. And with what’s going on, I think, counting Paula to 100, you’re not thinking about the future.
“You have to enjoy the moment as much as you can. If you start thinking at 50 kilometers that you have 250 or more to go, it just blows your mind.”
Poole, who took a camera with him to the race and took some of the pictures in this story, continues: “The TSP course is brutally beautiful. Beauty is everywhere. That’s how you see it. the gas station is ugly as sin but beautiful when you get there.
“For a British person, we don’t have open spaces like that or old American towns.
“I ended up, sleeping, in empty houses, which is hard to do in the UK.”
Isn’t it scary? “Yeah, a little bit,” he says. “When you sleep in houses with bullet holes in them, you think: ‘How safe is this?’
“Last year, I remember seeing a car full of bullet holes, but it had a bench seat in the back.
“Apparently they were used as a way to shoot people – can you imagine?”
At first glance, Arend’s journey from organizing underground raves in Hamburg to riding extreme endurance races in Los Angeles might seem impossible.
But he insists that there is a relationship between the two.
“At the same time, it’s an endurance sport for people, many of whom are separated from the nightlife,” he says. “A lot of people who have had problems, alcohol, drugs, find themselves in this game and we’re creating an environment where they feel understood.”
Poole feels the same way, insisting that the TSP should be understood as a renaissance in human behavior. An extreme, but thoughtful, retreat from the 9 to 5 lifestyle.
“Being confident is fun [at TSP]and taking care of yourself and not needing anyone,” says Poole.
“Nowadays, everything is easy, good. We live in a very easy world, especially in the UK and the US.
“You can have Deliveroo deliver the packages. You don’t even have to leave your home.
“This is like another extreme. Nobody brings you anything. You don’t get it, until you get it. And if it’s closed, that’s the way it goes.”
Poole should know.
There were several rounds of this year’s race where he went eight to 10 hours without the opportunity to replenish food or water.
Arend also knows, and revels in, the feeling of such escape, pushing the limits of physical endurance.
In fact, if rumors are to be believed, then going eight or 10 hours without food or water will be a walk in the park compared to what he has planned.
Poole agreed to discuss Arend’s plans to try the SpeedProject race in November in Chile.
It will be similar to the TSP in terms of distance and culture, but more than that it will send runners across the Atacama Desert, one of the most difficult places in the world.
The race through the Atacama would have zero extra steps. Teams had to be self-sufficient, carrying all their equipment in vans due to the distance.
Arend worried about the upcoming question? “That’s a very difficult question,” he says. “We are looking into other things.
“I always travel alone and, similar to how TSP was born, if I come across an event that I think is important to share with the community, I will continue to share it.”
Poole is underrated.
If Arend brings the race to Atacama, he will be the first name on the team, regardless of the risks. Why?
“What I don’t understand is people who do the London Marathon over and over again and spend the whole race trying to shave five seconds off a time when nobody cares,” he says.
“My answer to this is to stop chasing something that isn’t important and go do something that’s fun.
“There are many hidden reasons for not doing things like TSP. But in the end, the answer is a little more difficult, why do you do these things because you can. And if you can, why not give up and go?”