A few weekends ago rabbit crew member and rabbitELITE Robby Haas went on an epic adventure called the Speed Project entailing a 340 mile running relay and we just needed to hear the story in his own words...
As I sit and write, I ponder all of the ups and downs of the weekend that has passed. There are an infinite number of possible places to start when compiling a recap of a journey as fierce and lengthy as this one. I'll begin with the basics. Then, you, the reader, will begin to understand just how much can happen in the 45 hour journey across a barren landscape.
"All smiles - before ALL the miles"
The Speed Project, now concluding its 4th rendition on the last weekend of March in the year 2018, is a 340 mile running relay. Starting at the Santa Monica Pier of Los Angeles and concluding at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign” in Sin City, teams of roughly 6-12 members (female and male) run through the desert. The rules are basic and almost nonexistent. Your team can complete the race in whatever order, distances, pace, effort, that they desire. So long as someone is running, your team is in the race.
"A typical exchange - day one"
Now here is where it gets interesting. Every team was given a guidebook for runners and crew for the best and safest route out of LA county, behind the San Gabriels, through the unforgiving desert of Death Valley, and ultimately to the final destination of Las Vegas, Nevada. Most teams started with simple 6 mile legs (legs: divided sections of the greater relay, alternate definition: those two things on the lower body that want to die 28 hours in) As Friday progresses into night, and darkness into Saturday morning, teams start to change the game-plan and simply go by feel. While some runners struggle to complete 2-3 miles, others are still banging out 6-10 miles at a time. So, now you get the gist, the runners are holding on for dear life, the mind telling the body: “Left, right, left, right, Vegas is that way.”
“We're not in the middle of nowhere, we're right here”
PART I – Team
I was given the opportunity to be a part of this great experience with the goodr sponsored team “Ninja Kick the Damn Rabbit” It's a real thing, an actual name for a style of super cool sunglasses, I promise! Jokes aside, we were literally a team of ninjas and rabbits kicking our way across the state line of California and into Nevada. When I hopped on the RV in Santa Monica, my first concern was setting a good impression for the new folks I'd be sharing a small space with for the next 45hours and 22minutes. Quickly did I learn, I'd be sharing 340 miles of road and trail with some of the most fun, dedicated, loving, and carefree individuals I've ever met.
PART II – Heart
The nitty-gritty: We're chugging along – we have a set order – Runners #1-8 – we all know when we're up next – We're running, then sweating, then trying to keep dry inside the stank RV – we're eating, laughing, resting, trying to sleep! Run, rest, repeat. Seems simple, right? Nothing could be farther from the truth. In my head I describe the race as a combination of a road marathon, ultramarathon, and interval workout just waiting to break you down. In essence, that is what it became, as all of those elements combined to test the limits of the human heart. I'm not talking about just pumping blood to the extremities as fast and controlled as possible, I'm talking the function of the heart that keeps the soul raging with fire, and motivated to continue, through all of life's peaks and valleys. As a long-time runner who has completed a good number of road races and trail ultra-marathons, I didn't think there was much more to learn from running – I was dead wrong.
“The desert and her sand - Early Saturday AM”
PART III – Lost
There was a very specific point in the race where I was breaking, mentally and physically, and a bit of anger overcame the calm demeanor I had kept the entire journey thus far. Luckily for my kick-butt team, they didn't have to witness it first-hand. I was on one of the route's more technically challenging legs, on trail, at 5am. Sunrise wasn't until 6:30am, so for my 9.5 mile trail run, I was in the dark. Just me and my headlamp, a couple of other runners ahead, traversing a very sandy jeep road, middle of nowhere. At that time, the trail could not feel more like running through sludge, especially compared to the somewhat smooth asphalt that most of the race is run on. About halfway through this leg I descend the sand-dune of a hill I was warned about from the guidebook. “Whew, glad thats over, now to finish this thing.” Flash-foward five minutes, “I think I'm lost.” Let that sink in. Lost. Desert. Night. The race started 4am Friday and its now 5:30am Saturday. I was a bit too exhausted to panic, so I just kept moving. I took out my phone, and thanked the spirits above that google maps was loading. I noticed I was just a tad south of where the defined trail was, so I hoofed it through some sketch trail and brush and managed to find the main path, still crappy as ever. Relieved, I push on straight ahead, following a Jeep Wrangler a mile ahead, accompanying another runner. As the sand forced my feet to create a different path every few feet, I accepted my fate, my pace, and my effort. My recent departure from GPS tracking devices played a part in my positivity in the moment. I had no idea how slow I was going, and didn't need to know. Finally, when the leg was about to be over I saw a couple of my team-mates jogging up to the exchange spot and they were smiling. I was yelling at myself on the inside, but they were stoked be out here. Quickly, I understood: This was going to take a monumental effort of support from all of us to help each other out, on and off the road. As this was an example of just one leg of the relay, you can imagine the strength it took for all of my friends to get through their adventures of the weekend.
“Saturday's Landscape – asphalt for hours”
Part IV - Journey
Now that we're well into Saturday – remember the race doesn't stop overnight, most of us are trying to get real sleep, HA! What a joke that was. **Pro-tip, although a certain energy drink may give you wings (I ran 11 miles out of my mind Friday at 10pm) ...it will keep you awake until your next run at 5am Saturday. Maybe save it for daytime use only.** We're moving right along, slowing down a bit, maybe running a bit less, maybe letting others run a few miles of their portion, when needed. Carrying the team on your legs: no higher-honor. Soldiering through the desert a few miles at a time. Seeing every Joshua Tree, every cloud, every inch of road for what it is. This was no quick drive, it was a wilderness experience, with a bit of glamping, of course!
“Rhea and Andrew – in their element”
Part V - Blood
As we started to weaken, we had even come up with plans to cave in and just drive the rest of the way to Vegas. Although we all knew we were joking, part of me wanted it to be over. Then something supremely magical and out of this world happened. We, as a team, got stronger and faster, and more hungry to finish this thing on our terms. It was late Saturday, sun-setting, and we were coming up on our last big turn to join the solid tarmac of the highway that takes weary travelers into the outskirts of Las Vegas. Most importantly we were seeing other RV's, other teams, WE SMELLED BLOOD, and we wanted to sink our teeth in. There is nothing like seeing an opportunity to get a win at the end of a race. The longer the race, the more demanding it becomes, the bigger the will to win becomes. A few of us were too beat up to continue, so the pack became fewer, but we were all still supporting each other, giving 100% in whatever way we could. I, personally, had turned a new page when I realized we could pass three teams in the last 50 miles. There was no way in hell I was not going to push as hard as I could. I've had too many races where I felt I left too much in my body and not on the course. Not this time. Not with a team of crushers like this. We started trading off 1-3 mile segments, then decided on 2 mile legs when a special opportunity had arisen. We had reached the top of a hill, more of a mountain, really. It would descend for about the next 20 miles with about 10 more after to finish the dang thing. We had just passed two teams while I was trading segments of 2-miles with others for a total of 8 miles on my own in a short amount of time.
“Action Shot – Jen and Robby and hummus”
Part VI – Glory
Then – we blazed. We put on a straight-up clinic of downhill running. I'm talking Strava CR's, sub-6 minute miles for both guys and gals, 40 hours into a relay. The team we had been tailing for the last two hours, was reduced to a painful slog, and when our squad of Bri, Andrew, Brian, and myself had finished the first eight miles of that mountain descent, Team XX, was eating dust. “Whooosh” was all I could think of. “Whooosh, goodbye! Your hopes and dreams of finishing before us, forget 'em.” If I didn't mention before, there's no medal or belt-buckle for finishing this race, its all guts and glory. Bragging rights, and group hugs are all that is waiting at the “Welcome to Vegas” sign. Speaking of the finish, my boy Victor and I decided we should finish strong with one-mile repeats (1 mile on, one rest rep while the other crushes it) to bring us in the final stretch of 10 miles from suburban Vegas to the south-end of “The Strip.” It somehow worked out fantastically as we could still push for sub-6 minute pace (my best was a 5:23, mostly downhill) giving us each a solid 4x1mile workout. “How am I doing this right now? I should be asleep, sore, crying in a bed somewhere.” Instead I was out pushing for the finish line of an event I will never truly understand. I wasn't running for me anymore, that's my simple explanation.
Part VII – Welcome Home
When I handed off (the most satisfying "high-ten" of of my life) to Jen and Bri for their final stretch of 1.5 miles before joining the rest of us for our team finish, I was elated. We were actually going to finish. For most of the journey I kept saying to everyone “Eventually, we will make it to Vegas” Now, finally, it was really happening. Cue the champagne, the cameras, the instagram post to make it official. No chip timing, no finish line announcer and DJ. Like I said before, just a group chant “1, 2, 3 GOODR-DONE!” and all the gratitude in the world. There were curse-words yelled in joy, and laughter at the relief and ridiculousness of it all. We just finished our journey of 45-hours & 22-minutes, leaving a deserted land of nothing, now in a city of everything. If you want it, you can probably get it in Vegas. Time to rest, then time to play. There is a reason it ends in Vegas, and for now, thats where the rest of the journey will stay. There is so much more to say about this event, but for now I will leave you with one piece of advice: If someone asks you to go on adventure, say yes. Say yes, and push yourself to get everything out of it you possibly can.
“The goodr-done gang goes from Santa Monica to Las Vegas” (L to R: Andrew, Bri, Victor, Jen, David, Rhea, Brian, Robby, Derick – front row Hanssie, Nicole)
As it is a team event, I literally could not have made the journey without the team of runners and crew that have given me such a meaningful life experience. Big special thank you to our crew of Nicole, Derick, and David - your ability to keep us going every second of the race can not be understated. To the team of runners, you know of your own personal journey and how it fits in with mine. To Brian, Victor, Hanssie, Bri, Rhea, Andrew, and Jen, you are winners, through and through. I am inspired by the journey we took together and could not be more impressed by your professionalism (even more the necessary lack of it), attitude, and positivity. The jokes just kept coming, I haven't laughed like that in a long time. Maybe it was the relief of finishing, but I feel stronger as a human and have you all to thank. Thank you.