words and images by Jody Bailey.
It typically has an RV or support vehicle present, is completely different for everyone involved every time, and will happen — on average — over one hundred and thirty times for a team of six. The exchange.
The Speed Project is a relay race from the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to the Las Vegas sign on the strip in sin city. Touted as a race with no rules by originator and organizer Nils Arend, the challenging race is gaining popularity, and running it’s fourth year. The concept comes from the desire to run something wild for six people in 2014. In version 4.0, thirty-eight teams from twenty countries participate. It’s grown.
It is a relay race however, so something must happen to change out runners, even if there are no rules, and thus the exchange — a touch of some kind. This is where the magic happens. An exchange has four components. There is a pre-race, and a start for the runner heading out. Along with a finish and post race for the runner coming in.
For anyone who has stood in a starting corral, ran a race of any distance, and crossed a line to celebrate after, you know the highs and lows of a race can be overwhelming.
Now start, run, and finish twenty-five’ish races over forty-one hours and ten minutes alongside five others riding the same emotional roller coaster. Living on an RV with ten people. In the heat of the desert with nothing but a Ciele cap to shield you. Eating mostly energy bars, recovery drinks, and gels. Some rely on turkey or peanut butter and jam sandwiches chased with handfuls of gummies (no free ads).
You step out of the RV with sporadic pockets of sleep twenty hours into this ride to calm your nerves before running a segment in the dark, on a trail you require intricately vague instructions for, by yourself in the desert for 9.0 miles. Your only ally is the full moon overhead providing just enough light to see shadows move out of the corners of your eyes. Hoping to cross a finish line when you find another headlamp in the middle of nowhere 42 minutes from when you crossed your umpteenth start line.
Welcome to The Speed Project.
Not every start line is full of nerves, and not every finish line feels like total destruction. Some exchanges are quite semantic. There are crew and teammates there to cheer, encourage, and support you both coming in and going out.
Matt’s smiling face with his left hand outstretched ready to rip. Vinnie with a cold wet rag to cool you post-segment. Jared with a confetti cannon to confirm it isn’t a mirage after staring at the same majestic brown desert for an hour running in a straight line. Erik greets runners at the start of Death Valley with a megaphone and music to signal the end of another segment. For the Take The Bridge team, there is even a horde of cameras from Modify Content filming for Red Bull on occasion.
The exchange is different every time because the circumstances are different each segment. The outgoing runner might be feeling fresh off a rest with the incoming runner hammering a down hill to wrap their segment. Smiles, cheers all around, and a near instant debrief of splits. Nearly every time someone comes in feeling good, they go straight to the watch. Like clockwork. I love it.
It can go the other way too however. This race is gruelling at best. We use the word grind when we talk about workouts, but we are well past grinding it out when racing in the desert for 547 KMs over forty-one hours. The lows touch that scorching two lane blacktop melting through to reach depths you didn’t think possible.
From mild annoyance, to debilitating pain and frustration is how they come in — or go out. Exchange after exchange. The peak heat of day two brings new faces of discomfort to the back of the support vehicle we use to cool runners. Anguish after nearly every hard mile repeat they are crushing now. Paces have come down, something has to go up — that’s pain.
The exchange is also a time out for the rest of the team. The RV settles into a spot and runners clean up in the self shaded shower. Crew dry clothes on random fences. We skateboard or ride the bike to keep loose. And sometimes, we just gotta dance.
The exchange becomes a stage to have fun, and let loose — maybe do a little modeling. We hang out on the back of the RV waiting for the next tag. It is a gathering place to meet other teams early on in the race. To share our experiences for brief minutes between exchanges, only to leapfrog later, both teams cheering in each passing.
The exchange is at the heart of The Speed Project because it really is the start line and finish line to every single segment. To celebrate a segment, or to completely forget that the last six miles just happened.
Runners ready themselves at their next start line. Crews start the recovery routine at the next finish line. All so Franny can tag Katie out, cool down, start recovery, catch his thoughts — to be ready for the next exchange in about thirty-six minutes.
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