The Speed Project – The World’s Most Mysterious Ultramarathon

The Speed Project is a relay-style ultramarathon unlike any other. It is an unofficial race for which runners have to receive an invitation, and it has but one rule – no running on freeways.

You’ve probably never heard of it, but within the ultramarathon community, participating in The Speed Project is somewhat of a Holy Grail. Running across the Death Valley, from the Santa Monica pier all the way to the Las Vegas welcome sign in a 340-mile ultramarathon with no rules and no set course has proven unusually appealing to runners looking for something new and exciting. It has been called the running world’s equivalent of “Fight Club”, because of the secrecy and mystery surrounding it, but it was precisely these characteristics that have massively boosted its popularity in recent years. However, despite big brands’ desire to be associated with The Speed Project, it remains exclusive to participants selected by the ultramarathon’s founders.

Photo: Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

In 2013, when Nils Arend first ran from Snta Monica to Las Vegas with five of his friends (three men and two women), he had no idea the race would become so massive in just one decade. Since then, the unusual concept of a race with no rules, no set break points, and no support crew has grown massively. Some of the world’s top runners have participated in The Speed Project over the last ten years, and the number of applicants is growing each year.

The Speed Project has participants gathering at Santa Monica Pier at 4:00 in the morning and running all the way to the Las Vegas welcome sign. The OG Route, the one that Arend and his friends ran back in 2013, has runners going through Hollywood and the Antelope Valley, past an airplane graveyard at the edge of the Mojave Desert, and through the city of Barstow, through the remote town of Baker and along the edge of Death Valley National Park, following a section of the Old Spanish Trail, and then finally along Route 160 to Las Vegas.

But the beauty of The Speed Project is that there is no set trail. The one detail above is the most popular, but anyone can choose whatever route they want, as long as they start at the Santa Monica Pier and reach the Las Vegas welcome sign. The only rule they need to obey is that there is no running on freeways while participating in The Speed Project.

When the ultramarathon started out, it was just a relay race with 6 participants (four men and two women), but there is now an all-women section, as long as a grueling solo section that British runner James Poole has completed not once but twice. Can you imagine running 340 miles (560 kilometers) by yourself, often through no man’s land, with no support and no shelter? Poole claims it was an exhilarating experience.

“Everything is pretty easy these days, right? We live in a world of convenience, particularly in the UK and US,” James Poole told the BBC. “You can have your food delivered by Deliveroo, you don’t have to leave your house. This is the other extreme. Nobody brings you anything. You don’t have it until you find it. And if the place is closed, that’s how it works.

With no official website to register on, runners need to be invited to take part in The Speed Project, and even then, their application forms need to be approved by the founders to actually take part in the race. But it’s this exclusivity that makes this mysterious race so appealing. Of course, the extreme nature of the race has its appeal as well.


The only way to follow The Speed Project is on Instagram. The founders stream the race every year, update who’s in front, who’s cutting the course, and interview athletes from their 1990’s Lincoln limousine. As I said, it’s an ultramarathon like no other.