The Speed Project: How to Run 340 Miles Across the Desert

What's it like to run 340 miles of unforgiving, often desolate, desert in a race with no rules, spectators or aid stations? This is The Speed Project.

As an unofficial, underground event, The Speed Project draws the curious, the creative, and the competitive, like runners Daisy Hidalgo and Lucy Scholz.

These women ran The Speed Project in two very different ways from Santa Monica, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev.

Curious about the cult-following for The Speed Project and what it takes to go the distance?

Here's what happened when Daisy and Lucy stepped up to the starting line...

The Speed Project 2023 included over 70 teams and 12 solo runners.

The Speed Project draws the curious, the creative, and the competitive

In late March, gathering under the iconic Santa Monica Pier sign in California, over 70 teams and 12 solo runners toed the start line of The Speed Project 2023. 

The Speed Project lacks corporate sponsorship, prize money, and media coverage, yet some of the best runners flock to this event. 

Why? There’s really no straightforward answer unless you ask each individual runner why they would voluntarily take on this massive challenge of:

  • Fitness
  • Logistics
  • Mental fortitude, and...
  • Grit

Here’s what you need to know about The Speed Project

1. Runners must make their way from the Santa Monica Pier to the iconic Las Vegas Welcome sign–roughly 340 miles through the Mojave desert.
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2. Runners are not allowed to take freeways, but there is no required route–just a suggested route, coined the OG Route.
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3. Runners can choose to run solo or as a team.
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4. Solo runners can run unsupported (without crew) or supported (with crew
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5. There are three types of teams– The OG, all-women and freestyle. As of 2023, the OG team record is held by Daddy Braddy’s Stallions at 29 hours and 21 minutes. Right on their heels, finishing in 33 hours and 13 minutes, Braddy’s Lil’ Ponies hold TSP’s all women’s team record.

  • The OG team consists of 4 men and 2 women
  • The women’s team consists of 6 women
  • The freestyle team has no cap on participants

6. Runners on teams can split the distances as they see fit–no minimum or maximum mileage for one leg
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7. There is no sign up or race registration for participants

The Speed Project creators Nils Arend and Blue Benadum organized the first "race" in 2013.

Meet The Speed Project creators

TSP is the brainchild of Nils Arend and Blue Benadum.

The idea started when the duo decided to test their own limits.

Along with their four other friends, Nils and Blue pioneered the original route (the OG route) from Santa Monica to Las Vegas in 2013.

Their OG crew of 4 men and two women had only one prerogative: to run all the way from LA to LV–no holds barred. 

  • TSP took form as a slightly more formal event soon thereafter. 
  • Breaking away from formulaic relay structures and rule-laden running races, TSP offers runners the opportunity to express their creativity without the guardrails in a choose-your-own adventure experience. 

The obscure entry process

There’s no doubt that TSP is an exclusive event with an obscure entry process and a specific target audience, but TSP creators have implemented a couple of measures to counterbalance this exclusivity. 

  • The freestyle relay format lowers the barrier to entry for runners of varying experience and ability, allowing teams to portion out the distance over several more pairs of legs than the OG team. 
  • Since the nature of multi-day events like TSP require both time and money from its participants, TSP offers a fund for participants who demonstrate financial need. 

Over the years, TSP has evolved many times over. 

  • With every iteration of the event, the strategies and tactics change. 
  • From running 10ks to running 90s intervals, the relay team structures and approaches continue to shift. 
  • And it is still unclear as to which route from LA to LV is truly the fastest. Perhaps the unknown is one of the compelling elements of this event, and one that continues to draw on the curiosity of many.

Here's what it's like to run The Speed Project

Two 2023 TSP runners shared their stories.

Daisy Hidalgo and Lucy Scholz had different goals and experiences within the same event.

But a common thread wound itself through both accounts of this (approximately) 340 mile adventure:

  • Running is so much more than an individual sport. Running is a team sport.

Here's what happened...

Daisy Hidalgo- TSP Runner with Keep it Run Hundred run crew in Englewood, Calif.

🏃‍♀️Daisy Hidalgo: Team Keep it Run Hundred

Daisy never considered herself to be a runner. 

  • She played team sports in high school, so running was a mere byproduct of the real fun. 
  • That all changed when Daisy was in college in Massachusetts. 
  • At the beginning of 2019, surrounded by people who ran for fun, Daisy signed up for a half-marathon on a whim. 

🏃‍♀️After a quick Google search for half-marathon training plans, the flames of her initial spark began to burn brighter. 

  • She sought out a run crew and found the Pioneer’s Run Crew in Boston. 
  • Since other members were training for the Boston Marathon, Daisy caught the marathon bug by proximity. 
  • After finishing the half marathon despite being underprepared, she began to understand what marathon training would actually look like. And that’s all it took; Daisy then went on to run two full marathons. 

 🏃‍♀️ Keep it Run Hundred

After college, Daisy moved west to sunny California where she found the Keep it Run Hundred Run Crew out of Inglewood, Calif.

“I was hesitant to reach out at first to the run crews in California," says Daisy.

"…but it’s important for me to have community. It’s about more than just running. You have people to reach out to when something is going on in life.” 

As Daisy embedded herself in her new community, she caught wind of an enigmatic, underground race.

 🏃‍♀️ “I heard about The Speed Project last year in February," says Daisy.

"I had friends who were getting ready to run it, and it sparked my interest.” 

Since TSP does not have a typical race sign up, Daisy kept forming connections and allowing the opportunity to arise. 

 🏃‍♀️ Fortunately for Daisy, Keep it Run Hundred caught the eye of TSP’s organizers.

TSP asked Barack Obutta, Keep it Run Hundred’s leader, to identify runners from their ranks for 2023 TSP. 

  • In Daisy’s words: “if you get lucky, you get lucky!” 

She was selected to be a team member for this epic adventure. 

Above: Keep it Run Hundred relay team after making it to the finish of the 2023 TSP in Las Vegas, NV (Photo credit: Natalie Marie Photography (@nataliemarie__photography)

🏃‍♀️The Speed Project: Logistics are king

For runners taking part in TSP, running the miles is only a small fraction of the preparation required...

Logistics are king. 

“We had a great logistics team that routed everything for the runners, " says Daisy. 

With the route covered, next was the runner rotation.

  • Keep it Run Hundred rotated every five kilometers for the first day. 
  • During the night, they switched up the rotation. 
  • Five teammates would rotate through for four hours.
  • Then the other five runners would step in to relieve them for the next four hour shift. 

But Daisy noted that the rotation never overlooked the human needs of each runner. 

“If someone needed a break, we’d switch off. If someone couldn’t run, support would jump in.” 

Daisy high fives one of her relay team members along the route (Photo credit: Natalie Marie Photography (@nataliemarie__photography)

🏃‍♀️'You don't know what's out there...'

When supported runners are out on TSP’s remote route to Vegas, the crew members in the camper and other vehicles are absolutely essential.

But some sections are inaccessible to vehicles.

And runners must proceed without their crew or find another, often slower, route.

Daisy experienced firsthand what it felt like to run a segment without support.

“I ended up picking up a rock just in case something tried to come at me,” she laughs describing her solo segment.

But that’s all part of the thrill...

“You don’t know what’s out there or what you’re going to run into while you’re running. Not everyone gets a chance to do this.” 

Daisy Hidalgo and Team Keep it Run Hundred finished The Speed Project...340 miles from Santa Monica, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev.

🏃‍♀️Daisy's advice: Train your body & your mind

When asked what kind of advice she’d give to runners who are eyeing a seemingly impossible goal, Daisy replied, 

“Be prepared both physically and mentally."

"If you can consistently run and strength train, you can physically do it. If you’re running on a team, be mindful of your emotions and everyone else’s.”

Lucy Scholz, from New Orleans, La., was the fastest solo runner and set a new record for The Speed Project in 2023.

🏃‍♀️Lucy Scholz: Fastest Solo 2023 Runner & New Solo Record Holder

As an ultrarunner who revels in impossible physical feats and logistical challenges that would make most people’s heads spin, Lucy Scholz, approached 2023 The Speed Project like she does all races with...

  • Big goals
  • Equally impressive spreadsheets (check out her planning tool here), and...
  • A hankering for adventure

The Speed Project was unknown to her until 2019 when fellow runners of her New Orleans-based run crew, The 504th, started talking about it.

Interest piqued, Lucy ran TSP in 2022 and 2021 as part of a relay team.

But 2023 held a new challenge for this seasoned ultrarunner...

Take on the solo run, covering the entire 340 miles on her own two feet.

So, on March 20th, at 4 a.m. alongside 12 other solo runners, Lucy toed the start line on the Santa Monica Pier.

Her main goal?

To beat the men’s course record by 1 minute.

Lucy did so and much more...

She smashed the previous men’s solo course record by 8 hours, running the route she created in 84 hours and 45 minutes.

Lucy at the Santa Monica Pier start line of The Speed Project (photo courtesy of Lucy Scholz)

🏃‍♀️Preparation & planning for running The Speed Project solo

Lucy doesn’t think of herself as a fast person.

Instead, she pays homage to other skills for her success in ultra endurance events like the six 100 mile races she’s run since 2017.

Lucy described herself as running a “kind of fast marathon,” but didn’t dwell on her time or placement.

“Planning and preparation is one of my strong suits and makes a big difference," says Lucy. 

"So much of ultrarunning is mental. Obviously you have to be fit, but there is so much problem solving involved.”

Especially when tackling a 300+ mile race without a route.

Big goals require bigger plans.
 
Lucy’s planning was as much a part of her process as training her body for the demands of running The Speed Project solo.

On top of planning her route and crew logistics, Lucy was also using her TSP experience as a platform to fundraise for Live Oak, a summer camp Lucy helped to start for New Orleans kids. 

🏃‍♀️The Speed Project: Training to run 340 miles solo

Since Lucy is an unsponsored, self-coached athlete, she takes meticulous care with her training and planning for any event. 

“A race for me starts months before it," says Lucy.

"…I sit down and make a training plan and plan my pacing and goals. I think about how I can replicate portions of the race in training.”

Her training volume peaked at 70-80 miles per week for this race.

  • But to avoid injury, she doesn’t often exceed 50 miles per week in her base training periods. 
  • And although it’s called The Speed Project, Lucy ran most of her miles at a comfortable and conversational 9-12 minute pace. 

Her longer efforts leading into TSP included...

  • Running 40 miles with a friend on his 40th birthday
  • A 50-miler PR in early March, and...
  • Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler in early February to test both her fitness and logistics. 

The most interesting part of Lucy’s training was her lead up to TSP at the end of February.

Instead of tapering down in the traditional sense, Lucy’s final month of TSP preparation was centered around balancing training and fun. Lucy was...

  • Playing intramural basketball
  • Partying at Mardi Gras with her friends
  • And even, flying out to Denver for a ski trip and a marathon in the same weekend! 

“It was all time on my feet doing fun, but tiring stuff," says Lucy.

"...I wasn’t going to skip the fun!”

🏃‍♀️The Speed Project: Choose your own route

There is no official route for The Speed Project to get from Santa Monica, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev.

Choosing a good route could save you miles and time. And that's what Lucy needed.

To plan the perfect TSP route, she...

  • Spent hours poring over previous TSP solo runners’ Strava files
  • Looked at all the data for the shortest route possible, and...
  • Used the Google Maps man to get a 1st person look at the lay of the land.

But the most valuable beta came directly from other solo runners.

Lucy gave a shout out to other solo runners, Malcom Ebanks and Rob Perez, were open books about their routes and strategies. 

“Because the field was so small, I knew everyone," says Lucy. 

"There’s a real sense of community we have and built it quickly."

Lucy’s all-female crew, including her wife, helped her run all 340 miles of The Speed Project solo, finish first overall and set a new course record.

🏃‍♀️Meet Lucy's crew for The Speed Project

Crew members are vital to the success of supported TSP runners.

They provide...

  • A respite from the desert highways
  • Fuel for hungry bellies
  • And proverbial shoulders on which to lean during emotional lows that come with running for hours on end. 

Lucy’s wife and friends all ran together in various capacities, so it was only natural that they would take part in this odyssey.

Lucy recognizes that it was a tall ask to have everyone take 5 days off from their lives and work, but...

"There’s something special about going on an adventure with your friends. Most people don’t get to experience it…My crew is really incredible. I’m so thankful for them.”

Lucy stops to take in the moment during a stretch of powerline road.

🏃‍♀️The race

The Speed Project 2023 was the race where everything seemed to fall into place for Lucy.

“It was such a high for most of it I’ve blocked out most of the lows," says Lucy.

"It was one of those races where things went well 90 percent of the time.”

Even the weather was in her favor. 

  • With highs only reaching the 60s, running conditions were ideal. 
  • In previous years, Lucy’s relay teams were only running 1-mile segments due to the heat. 

But the highs of any ultra-endurance event inevitably give way to some lows.

Lucy’s first low was on the second afternoon during one of her planned breaks. 

“I laid down and couldn’t sleep and the RV was shaking because of the wind," says Lucy.” 

She had been running with a tailwind for the better part of the day, but thoughts crept into her mind:

"What if the direction of the wind changes, and I’m running into a headwind for hours?"

Change, adapt, keep going

  • Later that night, Lucy was planning to run on powerline roads only accessible by jeep. 
  • There was an alternative route where the RV could follow, but this would add 12 extra miles.
  • Unsure of the best decision, Lucy left it up to her crew to decide how to proceed. 
  • They took action and made up a bed in the back of the jeep so that Lucy could take breaks on this lonely stretch of road without making the trek longer. 

“This was an example of the crew making hard decisions for me," says Lucy. "They did so by imagining what I would want.” 

Around mile 210, Lucy faced a soul-crushing 17-mile climb.
 
But her crew did all of the right things. 

They played music for her and made her laugh, passing the time and making those 17 grueling miles fly by. 

“This experience confirmed that running is a team sport,” says Lucy.

Lucy and her crew reached Las Vegas in 84 hours and 45 minutes.

🏃‍♀️Lucy's advice for tackling big goals

“It is really important to believe in yourself," says Lucy. 

"There will be moments you doubt, so surround yourself with people who also believe in you.” 

To find your people, Lucy suggests joining a local run crew and running or volunteering at an ultra. 

“Making adult friends is hard…the running community is really friendly. Run a lap without music and have a great conversation with someone.” 

Want to learn more about The Speed Project?

Check out these videos:

Fun fact:

When we interviewed On sponsored athlete David Kilgore for The Rundown, he said his longest run was 340 miles. Yep, he ran The Speed Project solo from Santa Monica, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev., a few years ago.

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Abigail Lock
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Endurance athlete with a proclivity for mountain running and high altitude desert dwelling. NASM Certified Sports Nutriti...

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