Here is something I know to be true about running 340 miles through the desert with five teammates: It is an irrational act.
What’s that proto-meme, mostly-reductivist saying? I don’t know why I’m being coy. I remember it word for word. It’s this: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
And for 39 hours and 33 minutes one weekend this past March, we kept running without really sleeping or eating or showering. Over and over again. Telling ourselves–irrationally–that the leg we were stepping out of the RV to run wouldn’t be as bad as the last one we’d just done. That the next one would get easier. That we were almost finished.
About ten hours before Leigh Anne Sharek would lead our team off from the start line at a pier in Los Angeles, we were all in an Uber leaving The Speed Project’s pre-race meeting. Things felt surprisingly mellow. Just like any other early evening where the sun was starting to dip out of sight, behind buildings.
One of our crew members and coach to more than half the people in the vehicle, Steve Finley, turned around in the passenger seat to bring up the topic we’d all been nonchalantly ignoring for weeks.
“What are people thinking, for pace?”
His question was valid.
Our answers were noncommittal. A couple of us had been battling health issues in the past few weeks, and we hadn’t known we’d be able to even field a full team for sure, for sure until the minute we were all standing on L.A. soil.
So, we danced around it.
We’ll go out easy, we’ll just play it by ear and see how things are feeling.
We were definitely aware that the all-women’s course record was somewhat soft, and probably within reach. But, knowing that we’d have multiple days of running ahead of us, we wanted to avoid digging our own graves.
We obviously went out harder than “easy”. Leigh Anne handed off to Marta having run multiple miles much faster than our idealized seven-minute miles to start out.
Can’t say I blame her though. Running through the dark in the extremely early hours on major California streets while the rest of the world is just waking up really gets the blood pumping. It would’ve been impossible to not get swept up in it.
We hadn’t verbally admitted it, but we were out there, all running hard, all checking the scoreboard. We’re a competitive bunch. We were making progress much faster than the team that both Leigh Anne and Caedryn had been on the year before, and when they mentioned that, we all nodded approvingly. “Nice,” we thought, even if we didn’t say it out loud.
The night legs somehow all seemed to coincide with the shittiest moments for us collectively, as a team. It, of course, was not a coincidence. Running through the night without having a chance to rest or recover makes everything seem worse. But, it’s also when my anxiety (about whether we should’ve been trying to find a new set of directions that would’ve drastically shortened the distance we had to run or not) reached a peak.
To oversimplify a moment that was honestly pretty significant in my life: we made it through by slipping and sliding up and down hills of sand with the wind whipping it into and around us. We came out the other side.
When the sun rose, we were on our way to Nevada. Well. We’d been on our way to Nevada the whole time. But on the morning of the second day of running, we were much, much closer. Or maybe we were actually already in Nevada. Either way, spirits (irrationally again) rose.
There was a moment when we realized there was just no way that we could beat the only other all-women’s team ahead of us. It was deflating. The RV, which had been noisy and full of our group energy even through the night, got quiet. It was tough to hear that and then have to immediately go out and run as hard as we could. For what? Seemed like a daunting question now that ‘For the Win’ or ‘For the Record’ was off the table. But, for each other and for ourselves and because we’ve come this far asserted themselves just as quickly as the previous motivations faded. We had new mantras to hang our hats on.
Las Vegas is a terrible place. I’d never visited before this March, but I know that fact with certainty now. Still, I’d never been and possibly will never be so overjoyed to be running down sidewalks next to strip malls and four-lane barrier-less highways, spotting the atrocity of neon lights laid out right in front of us. We finished the run together, all of us gingerly hopping out of the RV to run with Kimmie as she charged onward toward the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.
We didn’t hit our not-so-secret goal. But, we’d just finished the most irrational feat of strength and willpower that I’ve ever been a part of. We popped a bottle of pretty warm champagne and passed it around to drink from. We also cursed a few times. We ranted to each other a bit. Then we hugged and got directly back into the RV. So we could go to In-N-Out.
I don’t know if all of this was the right kind of lead-in to RJ’s documentary of the trip. I’ve probably just written a bunch of stuff that you could’ve gleaned from simply watching it. But, I think it’s always nice to have a second perspective on something. Plus, it was nice for me to revisit running that godforsaken race after having taken many steps back from it, to try and describe the experience. So thanks for your patience.
RJ McNichols was one of the top three people who came to mind when I thought about asking someone to crew for the Speed Project. He’s the right kind of energy – the kind that you actively want in a stinky, exhausted RV. No matter what scene he’s entering, he comes at it throwing seven different kinds of smoke. (That’s a quote from one of his favorite movies: You, Me, and Dupree.) He’s got just the tiniest bit of Jim Carey in him and I think I say that because in my head it is Jim Carey who stars in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas–the movie based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson–and not Johnny Depp. But, anyway.
Needless to say, RJ was the correct person for this job. He wore a bucket hat and a scarf even in the middle of the desert and he helped our whole team of runners, supporters, coaches, and drivers confront the plausibility of their own versions of the American Dream–face to face. And from that, he captured the essence of what it was like for Team XX to journey together from Los Angeles to Vegas on foot.