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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Velocity Mission: The key ‘Struggle Membership’-style race between Los Angeles and Las Vegas

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James Poole on the 2022 The Speed Project walking along a long straight road
Poole, an extremely runner from London, has competed up to now two editions of The Velocity Mission

“When the cops pull you over, be tremendous good,” says Nils Arend.

“I personally have a difficulty with authority, however in The Velocity Mission you are representing all of us in each interplay.

“So be good, be cooperative. And after they ask what you are doing simply say, ‘Oh, we’re only a bunch of buddies working to Vegas’.

“They needn’t know kind of.”

Arend is sitting in a north London bar explaining the bottom guidelines of one of many world’s most sought-after ultra-running races.

Being pleasant, however discreet, within the face of the regulation is a part of the pre-race briefing he offers at The Velocity Mission (TSP), an unsanctioned, unsupported 350-mile race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by way of Dying Valley.

It has no web site, no “register right here” button, no guidelines, no official route, no spectators and, till per week earlier than, no official begin date.

It is a “Struggle Membership” of the working world created within the mould of its founder. Earlier than he discovered marathon working after transferring to Los Angeles within the mid-2000s, Arend organised a rave evening in a borrowed brothel in Hamburg’s red-light district.

Regardless of the race’s underground standing, the beginning line is full of a few of the world’s quickest athletes, and the largest manufacturers.

How do they get there? Effectively, that is an extended story, shrouded in secrecy.

Short presentational grey line

Arend first ran the route in 2013 as a relay with 5 buddies – three different males and two ladies. Competing in that format is now referred to as the unique (OG) method to race.

Since then, although, three different classes have been added, together with, extremely, a solo class through which British ultra-runner James Poole has competed within the final two years.

“It is troublesome to not sound holier than thou, preachy, or that everybody else who’s doing their factor is flawed,” says Poole who, in between wild tenting in derelict buildings surrounded by used gun cartridges and fuelling himself solely with foods and drinks from roadside gasoline stations, accomplished the 2023 race in slightly below 119 hours.

“However I do suppose that after you have acquired a field stuffed with medals you do not ever have a look at and a set of T-shirts that do not imply something to you, then going off the grid is a purist means of doing one thing that you simply love.”

Arend shares the identical love of the leftfield. And an outright dislike for the staid strategy to aggressive distance working.

“After I moved to LA, I ran a few marathons,” he says. “However I felt so misplaced. I used to be like ‘these are usually not my folks’.

“So the subsequent iteration of all of it was for me to begin to do my very own issues. We create a secure place for everyone to point out up the way in which they’re. No marathon can do this. They might. However they aren’t doing that. They’re simply working their very own programme prefer it was 25 years in the past.

“There are two fields of motivation as to why persons are drawn to TSP.

“One is ‘OK, I wish to go there, carry out and crush it’ and the others are ‘I’m going to make use of TSP and its neighborhood to amplify my voice, my mission, the trigger I’m behind’. So long as it aligns with who our neighborhood is, then that’s precisely who we’re for.”

A lot of the world’s largest working manufacturers wish to be a part of Arend’s imaginative and prescient.

The Velocity Mission celebrated its tenth anniversary this yr and the listing of manufacturers who’ve despatched groups is a who’s who of the game, from Nike to Tracksmith, New Steadiness to On Working.

Their presence on the bottom of low-key begin strains – the race begins at 04:00 at Santa Monica Pier – is one among many paradoxes in an occasion which each courts and shuns publicity on the similar time.

Stripped of all the standard trappings of high-profile working races, TSP’s desirability to massive manufacturers has truly sky-rocketed.

Poole is aware of extra about that unusual irony than most.

The 47-year-old’s sponsors made a quick movie concerning the occasion in 2022external-link, accompanying him with a campervan to assist with refuelling, sleeping and navigation.

This yr, although, he ran the occasion solely unsupported, the one individual within the subject to take action – a choice even Arend thought was “loopy”.

It meant Poole was accountable not just for working greater than 500km by way of vastly variable circumstances – he spent a lot of the 2023 occasion in a padded down jacket and trousers due to unseasonably low temperatures and snowstorms – he was additionally accountable for discovering his means, his meals, and his sleeping spots.

James Poole sitting outside a derelict building on his 2023 The Speed Project run
Rivals are accountable for their very own route, diet, hydration and discovering their very own locations to relaxation

“I’ve acquired a few niggles from TSP however I am certain it’s going to be superb,” he says.

It is lower than two weeks after his return from Los Angeles, and Poole and I are on a 10k run alongside the Regent’s Canal and his different common working routes in east London.

After casually dropping into dialog the plan to run a marathon in a couple of days’ time, Poole tries to clarify the attract of the 350-mile TSP and a route that, on the face of it, is known just for its featurelessness.

A part of his 2023 route took him down the Yermo Highway – a 75-mile straight stretch of tarmac with out a single flip.

“You run for six hours and you’re on the identical highway,” he says. “You do six extra and then you definately’re nonetheless on the identical highway.

“If you happen to’re doing about 75 miles a day as I used to be, then you definately spend the entire day on the identical highway with out a single flip.”

Paula Radcliffe used to depend to 100 in her head on repeat throughout marathons.

“Are you able to think about what number of instances I would get to 100 if I did that?” Poole laughs. “I feel the necessary factor is to simply be current. And that’s what’s occurring, I feel, with Paula’s counting to 100, you aren’t occupied with the factor sooner or later.

“You have to be having fun with the second as a lot as you possibly can. If you happen to begin pondering 50 miles in that you’ve 250 or extra to go, that simply blows your thoughts.”

Poole, who took a digital camera with him on the race and captured a few of the photographs on this article, continues: “The TSP route is type of lovely in a brutalist kind means. Magnificence is in all places. It is simply the way in which you see it. The gasoline stations are as ugly as sin however they’re lovely once you get there.

“For a British individual, we do not have huge open areas like that or the previous Americana ghost-towns.

“I might, and did, sleep in derelict buildings, which is kind of exhausting to do within the UK.”

Is it not scary? “Yeah, somewhat bit,” he says. “Whenever you sleep in buildings with gun shells in there, you suppose: ‘How secure is that this?’

“Final yr, I keep in mind seeing a automotive stuffed with bullet holes, however it had a bench seat within the again. I used to be so drained, I actually thought-about sleeping in there it however determined it was a silly thought.

“It was clearly used as taking pictures follow by folks – are you able to think about?”

At a look, Arend’s journey from organising underground raves in Hamburg to heading up an ultra-endurance race in Los Angeles may appear an unlikely one.

However he insists there’s a hyperlink between the 2.

“It is the identical, it is an endurance sport of oldsters, a number of whom have parted methods with the nightlife,” he says. “A lot of people who had points, alcohol, medicine no matter, they discover themselves in that sport and we’re creating an surroundings the place they really feel understood.”

Nils Arend standing next to a customised The Speed Project limo
Organiser Nils Arend beforehand placed on rave nights within the red-light district of Hamburg

Poole feels related, insisting that TSP ought to be understood as a reset from society’s norms. An excessive, but conscious, desert retreat from the monotony of nine-to-five residing.

“There is a type of pleasure in being self-sufficient [at TSP], and taking care of your self and never needing anyone,” Poole says.

“Lately, all the pieces is fairly straightforward, proper. We reside in a world of comfort, significantly within the UK and the US.

“You’ll be able to have Deliveroo deliver you takeaway. You do not have to depart your own home.

“That is like the opposite excessive. No-one brings you something. You do not get it, till you discover it. And if its closed, that is the way in which it goes.”

Poole ought to know.

There have been routinely stretches of this yr’s race through which he went eight to 10 hours with out an choice to restock with meals or water.

Arend additionally is aware of, and thrives, on such emotions of escape, and pushing the boundaries of bodily endurance.

In actual fact, if rumours are to be believed, then going eight to 10 hours with out meals or water choices will probably be a stroll within the park in contrast with what he has deliberate.

James Poole buys drinks from vending machines on the 2022 The Speed Project
Poole did the 2023 occasion solo and unsupported

Poole lets slip in our dialog that Arend is pondering of making an attempt a Velocity Mission-style race in November in Chile.

Will probably be just like TSP in distance and ethos, however far more excessive given it will ship runners throughout the whole Atacama Desert, one of many world’s harshest environments.

A race throughout the Atacama would have zero resupply choices. Groups would must be solely self-sufficient, carrying all their gear in pick-up vehicles due to the character of the terrain.

Arend is coy concerning the query of what is subsequent? “That is the actually troublesome query,” he says. “We’re exploring different parts.

“I am all the time going by myself adventures and, just like how TSP was born, if I come throughout an journey that I feel is value sharing with the neighborhood, I’ll proceed sharing that.”

Poole is much less equivocal.

If Arend brings the race to the Atacama, he’ll be the primary identify on the teamsheet, whatever the dangers. Why?

“What I do not perceive is the individuals who do the London Marathon time and again and spend the remainder of their working profession attempting to shave 5 seconds off a time that no-one actually cares about,” he says.

“My reply to that’s to cease chasing this factor that isn’t that necessary and go and do one thing that’s thrilling.

“There are many delicate causes for not going to do these type of issues like TSP. However in the end the pithy, barely obtuse, reply to why do this stuff is simply because you possibly can. And if you are able to do it, then why not give it a go?”

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