Now in its third year, The Speed Project in an unofficial, ultra relay race run over 550km from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Teams consist of 6 runners, who take it in turns to run legs of the race, while their teammates follow them in an RV. As one runner comes to the end of their allotted distance, the next jumps out of the team bus to begin theirs. Running non-stop until they reach the infamous “Welcome to Vegas” sign in Nevada’s Mojave Desert means running day and night through some very rugged and challenging terrain. The Speed Project is running without rules. The teams are timed and ultimately a winner is crowned but if ever there was a case of it not being about the winning but the taking part then this event is it. The personal stories of the runners exemplify not only the positives of team sports but also the transformative power of running itself and the transcendental state, which can be accessed by long-distance running. A recurring theme within the stories told below, as captured by German photographer Olaf Heine with the Leica S, is that running brings change, be it on a personal or a collective level. As Haruki Murakami writes in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
Lukas Kellner, Berlin, Germany, of Team Kraftrunners at the Santa Monica Pier (Mile 1), March 30th at 4am
After his High School graduation, Lukas (28) (pictured above) was accepted into a high-performance, athletic scholarship and trained to become a professional athlete. Due to the radical individualism and competitiveness he dropped out shortly before his Olympic nomination and decided to have a proper university education. He rediscovered his love for running through the team-spirit-driven Kraftrunners team in Berlin. His motivation to participate in The Speed Project resulted from two very personal incidents, the death of his grandmother and his father, both in a short space of time. Lukas is pictured here with a photograph of his late father, whose birthday would have been on this very day, the start of The Speed Project.
Brittany Henderson, Washington DC, of District Running Collective on Lankershim Blvd. in Burbank (Mile 19), March 30th at 6:45am
Brittany (30) has been running for twenty years. What started as a relaxed past-time has turned into an extreme, challenging and active approach to both her body and mind. Brittany discovered an increase in her emotions and health as she started running more seriously. Now, after a few marathons, she is ready to take on an ultra-run like The Speed Project and enjoys the team effort and support while running individually.
Mikkel Nielsen, Copenhagen, Denmark, of Team RunForceOne on Soledad Canyon Road (Mile 55), March 30th at 10:40am
Mikkel’s story is about testing limits and building bridges through his favorite sport – running. It all started in 2010 when the 32-year-old snapped his ligament in a soccer match and from one day to the next his motivation, dedication and friendships within the locker room and on the pitch were torn apart. He managed to rehabilitate his knee after the surgery, slowly started to run again and redefined his motivation to move on. Even though he missed the camaraderie and friendship of his soccer team, he kept on running more and more. Finally, after running his first marathon in Copenhagen in 2014, following a group of crazy guys from NBRO running, he found what he was looking for. He has been running with the crew several times a week ever since. Participating in The Speed Project, he tried out ultra-running for the first time and loved the concept of bringing people together, coping with a lack of sleep, sore bodies and the emotional ups and downs.
Ryan Cox, Anchorage, Alaska, of Team Alaska on Pearblossom Hwy (Mile 68), March 30th at 11:15am
Ryan (27) is a runner living with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder mainly affecting his lungs. The fact that he is not only able to run at all, but to run at the level he competes at, should be an inspiration to any athlete. He refuses to let his condition limit him. Ryan ran through college at Liberty University before shifting his attention to mountain running and marathons post-graduation. He premiered at the Boston marathon last year, running 2:35:40, coming just outside the top 100 in 102nd place. Ryan has one of the Top 5 fastest downhill times at Mount Marathon held on the 4th of July in Seward each year. He has captained a team for the Lost Lake Race, a 16-mile mountain running race, which raises money for cystic fibrosis research and has been undefeated for the last couple of years, currently holding the team course record.
Kieran Ryan, Melbourne, Australia, of Team Hunter on Pearblossom Hwy (Mile 82), March 30th at 11:35am
Kieran (29) has been running for as long as he can remember. He had some success as a junior track-and-field runner, racing and winning a handful of state championships over 800m. Then he fell out of love with the sport and even stopped running for a number of years through his early 20s. Back then it was more appealing to him to hit the clubs, drink beers and chase the girls instead of chasing times. When one of his best friends took his life at 23, Kieran was deeply shocked and this motivated him to go running again. Two years later another friend took his life a few days before his daughter’s second birthday. Both these losses pushed Kieran to start ultra-running and raise money for Movember, the men’s health foundation. In 2012 he ran 100km in 12 hours and raised $26k, as well as starting countless conversations about the serious side of life, about reaching out when you’re hurting or in a dark place. He now finds running ultras or running long distances gives him a way of being close to his friends that are no longer with him.
Dave Proctor, Calgary, Canada, of Team TSPYYC on Palmdale Blvd (Mile 90), March 30th at 1:40pm
Dave (37) is known as an elite runner and an all-around nice guy. He holds numerous Canadian ultra-running records and this summer will be attempting to break the TransCanadian speed record by running 7200km in 66 days. His drive to break the current Guinness World Record for running across Canada stems from the fact that his 9-year-old son Sam has a rare disease called relapsing encephalopathy with cerebellar ataxia. Simply put, Sam struggles with basic movements. It is Dave’s mission and deeply seeded passion to push boundaries, making impossible feats possible and to raise much-needed research dollars for the Rare Disease Foundation to help families with a rare disease.
Mary Kate Callahan, Chicago, of Team Strava on El Mirage Road (Mile 96), March 30th at 3:10pm
Most people use their legs when they run but for Mary Kate Callahan (22) it’s her arms that propel her forward. She’s a wheelchair racer. She was paralyzed at the age of 5 months, so this is the only way of “running” she knows. She finds it amazing that no matter how you “run”, there is an unbreakable bond among runners, which comes from what the sport can do for both the body and mind. Running has taken her all around the world. Whether it’s crossing the finish line of Ironman, representing the USA, or teaching kids in Uzbekistan how to run – the sport has been able to teach her so much about life and introduce her to so many other remarkable people.
Justin Williams, Santa Monica, of Team LA Rebels on Chamberlaine Way (Mile 102), March 30th at 4:15pm
After his college football career was over, Justin (29) got into running. First he just ran to stay in shape and lose weight after college (2011 weight 290lbs – 2018 weight 200lbs). After participating in last year’s Speed Project his whole mentality and methodology towards running evolved from just an activity to stay in shape, to pushing limits and treating it as a competitive sport. This year Justin plans on completing his first full marathon and hopefully earn the privilege of running the Boston Marathon.
Dr. Alyx Ulbrich, Okinawa, Japan, of Team Fire Power Runners on Main St. in Barstow (Mile 146), March 30th at 6:50pm
Alyx (30) comes from a privileged family background and graduating high school at 15 opened the doors of freedom a little too much for someone, who believed she was capable of anything. A short downward spiral of 4 years followed, including a hasty marriage, heavy drinking and a laundry list of wrong friends doing illegal things and Alyx found herself in jail. There she was allowed outside for short periods in a small yard, where she would run up to 80 miles in tiny circles for hours. She would do 500 squats, 300 pull-ups, and 100 doorway pull-ups every day, until she finally convinced the state of Wyoming that women would benefit from access to free weights. She set up a running group and individual workouts, she read books, took courses, prayed for the first time in years and learned how to read people and chose her associates properly. Running became a joy and not work, as well as a large part of Alyx’s identity. Early release came and she knew she had to remove herself from her old community. She started training at a local gym, cycling, running and decided to do triathlons. With practically no swimming skills, she managed to register a win, and headed to California with triathlon friends to do another. There she fell in love with sunny skies, beautiful beaches and her future husband, a marine who encouraged her to expand her physical training. They married, started running together and decided to begin ultra running. He also encouraged her to gain a Fitness Pro Card in bodybuilding and start a home degree. She graduated with her doctorate, grew a running and hiking community of over a thousand participants, hosted free runs with up to fifty participants almost daily and started her own fitness clothing line. She now resides in Okinawa, Japan and her days are free for exactly that, which she longed for during all those years spent behind the three chain-link fences and barbed wire – sweat on her face, wind in her hair and the freedom to run wherever she pleases.
Victoria Lo, San Francisco, of Team Deathsquad on Zzyzx Dry Lake Bed (Mile 205), March 31st at 12:50pm
As a child, Victoria (32) had no athletic background and was constantly chastised for being overweight, painfully uncoordinated and inept at any sport. Her nicknames were “whale” and “fat cow” throughout school until she graduated to university at age 18. She started running just to lose weight, to get stronger and prove all of her childhood tormentors wrong. She signed up for her first marathon after a bad break up and liked it so much that she started running ultras. Nowadays running has become a kind of necessity of faith for her and she jokingly refers to her long run on Sundays as “church”. It’s a functional movement that helps reset her mind but also proves that you can be an exceptionally ordinary athlete and accomplish extraordinary things with enough grit and passion.
Michelle Calliari, Milan, Italy, of Team 442 Snakes on Dumont Dunes (Mile 252), March 31st at 1:05pm
Michelle (23), who goes by the name “Pacer Mike”, hails from Italy and has been running for most of his life. In 2015 at the Copenhagen Marathon he hooked up with the 442 Snakes – a running team that originates from the former Yugoslavia and was established by both Serbs and Croats to overcome the terror and pain of the Balkans War. The team has strong socio-political roots and regularly takes a stand against social injustices. A few years ago when the border between Serbia and Croatia was closed, the team organized parallel runs on both sides of the frontier. The 442 Snakes are an exemplary role model of how a sports team can change the world, effect people in a positive way, bring together former enemies and establish a brotherhood of people from different backgrounds.
Michel Rojkind Halpert, Mexico City, of Team Dromo Libre on Death Valley Road (Mile 265), March 31st at 1:25pm
Michel (48) accesses his creativity through running. He was a drummer in Aleks Syntek y la Gente Normal, one of Latin America’s most popular rock bands in the early 1990s. Following an impressive eight-year run in the band – during which time he also studied architecture and urban planning at Universidad Iberoamericana – he left to pursue a career in design full-time in 1997. During this time his musical career slowly faded and he cleared his mind, finding spirituality by running longer distances. He opened Rojkind Arquitectos in 2002 and is now one of Mexico’s most established names in contemporary architecture.
Christopher Harrington, Denver, Colorado, of Team Citius on Old Spanish Trail (Mile 285), March 31st at 2:10pm
Christopher (34) started running 10 years ago. For the last four years he’s been pushing his own limitations and goals by running ultras. He loves the adventure and challenge of running longer distances and feels inspired by his teammates and friends – despite the pain, the exhaustion and the appearance of blood in your urine, if you don’t drink enough water. Chris reminds himself that the mind, not the body, is the biggest impediment to pushing yourself further or harder. “When you think that you are done you’re only 40% in to what your body’s capable of doing. You can get a lot more from yourself than you think is possible, if you’re willing to pay the price for it!”
Shawn Brady, Toronto, Canada, of Team Runway on Emmigrant Pass (Mile 305), March 31st at 2:.55pm
During his day or rather night-job Shawn (34) is an independent rock musician, recording artist and performer from Toronto, traveling the world playing small clubs shows, as well as big festivals. When he is not standing on stage in some foreign country, he loves to explore and “conquer” the cities he visits by running. In his native Canada he hooked up with friends and started organizing relay runs from Toronto to Montreal, similar to The Speed Project. Knowing how much of a team effort and motivation is necessary to endure ultra-runs, he always brings his guitar to entertain and energize his mates in the accompanying RV.
Ansam Sinjab, Beirut, Lebanon, Team Mankitail Nevada State 160 (Mile 315), April 1st at 10:25am
Before 2014 Ansam (32) had never even run a mile on the street. She was a foreign student living in Heidelberg, Germany working on a research project at the German Cancer Research Center. She discovered running through a charity run the institute had organized. Running was one of the most positive things she took back with her when she returned to Lebanon in 2015. With the war in Syria, living in Lebanon was not easy. She couldn’t find a research job and needed a ticket out during those 6 months of stressful readjusting to the chaos. It was running. She joined Nike Run Club and decided to take her training to the next level. A month before her first marathon, her dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now every run became a story she could tell to her dad as he went for his chemotherapy sessions. It took his mind off the grim reality of his illness and it helped Ansam escape from the reality that she was in. Ansam’s biggest wish would be to run in her native Syria. There are so many messages that can be transmitted through running and she believes “Peace In Syria” could be one of them.
Jenn Miller, Los Angeles, of Team LA Rebels on Las Vegas Strip (Mile 341), March 31st at 10:05pm
Growing up, Jenn (29) was small but fierce. She first tackled gymnastics and then soccer, before graduating from UC San Diego in 2012. At that point she had no clue what to do with her life or her legs and stumbled into running! She has been running for several years but had never experienced running as a team sport until she signed up for The Speed Project. She loves the rhythm and meditative flow of running and how she can push her personal limits through ultra-runs. Running with her teammates she likes to be a part of something bigger than herself. In fact, she motivates herself by running for freedom and world peace. Her experience in The Speed Project, of the common team spirit and collaborative approach, was mind-blowing, while it helped trust building and bound her team together – so much so that she and her friends all got the same tattoo on their wrists: IV for The Speed Project 4.0.
The LFI Magazine issue 4/2017 features a wider selection of Olaf’s candid images from The Speed Project.
To see more of Olaf’s outstanding photography, please visit his website.