The stage: A 340 mile race, from Los Angeles CA to Las Vegas NV, going over some of the most treacherous terrain in the country.
The cast: The first all female team to attempt such a feat. 6 ultra-endurance athletes, ranging from a former collegiate cross country star to a handful of IRONMAN finishers.
What time did you start the race?
Kasha Hukj: The general atmosphere was excitement and nerves ... sleeping at the foot of the runway the first night at LAX was surreal, and waking up quietly at 3:30am to sneak out of a parking lot - I think at that point, we didn't even believe it was happening. Getting to the start line was another surreal moment, because it felt like time slowed to a crawl. Then another blink and it was 5am, the runners were off and we were back to the RV to start chasing them down leg 1. I honestly didn't know what to expect and the entire morning felt like such a blur to me.
What was the general attitude and feel?
Anna (@athleticendeavorsphotography): The runners all had super positive attitudes. There was never a point that anyone necessarily needed any extra push or motivation to get out of the RV and start running. They were motivating each other all along, everyone got out and ran their part for the team no matter how tired. As a crew member, we just tried to stay positive and keep the good vibes going! The RV became kind of like a "safe place" in between the legs that the runners could relax and get some rest before going out again.
A team of 6 women running together, living on a 100 sq ft RV for a week, most of whom had never met each other before?
Kasha: It was weird getting to know each other. We were all strangers coming together on this tiny RV. The conversation would go from trying to get to know each other to feeling like we'd known each other forever and back in the span of a single conversation. I think from the beginning it felt like we were all working as a team and all in it together though, and in a way all this surreal stuff just felt normal, and like we weren't meant to be anywhere other than right there.
What’s the format? How many runners out at a time, and how long did they run for?
Kasha: We started with 6 mile legs based on the route provided, and followed a 1-2-3-4-5-6 format. I forget when we switched to shorter legs, it all starts to blend into one. It must have been around Saturday evening
Anna: As we got further along, the leg distance varied from 14 miles to 2 mile legs in the end. For the most part, the runners ran alone and we would check on them about every mile or so, especially when it was hot, to hand them water, ice, or anything else they needed. At night, we followed right behind the runner so they weren't alone in the desert in the middle of the night. Also to protect them from dogs or any hallucinations they were having - seriously. There were a few unsupported legs, meaning there was no road that the RV could follow or check up on the runner. On some of these either myself or our other crew member, Jay, would run with them just for extra safety.
How much sleep were you able to get?
Anna: Sleep... haha... I honestly can't even give an estimate of how many hours of sleep the runners had. It was pretty much sleep and eat when you can. So a few hours here and there when you can squeeze them in.
Kasha: The rest schedule haunted me all week coming home, too. For about five days afterwards I couldn't sleep for more than four or five hours at a time, and kept waking up thinking I had to be somewhere.
What were the conditions like?
Kasha: It started to get cold and our legs started to get even stiffer, so we switched to a shorter distance but less rest in between was nice. Sleep was minimal. I'd guess we got 10-12 hours on the RV, total, over the 54 1/2 hours. The sleep deprivation took a toll - my sixth leg started on Death Valley Road in the early afternoon on Saturday, and it felt really slow. The mix of a beating sun and no end to the road in sight made me wonder if there was actually a strong wind pushing me back or if my mind was playing tricks on me (Jay, our support guy, ran some of this leg with me and told me it was the wind, not my mind).
Anna: At night, it was kind of perfect and cool, during the day... desert heat. Luckily, we had women that were used to running in the heat and could push through! Some legs were a lot harder than others with deep sand and hills, but others were pretty flat and the end was pretty much downhill!
Did training help?
Kasha: Training helped, for sure. I did a lot of back-to-back efforts with two and sometimes three workouts a day, which helped me push through on tired legs to max effort. What helped more than training was the support from the team, the crew, and the rest of the teams out there, as well as our sponsors. They were amazing - checking up on us through social media throughout, it was unreal to feel all that support.
Was there any point where you doubted you would finish?
Kasha: I remember waking up around 5am on Sunday after an hour or two of sleep and realizing how far we still had to go, and it was crushing. The lowest point for me was after my fourth or fifth leg ... I went to sleep feeling good and when I woke up I couldn't put any weight on my right ankle. It was so devastating because I couldn't even picture not finishing the race with the team, and at the same time was too tired to properly process and make a smart decision. The whole team was amazing and took on extra miles so I could rest up and I managed to only miss one leg, which was frustrating personally to have let the team down and made them take on my miles but I was grateful in the end. I never doubted we would get there.
Anna: I honestly can't remember a point that anyone doubted finishing. When Kasha thought that she had sprained her ankle, they just worked around it and started picking up extra miles to make up for it. She turned out to be fine and continued running the race!
On the support side, it's hard driving 5 mph. for hours in the middle of the night. Thankfully Jay was a champ and always took over if I was struggling too much!
Any memorable moments, or good stories?
Anna: There were a lot of funny moments... sleep deprivation and runners is really just a recipe for weirdness.
One early morning Joyce was running a leg on a long stretch of flat road where we were the only people other than one car we passed going the opposite direction. It was getting to the time to switch runners so we pulled up next to her, told her we would pick her up in a half mile and drove down the road to park. The next runner was getting ready and stepped outside. We waited a few minutes but Joyce never came... We were so confused and panicked, Jay and I started sprinting down the road yelling for her. We were so freaked out we thought that the car we passed had kidnapped her! We sprinted a solid half mile down the road and couldn't see her anywhere. We ended up calling her and turns out she ran right past us because she didn't see the next runner outside! Probably one of the scariest moments of my life!
Kasha: I remember at one point Alyx did a face plant on the couch and just stayed like that for another hour in her US flag jacket with her hood up. And then just the support the team showed each other - when Anna ran up to me at one point with facewipes when I was sweating sunblock into my eyes and couldn't see anything, I think I called her an angel. Sandra bought me lunchables because I was couldn't stomach any more sugar.
How did it feel to finish? To know that what you did was historic?
Anna: I was so proud of the team when they finished. It was such an awesome and rewarding feeling seeing them run up to the Las Vegas sign. Everyone was so sleep deprived and exhausted but during the last few hours there was a new kind of refreshed energy in everyone. They finished strong as a team and I think that was their main goal. I was just happy that I could be a part of it and help them on their journey!
Kasha: I can't stop saying the word surreal. It was everything and nothing at the same time, because there was never any doubt we would finish, but the magnitude took a while to sneak up on me. I don't think it hit me until days later, but the high of the entire experience has stayed with me for weeks. It has essentially erased my sense of limitation, and drilled this incredible idea in my head around what is an unreasonable goal to set. I had so many doubts going into the race (and a HUGE sense of imposter syndrome) and I left Vegas with this fire inside, and haven't stopped smiling since.
What was the overall driving goal to finish? Did you know why you did it in the end?
Alyx: I think each of us girls had a different objective for showing up at the starting line at The Speed Project. Some wanted to test themselves, while the more experienced ultra-runners wanted training miles, some wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves, some wanted exposure and networking.... but what was most interesting, is the camaraderie we found. Despite being located across the globe, with different lifestyles, athletic backgrounds, and objectives for showing up; we all said yes. And like any serious commitment, not once did anyone show a sign of hesitation or regret. What we found on the road was more than hopes and dreams; we found a blending of kindred spirits. We rediscovered the simple language of a sisterhood without pretentious behaviors, or social media false imaging, we simply were alone as a tribe of women, existing without judgement, living only to support one another. I think each of us is a dreamer, and all are competitive athletes, but I think what we uncovered, is that hoping is unnecessary, and with our own power and that of our sisters, all we need is time to accomplish the impossible.