NBRO Running Crew recently took part in one of the world’s most intense relay events –racing from LA to Las Vegas, this is their story.
Here at Libratone, we love to support others who share our values and passions. So, when we heard about the epic US adventure that a team from Copenhagen based running crew, NBRO Running, were participating in, we just knew we had to get involved.
Here we chat to three of the six-strong team - Lars Vestbirk, Benni Laursen and Bjarke Reventlow, that took part in The Speed Project to find out more about their truly impressive participation in the iconic 550km, (yes, that is 340 miles!) relay race from LA to Las Vegas.
But first, here are just a few of the highlights that they and their three other teammates - Leah Donde, Barbara Roman and Keith White, experienced, captured on film.
Hi all, we can’t wait to hear more about The Speed Project, but can you first just give us a quick intro to yourself and your running!
BJARKE: Hi, I am 35 years old and grew up in a smaller city southwest of Copenhagen. I have always worked in hospitality, and today I am a managing partner in four bars and two restaurants in Copenhagen and Aarhus. In 2013, I was going through a super stressful period at work. In order to be able to sleep at night, and function during the day, I started exercising a lot. I played squash more than seven times a week. Exercising worked and really helped improving my ability to sleep and reduce stress. Squash turned into crossfit, and eventually running.
Some of my largest running achievements must be getting up for the long runs +20km every single Saturday morning. Showing up for a long run when you have been partying all Friday night is more challenging than any marathon I have ever run!
LARS: I am 38 years old, living in Østerbro in Copenhagen. I have worked all my career within international marketing, now working for Arla Foods.
I was the outsider on the NBRO team for The Speed Project as I am not actually a runner at all! The team offered me the spot four weeks before the race started. At that point, I had not been running at all for 6 months. All rational thinking told me that this was a very bad idea! I couldn’t run and I had just 4 weeks to become good enough to run around 100km through difficult conditions – while keeping pace with the rest of the NBRO Team. But the thought of doing The Speed Project was just an incredible opportunity to me, and one that may only come once in life. So, I set aside all rational thinking and off I went!
My physique was good being a very active cross-fitter and former elite athlete. My main concern was if my joints could take what I was about to embark on. But Anders Römer, who is one of the founders of NBRO, reassured me. He told me what shoes to get, lent me his running watch and created ‘Römer’s how to get in shape to run 100km in the desert in only 4 weeks programme’ for me. It worked.
BENNI: I am 34 years old and now live in Copenhagen. I am originally from Slagelse, and started running in the forest in my teens, but for many years, running was just a secondary sport from my main sports - swimming and water polo. A couple of years ago an injury meant running became my main sport, and since then I have been running multiple 10km races, half-marathons and marathons.
Please explain to our readers, what The Speed Project is and what it entailed?
LARS: Los Angeles to Vegas on foot. That’s it. No other rules!
There are 45 teams competing from all over the world. Our team and the majority of teams are four men and two women, and it is a relay, so one person runs whilst the others try to fill up on energy by resting, eating and drinking before it is their turn. The route is 550km through the desert - in the sand, mountains passes, so hot days and cold nights. The fastest team did it in 31 hours, the slowest in 62 hours. We did it in 45 hours at an average pace of 4:58 min/km.
BJARKE: I have heard it explained as America’s craziest ultra-relay no one has ever heard of. It’s an unofficial event now in its 5thyear. The race started with six runners - four guys and two girls, who wanted to see how fast they could run from Santa Monica Pier in LA, to Vegas. The relay is non-stop and runs continuously day and night, until the team gets to the Vegas sign. This year 43 teams from more than 20 countries were competing in the race. To enter the competition, you need to be four guys and two girls per team. Some teams have more runners which they are allowed to enter, but then their time doesn’t count in the official race. The race does not have a website but it can be followed through their Instagram @thespeedproject.
BENNI: The Speed Project is a very unconventional race. First of its a relay-race, which you normally do for short distance, but here you do relays over and over again for 550 km. In addition, you run from LA to Vegas – two very distinctive places, and with Death Valley in between, which only makes the journey so much more crazy.
How did NBRO come to participate in the event?
BJARKE: NBRO had runners competing in the race for the last four years, but never a full team. Nils Arend, the founder of Speed Projects, knows Anders Rømer. So, Anders made the necessary connections with Nils, and I signed the team up for the race. There is a plan to send an NBRO elite team to TSP and compete, so this could be seen as a first step to check out how to make this happen next year.
BENNI: NBRO is all about having fun whilst running and running as a lifestyle. In that sense the event is very much suited for many NBRO runners, since it is an opportunity to have a true adventure in your running shoes!
How did you train for The Speed Project?
LARS: Anders Rømer, created a programme for me. I was starting from scratch, having not been running at all, so I needed to get my joints and muscles used to it without getting injured. So, my programme was different from the others. I did four runs per week for four weeks:
- An easy 8km
- One tempo day with intervals
- An easy 8km
- Then one long run up to 21km
- To supplement I also did cardio focused crossfit and hot Bikram yoga as recovery.
BJARKE: For me, a lot of the training has been focusing on how to get a lot of kilometres out of my legs without getting injured. I have been doing a lot of spinning on the side, to give my legs an active rest on the days I have not been running. The last few weeks I had probably been running around 100km a weekend, with up to four hours of spinning as well. As a prep for the heat, I have also had sauna’s two-to-three times a week - running before and after.
For next year’s TSP I will try to do more laps, and work much more with running uphill and trail running. I was really surprised to see how much of the run actually was uphill, on trails and dirt roads. This is something you don’t get to practice much in Copenhagen!
BENNI: You run a lot! I tried to have a lot of runs during the week, rather than having a few long runs. At the same time, I needed to balance things with my family and my daughter who is living with me every other week. For me running is an important thing in my life and it is something that brings me a lot of joy, but at the same time I do not want it to take up all of my life – balance is important.
What makes it different from other events?
BENNI: It takes a lot of preparing. There are a lot of things that you need to take care of, that you would never pay attention to in a normal race. You need to find an RV, you need to shop for food – for a lot of people, for two days. Normally when you do a race, you show up, pin the bib to your chest and then run when the starter goes off. Then you, usually, end up in the same place where you started, have food and water afterwards, maybe even during the race, and then you can go home afterwards.
TSP requires so much more of you, and it requires that you are ‘there’ for two days straight, doing your own runs, cheering at teammates, helping out with navigating, planning as we go around who does which runs and also, trying to relax as much as possible between your own runs.
BJARKE: Firstly, the team - It’s a team thing, you are not in this alone, you ‘suffer’ together, and you really have to rely on your team to get you through it. It also puts a whole new level of pressure on the team when everyone starts to get tired and grumpy. Being nine people (six runners, two drivers and one cameraman) in an RV for two days is also challenging.
Secondly, the scenery – You do not get more epic scenery than running through the California and Nevada desert.
Thirdly, the other teams. Every stop you make you meet new people who are in it just as much as your own team. We were neck and neck with 3-4 other teams from start to end, in the end, there was only 50m between us and the team in front of us which gave everyone a crazy adrenalin rush, you totally forgot you were tired. I ran my last 3km in 10 minutes in a dirt road chasing a guy who was only 5-10m in front of me. It was pitch black and I could barely see where my feet were landing, but I just knew I had to catch him. Unfortunately, they changed to a fresh runner just as I caught him, he yelled, “See you at the pool party” and then he took off…I was devastated!
LARS: Everything. The duration, the landscape, the level of fatique - from barely sleeping during 45 hours, not being able to eat and drink sufficiently, and the pain in the legs. But more importantly is the camaraderie and being in a group of amazing people, accomplishing this huge challenge together.
Outside the running, what else do you need to consider when participating in TSP?
LARS: There are a ton of practicalities including renting an RV, stacking it with prepped food, two drivers, etc. We were lucky to have team members living in Vegas, so they pulled the weight on all those things.
BJARKE: How well can you handle being really, really tired and fatigued. The lack of sleep will get you at some point and everyone deals with it differently. No one wants to be stuck with someone who has a complete meltdown in an RV.
Food, what can you eat when your body and mind don’t want to? A lot of our runners and runners from the other teams were struggling with stomach issues, when everything leaves your body as fast as it gets in, then it gets really hard to perform. In the beginning, everything works well, you can eat gels and drink energy water, but, after 3-4 runs, you just hate the taste of it, and you need something else. I drank a whole box of coconut water and kombucha tea. At the last leg, everyone was just eating chips and dip.
BENNI: You need to consider who you are on a team with. It is very important to be in a team where everybody is there to back each other up. And it is important to be very honest to yourself about why it is you do this. It’s not always about how to run, but more often it’s it why you run – especially during TSP where you will be challenged on the second day in a way that most runners have never experienced before.
What is the atmosphere like? Is it a sociable event?
BENNI: The atmosphere is vibrant, almost electric. The air is full of anticipation before the start, and during the race, you will continuously be surprised about what you are capable of. It is a very social event, both on the team, obviously, since you have to be very close in an RV for two days, and you will all be exhausted and pressed to the limit. But it is also a social event between the teams. You compete against each other, but you also cheer on one another, support, and even end up having a nice run alongside a runner from another team, so you can talk and get to know them during one of the legs. And, of course, there is a party before, and a party after, the race.
BJARKE: There is the coolest atmosphere before the race everyone was really tense and not really talking to each other, but as soon as the race started, everyone was talking and would help you if you needed something.
LARS: Running in a group and for a group makes it super social. Also, there is a great community amongst the 45 teams in the race. Everyone was cheering each other on along the route. The race ended with a massive pool party in Vegas with all the teams, where you celebrate and exchange anecdotes from the suffering you have just surpassed!
What was your overall experience of the event, was the experience what you expected?
LARS: Doing it for the first time, it is difficult to envision how such a big race will be as there are so many unknowns. I was expecting an experience of a lifetime, and that was absolutely fulfilled.
BJARKE: For me running it for the first time, I think it was pretty much as expected, maybe not as tough for my legs as expected, but mentally much tougher. It was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had, and I will 100% do it again next year.
BENNI: It was just as wild and intense as I expected. It is definitely a race I would like to do again, to try to do it better for myself, but also to learn from the experiences I have had this year.
What are your highlights from the event?
BENNI: My highlight is being the first runner on the team – getting to start the whole thing and experiencing the craziness surrounding it, with all the supporters and photographers just waiting for the race to commence.
BJARKE: I have a few running highlights, the first one was running with Keith in the sunset, there was no wind, the temperature was perfect, and my legs were feeling great. The scenery was so beautiful and calm, overall really one of the best runs I have ever had.
The second highlight was a 15km run with Leah where we got lost in the desert, I didn’t have more than a 40-50 min break before this run, it was around 4am and I was so tired, but we decided that we should not send a runner out alone, because there was quite a large risk of getting lost, which we did. We ran straight out and got lost, we could not see any lights or hear noises. After looking for a good 30 minutes we found the path that we should follow, this was pure sand and super difficult to run in. After 8-9km we had to climb 150-200m almost vertically upwards. None of us saw this on the map before we started running, so we really felt we were completely lost at this point. But, when we got over the top, we could see lights from another runner in front of us, this filled us with energy, and we started racing after him. We caught up just before we switched runners… it felt so good catching up with him.
LARS: The spectacular scenery. Realizing that you could push through the pain and keep going. Sharing the experience with others – the team.
What was the most challenging part of this race?
LARS: With about 50km to go I was really tired. But sleeping for 20 minutes fixed that, and I was ok again, even though we had been at it almost without sleep for over 40 hours at that stage. It is incredible what your body and mind can do when you set yourself up to it.
BJARKE: The lack of sleep and not having any real breaks. It would have been way easier just running 100km straight, than doing it in a relay, since you are constantly tired, and your body never gets a good rest.
BENNI: The second night, coming down to Vegas, where I was exhausted and without any motivation to push myself that last bit – I just wanted the whole thing to be over.
Are you pleased with your overall performance in the event?
BJARKE: Yes, our goal was to finish in less than 45 hours, we finished in 45 hours and 30 minutes. We lost more than an hour getting lost the first night, if this wouldn’t have happened, we would have finished well before 45 hours.
LARS: Very. I kept the average pace, didn’t get injured and had a blast.
BENNI: More or less. I had an injury a month before the race, so I didn’t feel I was at 100%, so I don’t feel that I was able to give all that I wanted.
Why did you want to work with Libratone on this project?
BJARKE: When you go on a race like The Speed Project, you don’t want to be sponsored by just any brand, people will judge you on what you wear and how you wear it. First of all, I think that Libratone has some really cool products, which were very aligned with the whole TSP mantra, setting the music, or the runner, free by creating wireless technology and pushing it to the limits are what it is all about. Second, we are a team from Denmark, so it made good sense to work with a Danish brand, which we also would be proud to represent at the race.
LARS: It’s a cool Danish brand that fits the spirit of NBRO perfectly. The wireless headphones gave an extra boost of energy when running in the desert.
On the night runs, we went in pairs. One ran, and one supported on the bike and had the Libratone ZIPP 2 speaker hanging on the handlebar. Great extra feature.
BENNI: Libratone was able to give us music on the runs, both with the headphones, but also with the speaker when one of us rode along on the bike. For me, music is an important thing in my life, and to be able to take that music with me – even in the middle of Death Valley was perfect.
How did Libratone support your participation?
BJARKE: I think it was a perfect match with Libratone. You have so much time running with sound in your ears, and, for that, we all needed good running headphones. The speaker we hung on the bike, also worked well during the long breaks in the RV.
BENNI: Libratone ensured that we could take our music with us, but they also made it possible to have a photographer with us to document our journey – both the good times, but also the times where we were spent, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that ourselves.
Did you listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks on the race? If so, what/who were you playing
BJARKE: Some of the longer easy stretches I were playing podcasts, mostly Den Korte Radioavis, but also Henrik Them’s podcast Frontrunner, when it started getting really tough, I played some mixtapes on Soundcloud that I always turn to when I need to run fast!
And finally, am sure you have inspired our readers, where can they find out more about NBRO running?
BJARKE: The best thing for a new runner, is to show up for a rookie Monday which is held the first Monday in every month at 17:30 at the NBRO clubhouse at Birkegade. We do a short run of 3-4km around the lakes, where more experienced runners from NBRO will answer any questions about how it all works.
A little bit more about NBRO Running.
Founded in 2010 NBRO, named after the Nørrebro neighbourhood of Copenhagen where the group meets, is one of the longest standing independent run crews in the world. It is also believed to be one of the largest – indeed their social media following runs into its thousands. With a focus on road-races, but, above all else, being a community, their regular weekly runs are free to join.