The protagonists of the special Chilean edition of The Speed Project talk about the combination of running and radical participation

What the desert takes, the desert gives back, James Rollins wrote. The voices of our protagonists echo the same sentiment from continents away: What The Speed Project takes, The Speed Project gives back. Theirs are streams of consciousness rather than answers. They sweep us away from the world’s major metropolises, swirling urban centers that these running adventurers left behind to fly to the Atacama Desert, Chile, where they lent their legs and souls to the South American wilderness. Their reflections spurn personal bests and positions achieved on The Speed Project finish line; they tell the stories of individual challenges turned collective experience, the tale of kilometers run in a natural wonderscape suspended in time and space. They are snapshots of an ultrarun uninterested in competition. An experience that unites cultures and consciousnesses. They are the essence of The Speed Project and those who participate.

Max Keith – Chilean mountain runner

The idea for this special edition in Chile came about during the pandemic. When Nils proposed a decentralized TSP, scattered around the world because of individual country restrictions, some of my friends and I decided to take on a desert I knew well from childhood. A photo contest was also created at the time, which one of my fellow travelers won. So, in one of the following TSP editions in Las Vegas, I approached Nils and suggested doing something in a breathtaking place like the Atacama Desert. After months of calling and organization, Nils decided to give it a try. I never could have imagined it. I remember seeing the first Speed Project video on social media a decade ago. Now, fast-forward to today and here we are at this latest edition, I am excited. We were joined by runners from all over the world; people who had never been to Chile or South America…. It was an adventure and, as a local, I felt responsible for ensuring that their stay and journey went as smoothly as possible. It’s just wild how this sport that we all love, running, can give you such incredible experiences: it may be a cliché, but running is not about movement and fatigue; it’s about community. And speaking of community, I think this TSP was one of the first big steps in pushing Chile forward in this regard. Thanks to TSP-Atacama, my compatriots can see there is more than just marathons and traditional running. Running brings people together. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. What’s really important is the experience and how satisfied you are with yourself and your performance. Every sunrise was a highlight. At 6 a.m., the sun wraps around the mountains, the Andes, which accompanied us throughout long stretches with its 6,000-meter peaks. A few weeks later, another kind of image, far less natural, was also clear in my mind: the signs on the roads marking every 100 meters. I remember running head down for a long time, especially on the most grueling stretches, looking at these numbers on the ground. I even got a tattoo to commemorate one of those moments. I’ve been running for 12 years. For the longest time, it was all about races for me. Then, thanks in part to TSP, I realized that running is a way to meet people and discover the world. I’d never done team sports, but thanks to Speed Project, I also got to do a group race for the first time in my life. And it opened my eyes, changed me, and made me realize that running should be enjoyed.

Claudio – Chilean tattoo artist, creative and runner

TSP is not a race. It is an experience where everything revolves around the concept of community. I thought it was great when I heard it was coming to the Chilean desert. We have wonderful people in Chile who are ecstatic to receive runners and crews from all over the world. Running is a bridge between cultures, human beings and perspectives; it has the power to build a better world. It’s not about understanding running culture but accepting it and being grateful. TSP enhances this, like a dimensional portal that brings people together. It’s a journey within yourself, a joyful plunge into the void. When you find yourself running in the middle of the desert, like the Atacama, everything may seem physical, but it’s not really about the body-there is an all-absorbing spiritual component. The desert lets you find yourself. It doesn’t necessarily give you answers, but it makes you realize what the real question within you is. During this special edition of the Speed Project, I can remember the full moon behind us, the wind and the earth moving along with us… How can you not feel blessed in those moments? To experience all this in my homeland, Chile, was just fantastic. I thanked everyone who bought tickets and flew to our far corner of the Earth. It was a seminal moment for my country’s running culture. I think it inspired many of my fellow Chileans, and I’m honored to have created the medals for this historic event. When I designed them, I didn’t think about the concept of victory. I wanted each runner to have a kind of protection, an aegis. After all, the soul is our guide; in Hispanic culture, especially after colonization, we’ve had countless forms of protection that convey the importance and responsibility inherent in every decision. I wanted this medal, this shield, to be placed on the thymus area, near the heart, where our emotions are kept safe. After experiencing this wonderful celebration, I hope TSP can find more and more places to call home. Japan, Russia, Guatemala… wherever, as long as we can relive this experience.

Alex Roudayna – Mexican psychologist and ultrarunner

I wasn’t planning on going to this edition of the TSP. But when the opportunity arose, I couldn’t say no. I’d never been to Chile before. Running alone in the Atacama Desert was relaxing, I never felt the burden of effort or loneliness. It feels like gravity works differently there. I enjoyed every step of the way. When I crossed the finish line in Cruz Papal, for a second, I had a kind of out-of-body experience…. I savored every second. In everyday life, you get lost thinking of so many meaningless things. Running lets you focus on what matters: it connects you to yourself, your surroundings, and other people. It constantly helps me grow as a person, to know myself better: out there you take off that mask and face who you really are…. Being a rebel is not about going against the rules, it’s about trying to be your best self, figuring out what you can bring to the world, and enriching it; the Speed Project is a perfect outlet for that. Over the years, running has let me grow a lot: at first, I just wanted to win and take home the spoils, but then I realized how empty that was. Now it’s the journey that makes me feel accomplished, not the victory. Every end turns into a new beginning, an endless cycle. Every adversary stops being an enemy and becomes a reason to improve. This philosophy allows you to be happy, to quash that anxiety: TSP helped me develop these thoughts, change my perspectives, and share them with others.

Jarick Walker – Runner and Speed Project host

I used to play football, and when you’re a football player, you see running as punishment. Then I started working for Nike, and by chance, I found myself giving an inspirational speech for their Boston running club. Honestly, I didn’t want to join the run but that group got me excited. So, I started running alongside them, or better, sprinting. I didn’t last long….. Since then, however, my life has changed. First, I helped build a community in my city; then, I moved to Los Angeles, where running was my key to a new social context and professional advancement. I’ve known Nils for many years for work, but I didn’t really understand what Speed Project was until I interviewed him on a podcast. It was a wonderful conversation and, shortly after, he asked me to host the event. As host, I want to share the positive energies of TSP; I want to celebrate a sport that puts you in touch with incredible people and cultures just by putting one foot in front of the other. It’s so exciting, and at the same time, I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility. I’m grateful to be in this position. For me, it’s always about the community, and TSP has introduced me to runners and crews from all over the world. In Chile, we had Serbs, French, Mexicans, Canadians, Germans, you name it…. It is extraordinary to share an experience like TSP with so many different people; it inspires me in ways I can’t even describe. When I travel, I discover cities through the people I meet through running: you develop a whole new range of perspectives, having friends scattered all over, feeling at home even in Chile. The Atacama was truly amazing; I still get chills thinking about everyone I was lucky to meet there. They called me ‘Chocolate’, and had a great time together. During the race, I could marvel at the beauty of this unique country. I’d never seen volcanoes before. That blanket of stars and those sand dunes made me feel so small…. like I was on a different planet at times. I wanted to share all this with those who couldn’t be there with us, to respect the Chilean culture and encourage people to visit this country. I will definitely come back with my wife and children.

Lena Sophie Anders – German designer and runner

When you’re out there in the middle of TSP, a whole range of feelings take your mind off the past and future. If you come to this event with an open heart, free from obligations, the desert makes you feel totally present, untainted. It’s difficult to put it into words. You just have to trust yourself and the people by your side. I’ve been running since I was 14, and now it is essential for managing stress and giving me balance. I’ve taken part in several editions of the Speed Project, but it took me a while to understand the meaning of this event; now I know how to put aside logic and live in the moment. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you break your pb or finish first; what matters is sharing an experience with people brought together by an invisible bond. TSP-ATA was the emblem for these concepts: a safe space where I could open up with people who really understood me. There is a close thread that ties TSP with creativity, my profession. To really open up and be able to show every facet you need to have a space where you feel good; where you feel unjudged. I felt an incredible mental and emotional connection with the small group of TSP-ATA, which encouraged me to surround myself with similar people in the future. I want to be around people who let me fully express myself and my creativity. In the Chilean desert, I experienced intense moments that I’m still processing, but I relived some of them back in March when I ran between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. After that edition, I struggled to get back into the rat race of everyday life. So, when Nils proposed going to Chile, I said yes right away, despite my teammates’ absence. In the end, five people put their trust in me, and together, we enjoyed South American sunrises, sunsets, and full moons. In the months leading up to this adventure, I also had a little accident that made me pause, reflect and learn, but I still decided to fly overseas: running has this effect on me; it makes me feel strong enough. Brave. I had a magical and transformative experience with my Marshmellow teammates: we always tried to remember why we were there, cheering the other teams along the way. I always felt a part of something. Like I was never alone. I can’t wait to feel that again.

Photo credits:

Kata Ulloa

Text by

Gianmarco Pacione