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At the end of March, running teams from around the world flocked to Western America to compete in the fourth edition of the Speed Project – a gruelling, non-stop relay race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The route takes athletes across 550 kilometres of asphalt and sand, through the desert, from one metropolis to another. Olaf Heine, who has previously documented last year’s race for LFI 04.2017, once again visited the event – this time focusing on the personal stories and motivations of its participants. We introduce some excerpts from this diverse kaleidoscope of characters.

All images on this page © by Olaf Heine
Lukas Kellner, Berlin, Germany, of Team Kraft Runners at the Santa Monica Pier (Kilometer 1), March 30th at 4.00h
After his Highschool graduation, Lukas (28) was awarded a high-performance sports scholarship, and trained to become a professional athlete. However, he eventually rejected this extremely competitive environment, and dropped out shortly before his Olympic nomination in favour of a proper university education. He rediscovered his love for running through the more team-spirit-driven Kraft Runners in Berlin. Running in the Speed Project was prompted by the painful loss of both his grandmother and his father within a short space of time. In this portrait, Lukas is pictured with a photograph of his late father, whose birthday would have been on this very day, the starting day of the Speed Project.
Mikkel Nielsen, Copenhagen, Denmark, of Team RunForceOne on Soledad Canyon Road (Kilometer 88), March 30th at 10.40h
Mikkel’s story is about pushing limits and building bridges whilst pursuing his favourite type of sport – running. It all started in 2010, when the 32-year-old tore a ligament during a soccer match – putting an abrupt end to the dedication, friendship and solidarity he had experienced on the pitch. After his knee recovered from surgery, he gradually took up running again, becoming motivated to move forward with his life. Even though he still missed the camaraderie of his soccer team, his passion for running continued. After completing his first marathon in Copenhagen in 2014, he connected with some members of Runners of Copenhagen (NBRO) – and so he finally found what he had been looking for. He has been running with the crew several times a week ever since. The Speed Project is his first attempt at an ultra-marathon. What he loves about the concept is the way it brings people together as a team, which gives them the strength to cope with everything from lack of sleep, sore muscles and the inevitable emotional rollercoasters.
Dave Proctor, Calgary, Canada, of Team TSPYYC on Palmdale Blvd (Kilometer 145), March 30th at 13.40h
Dave (37) is known as an elite runner and all-round great guy. He holds numerous Canadian ultra-running records, and this summer will be attempting to break the TransCanadian speed record by running 7200 km in 66 days. His drive to break the current Guinness World Record of 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 passion to push boundaries, make impossible feats possible, and to raise much-needed research money for the Rare Disease Foundation in order to help families in a similar situation.
Mary Kate Callahan, Chicago, of Team Strava on El Mirage Road (Kilometer 154), March 30th at 15.10h
Most people rely on their legs for running. For Mary Kate Callahan (22), it is her arms that allow her propel herself forward. She is a wheelchair racer. Mary Kate has been paralysed since she was 5 months old, so this is the only way of ‘running’ she has ever known.
What she finds amazing is that, regardless of your specific way of ‘running’, there is an unbreakable bond between the athletes, borne out of the shared experience and the effect it has on your body and mind. Running has taken her all over the world. Whether it’s crossing the Ironman finish line as a representative of the USA, or teaching running techniques to kids in Uzbekistan – she feels that this sport has taught her so much about life, and introduced her to many remarkable people.
Dr. Alyx Ulbrich, Okinawa, Japan, of Team Fire Power Runners on Main St. in Barstow (Kilometer 235), March 30th at 18.50h
When Alyx (30) left Highschool at 15, the door to freedom opened just a little too wide. For four years, her life went into a rapid downward spiral of heavy drinking, a rushed marriage, and a long list of unsuitable friends who were involved in illegal activities. And so it came that Alyx found herself in jail.
In the small prison yard, she would spend several hours a day running up to 80 miles in tiny circles. 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 started to organise group and individual workouts, read books, took courses, and prayed for the first time in years.
When she was granted an early release, she knew she had to remove herself from her former social circle. She started training at a local gym, cycling, running, and decided to do triathlons. In California, she fell in love with the sunny skies, beautiful beaches and her future husband – a marine who pushed and encouraged her to expand her physical training.
They got married, started to train together and eventually decided to do ultra-marathons. He encouraged her to gain her Fitness Pro Card in bodybuilding and start studying from home – which she did, finally graduating with a doctoral degree. All the while, she established a running and hiking community that encompassed more than a thousand members, and held free training runs with up to fifty participants. She now lives in Okinawa, Japan, and is free to spend her days doing exactly what she yearned for during her time of incarceration: feel the breeze on her face, and run wherever she pleases.
Victoria Lo, San Francisco, of Team Deathsquad on Zzyzx Dry Lake Bed (Kilometer 330), March 31st at 12.50h
Victoria (32) initially had no athletic background. Throughout her childhood, she was constantly teased for being overweight, uncoordinated and inept at any type of sport. Her nicknames were "whale" and "fat cow" all throughout her time at school, until she left for university at age 18. She started running just to lose weight, to get stronger and prove all of her childhood tormentors wrong.
She made the classic move of signing up for her first marathon after a bad breakup – and liked it so much that she started running ultras. Nowadays she runs because it feels like a spiritual necessity – she jokingly refers to her long Sunday run as her ‘church’ – and the continual motion helps clear her mind.  She has certainly shown that even if you start out as a below-average athlete, you can still go on to accomplish extraordinary things, if you have enough passion and grit.
Michel Rojkind Halpert, Mexico City, of Team Dromo Libre on Death Valley Road (Kilometer 426), March 31st at 13.25h
Michel (48) runs to get in touch with his creativity. He used to be the drummer of Aleks Syntek y La Gente Normal, one of Latin America’s most popular rock bands of the early 1990s. Following an impressive eight-year stint with the band – during which time he also studied architecture and urban planning at the Universidad Iberoamericana – Rojkind left in 1997 to pursue a full-time career in architectural design. With his musical career fading into the background, he sought out ways to clear his mind, and discovered a sense of spirituality in 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 (Kilometer 459), March 31st at 14.10h
Christopher (34) started running ten years ago. For the past four years, he has been pushing his limits and setting new goals by running ultras. He loves the adventure and challenge of running longer distances, and feels inspired by his team-mates and friends – despite the pain, the exhaustion, and the risk of blood in your urine when you fail to drink enough water. Chris reminds himself that it is his mind, not his body, that he has to overcome in order to push himself harder. “When you think that you’re done, you’ve only gone to 40% of 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!”
Ansam Sinjab, Beirut, Lebanon, of Team Mankitail on Nevada State Rd. 160 (Kilometer 507), April 1st at 10.25h
Before 2014, Ansam (32) had never even run one mile. She was a foreign student living in Heidelberg, Germany, and working on a research project at the German Cancer Research Center. When the center organised a race for charity, she discovered her passion for running – and held on to it after returning to Lebanon in 2015.
With the war raging in Syria, life in the neighbouring Lebanon was not easy. She was unable to find a research job, and desperately needed some respite from the stress of readjusting to a chaotic environment: running was the perfect solution. One month before her first marathon, her dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Now every run turned into a little story she could tell her dad during his chemotherapy sessions. It took his mind off his illness, and helped Ansam escape the real reality she was in.
Jenn Miller, Los Angeles, of Team LA Rebels on Las Vegas Strip (Kilometer 549), March 31st at 22.05h
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 basically stumbled upon running. She has been doing it for several years, but 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 the chance to push her own limits during ultra-runs.

When running with her team mates, she enjoys the feeling of being part of something bigger than herself. She is also motivated by the thought of running for freedom and world peace. When participating in the Speed Project, she was blown away by the fantastic team spirit and collaborative approach to reaching a common goal, which created a deep mutual trust and connection with her team mates – so much so that she and her friends all got the same tattoo on their wrists: the Roman numeral IV – symbolising the Speed Project 4.0.

Olaf Heine

Born in Hanover in 1968, the photographer and film maker got his first assignments even before finishing his training in Berlin, initially with cover photography in the German and international music scene. Later it became above all portraits of sportsmen and women, actors, musicians and other celebrities Heine prefers to photograph in black and white.
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