The Speed Project with Tom Reynolds

Our most recent collaboration with ultra-runner and community-run leader, Tom Reynolds, was not only about radical innovation, but radical participation. The leader of our Allpress Run Club in Manchester, Tom co-founded a 76km ultra fun-run between Manchester and Sheffield called the Peak Divide. But found an even larger challenge in The Speed Project: Atacama

In late November, a kg or two of our Good Brew helped turn strangers into friends in the Atacama Desert. Tom was in Chile for a race called The Speed Project – a 500km underground, unsanctioned running race that has radical participation at its heart.

At the heart of their race plan was coffee. Tom began the event running alongside five strangers and ended it with friends for life. In part, due to the power of a simple brew.

Read Tom’s desert dispatch below.

Desert brews hit hard.

Especially desert brews in the middle of the night in the middle of a 500km unsanctioned running race across the driest desert on earth. The Speed Project is a race with no route, no spectators, no feed stops and no infrastructure. The Atacama race in November 2023 was the result of organiser Nils Arend’s restlessness with the original incarnation that goes from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

In Arend’s words, if LALV was likened to a cat, it would be a domestic cat. The inaugural Atacama version meanwhile? “Like a tiger”.

Other than the designated start (on the Pacific Ocean in Iquique) and finish line (500km away in San Pedro de Atacama) there are resolutely no rules. There was however one strict rule for me and my Team Ad Astra teammates; good coffee? Non-negotiable.

After a pre-run breakfast, we got started on tackling the 500km route that went largely through barren mining territory. It had only one place in which teams could resupply so we needed to carry all of our food and water for two full days in the desert.

Despite this, we found room and time for a couple of kilos of The Good Brew with an AeroPress and grinder set-up.

The Speed Project race doesn’t stop. For over forty hours, fifteen teams of six people from all over the world completed a relay race like no other. Team Ad Astra came ninth out of fifteen. The coffee probably cost us a few seconds here and there. But in terms of team spirit, it was priceless.

The Morning Ritual

Making dawn coffee is a comforting ritual at home. At sunrise in the desert, brewing felt almost spiritual. The Speed Project is built around pace, so taking a few minutes to slow down was an amazing juxtaposition. As a British stranger among five new North American running teammates, it was also a perfect way to bond. Making a quick brew for new friends helped me make fast connections, crucial in an event in which speed is literally in the title.

The race demanded we run, and stay up, for basically two nights straight. Every ten–fifteen minutes, a runner would complete our two-three kilometre (typically) leg and hand over to a teammate to head off into the desert sun, or stars. In the early hours of the second morning, faced with another three km leg of running in the early morning light, photographer and pal Dan King delivered a handover of a different kind, giving teammate Denali Tietjen a half cup of Good Brew.

I swear I saw her come alive, or back to life perhaps, almost immediately. The caffeine exchange led to the start of a conversation in the previously desolate pre-dawn light.

“Ahhh thank you.
“No worries.
“How’d you sleep?
“Hmmm, not that bad. You?
“Terrible too. Shall we go running?
“Yeah, guess so…..”

Ten minutes after being asleep by the side of the road, Denali was charging in the direction of the finish line in San Pedro de Atacama. Five minutes later I had a brew in that insane early desert light, also ready to go along with one for my friend Tilly. Dan had done it again. Well, strictly speaking, our pal Joe had done it again. As he did time and time again in the Atacama.

During and after coffee, I chatted with my teammates. We shared a brew and spoke about the race, life, and other morning rituals back in the real world. Then we ran off into the morning sun to continue our extraordinary race across the desert.

Heart and legs racing. Caffeinated, content, and connected.