Lucy Scholz’s 300-Mile Party Across the Desert
To break both the men’s and women’s solo records for The Speed Project, a race from Santa Monica to Las Vegas, you need a crew as nuts as you are
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Lucy Scholz was going to vomit. It’s been a staple of her 100 milers since her first in 2017. If she runs that distance, her stomach will revolt.
This time, it struck around 50 miles into her solo attempt at The Speed Project, an unsanctioned race from Santa Monica, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. The event has no rules other than to run the entire way—typically as a team relay, while some attempt the route solo—from the Santa Monica pier to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Runners navigate through cities at both ends, with a large stretch of desert in between.
Her crew was waiting in the Jeep and RV they rented for the 300-mile race. The 33-year-old was barely out of the Los Angeles city limits when she saw nine women throwing a party for her on the side of the road. There was music. There was dancing. There were bubbles.
It was the most fun she’d had throwing up in her life.
“I’m like, ‘Y’all, I’m going to puke, but thank you for the bubbles,’” Scholz said. “They really figured out exactly how to respond to what I needed in the moment, and that just made all the difference.”
This was the vibe for 84 hours and 45 minutes, as Scholz went on to destroy the men’s and women’s records for the event. For reference, that’s 17 hours ahead of the previous women’s record (101 hours, 53 minutes) and almost 10 hours ahead of the men’s record (93 hours, 59 minutes).
Scholz’s success at this year’s Speed Project came, surprisingly, as her first-ever attempt over 100 miles. While she credits her years of training put into the sport, the New Orleans-based runner also credits her performance and experience to her all-female, nine-person crew that lived out her race motto: “Running is a team sport, and I got the best team.”
Their job was simple: Keep it silly. Keep it fun. Over the three and a half days that followed, Scholz and crew hosted a party on wheels all the way to Sin City, with planned and unexpected surprises along the way.
“I Want to Have the Most Fun of Any Runner out There”
At the post-race party for last year’s 2022 Speed Project, Scholz was celebrating poolside with the 504th, her New Orleans run crew when she saw Malcolm Ebanks, a solo runner that year, across the way.
“I see him dancing and people are like, ‘He ran the whole thing by himself,’” Scholz said. “I went up and talked to him. He was such a nice guy, and I couldn’t get the solo run out of my head. Literally from that moment at the party, I had the idea of running a solo.”
Consuming every podcast, race recap, article, and Strava entry of previous solo runners, Scholz started to map out her journey. She had never run more than 100 miles before but she knew she could endure the many hours. One of her 100-milers lasted 35 hours, thanks to, you guessed it, stomach issues. This Speed Project attempt would be longer in both time and distance, but she was confident she could make it.
Yet, it wasn’t just the logistical preparations she focused on. That was a priority, but she also kept thinking about when she was out there, what she’d need. It was more than just someone to hand her fuel.
“I wanted to build a community around me,” Scholz said. Living in New Orleans for 11 years and running ultras since 2017, she recruited running and non-running friends willing to make the multi-day trek. Since Scholz could only cover the RV costs by herself, thanks to a Ciele grant, she wanted to ensure that the costs that were coming out of her crew’s pockets (airfare, lodging, food, rental car) was worth the epic adventure.
“I told my crew, ‘I want to laugh every time I see you,’” Scholz said. “‘I want to be silly. I want to have the most fun of any runner out there.’ I think we really nailed it.”
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For starters, each day had a theme. Day one was “Lucy,” a celebration of their runner. Day two was Mardi Gras. Day three was the “Mean Girls” quote, “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” Thursday was Jazz Fest, the famous New Orleans music festival. Themes included outfits and music, and props were required for pacing and crewing.
“All my crew had different personalities and ways of pacing,” Scholz said. “They all had my goals in mind, but they kept it fresh and new. They kept me from feeling overwhelmed. I’d just think about what the next section had in store. No section was more than 11 miles. We kept saying, “You can do anything for 11 miles (or two-mile segments). It made it much more manageable.”
Ideas evolved even the night before the race. For example, while eating with other solo runners, crew member Lindsey Dennis was playfully teased for bringing an air fryer. And before the race started the next morning, that air fryer had its own Instagram account and a personality that posted the entire trip. “You’ve got hours you’re waiting for me, and this was a great way for the crew to have fun and be silly,” Scholz said. “I think by the end the air fryer could talk.”
Party in the Desert
Approaching the second night, Scholz was in a bad mental space. Ahead of her was a 51-mile segment following power lines, and the RV couldn’t accompany her. The Jeep would track her on the 12- to 15-hour section with three crew members, but running through a second night, something she had never done before, spooked her.
There was an alternative route that added 12 miles; that wasn’t ideal either. She called her crew captain, Dennis, to explain her hesitations. Dennis convinced her to just focus on her current section and reassess when she met up with the RV. Schloz kept moving. Then out of nowhere, she got a FaceTime.
“It was my run crew from New Orleans,” she said. “There were like a hundred of them being like, ‘We believe in you. You can do it.’ They were at our weekly 7 P.M. Tuesday run. I needed that boost.”
The use of a virtual pacer has become more prominent in recent years in ultrarunning, everything from 50Ks to fastest known times, and Scholz took advantage of it, calling her wife, friends, and family, even other solo runners. This tactic took the form of videos created by her crew and friends that she was shown the night before, and at the 200-mile mark.
“One of the things I knew would help me was seeing people I love,” Scholz said. “I had so many people supporting me and seeing that on videos, Facetime, or comments when we did Instagram Live, it was everything.”
“When you have people that believe in you when you are about to do this crazy goal, it’s really powerful. I believed in myself, but I also had a lot of people that believed in me, and that made a big difference.”
The rest was up to the crew on hand. Luckily, they were prepared. Before that 50-mile section she dreaded, they had sparklers, a plastic hat with a light, and a pickle-flavored soda they found at a random store. One of her crew members converted every segment of the run to a poster that was the same format as the New Orleans Jazz Fest, an event Scholz is “obsessed” with.
And remember the bubbles at mile 50? They did all of this on top of being a record-breaking crew cooking up mashed potatoes and ramen throughout the day. “I just felt so loved,” Scholz said. “When you have people that believe in you when you are about to do this crazy goal, it’s really powerful. I believed in myself, but I also had a lot of people that believed in me, and that made a big difference.”
Viva La Finish
On the final morning, Scholz had 37 miles left to go as she approached Las Vegas Boulevard. Her spirits were lifted overnight as she passed the last runner in front of her and the arrival of her wife, Maggie Riddell, who flew in for the final day. She kept her pace, thanks to her crew and also downing 12 Oreos in three minutes with eight miles left.
It didn’t totally hit her when she was popping champagne at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign or even the pool party after. The gravity of her accomplishment hit her in the days after.
As messages from strangers calling her an inspiration flooded in, she recalled a book her aunt and uncle gave her as a kid. Each chapter highlighted an exceptional woman who swam the English Channel or hiked Mount Everest. She always wanted to do something that might land her in this book. Have I done that? she thought.
“I’m an amateur, unsponsored, uncoached runner who also works two jobs,” Scholz said. “It’s really important for young female athletes to have role models and to see what’s possible when you put in the work, put in the planning, and then surround yourself with the right people who believe in you. Also, I didn’t come out until I was 24 just because I didn’t have a ton of role models who were gay women. I hope to be that for anyone who needs that role model.”
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The other thing Scholz learned was how far she could go. With her first multi-day event in the books, she has her eyes set on the Cowboy 200, in Nebraska, the triple crown of 200s (Moab 240, Bigfoot 200, and Tahoe 200 in a span of two months), and a 150-mile loop around Lake Pontchartrain that hugs New Orleans. Oh, and she and her crew are already planning to return to the Speed Project in 2024.
“It was fun to experience that alongside people who haven’t yet gone full-on into trail running,” Scholz said. “I’m hoping to have converted a couple of people.”
Scholz also ran for the summer camp she operates, Live Oak, which runs wilderness trips for ages 8 to 22. Anyone interested in donating can do so here.