THE SUN HAD JUST STARTED RISING above the skyline of downtown Los Angeles. The local bums were still asleep as runners passed by some admittedly impressive tent city suburbs under bridges and alongside freeway passes. It was a foggy morning, but as the sun rose, the fog began to disappear. Piercing through the crevices of DTLA’s skyscrapers, hazy patches of light began to reflect off the sweaty faces of the runners in motion.
Our eyes were open and time was moving fast. It wasn’t even 8am and it had already been a long day. At this point, the finish line was truly just a far away dream. Were we really doing this? Could we honestly make this ambitious trek? With a fresh waterfall of puke already laid out on the ground from yours truly, it finally struck me what we had gotten ourselves into. It was Palm Springs or bust.
Three hours earlier...
The forceful buzzing and beeping of my alarm clock wailed through the quiet morning air like a car crashing into a metal shop. No alarm—no matter how calm or peaceful—sounds welcoming at 4am. It just sounds…alarming.
The good news is we were strategically five minutes away from the starting line of the first-ever No Shortcuts TT Relay Race—an unsanctioned, highly ambitious trek from Santa Monica to Palm Springs on foot—at AMP Association gym in Santa Monica.
140 miles. 6 runners. No turning back. With this in mind, naturally, we snoozed. (But only once). There was no escaping the anxiety at this point. After months of planning and training, the day had arrived. We were living it. I was rooming with JC Clough, one of our athletes and ambassadors here at Lasso who just so happens to know a thing or two about going fast. (Insert your favorite Ricky Bobby quote right here! Lol.) We knew the morning would arrive fast and rightfully so—fast was the theme of the day after all.
Our bags were packed. No more than fifteen minutes later, Lasso relay team members Ryan Nevarez and Austen Mount rolled up to our hotel in our new home for the next day or so—an old, beat down, ironically beautiful RV that we dubbed as Big Bertha. With them was Lasso videographer/photographer and road crew hype man, Alex Heller, who like us all never stopped working. Our other two teammates, Lauren Camp and Paizley Bishop would meet us about an hour later, along with the rest of the Lasso Road Crew who would be following us and supporting us from an additional car—without them, this race would have been much more difficult!
We arrived at AMP’s new location around 4:30 a.m. to a street full of music, runners, supporters, multiple Sprinter vans, a parade of cars and well over a hundred eager maniacs who were about to set off for a trip of their (our) lifetime. The energy was high and every minute that passed made the whole situation feel that much more real. With ten minutes until start time, Alex Hope—the man who put the event together, and also ran it like a legend—rallied the starting runners for the last announcement before the show was officially (and literally) on the road. At 5am on the dot, the gates to AMP's parking lot opened, and they were off.
As the first pack of racers charged down Pico Blvd. and into downtown Los Angeles, we quietly followed in Big Bertha until we reached our first hand-off point about six miles up, all the while passing other runners and vans, honking and screaming to break the silence in the still morning air. We got out of the van and stood on the side of the road, hazards on and parked in red (as we often were), and waited for our first runner, Nev, to be seen through the LA haze. Far up from the initial pack, we made our first hand-off and were officially on our way.
The first few legs of the race happened fast and we were keeping our respective paces. Out of the 17 teams racing, we were up in the rankings throughout most of the day, eagerly awaiting updates on Instagram as each team was being tracked along the way. Most of the time, we’d see no other runners or vans, but there were plenty of moments when we did, and I have to imagine we all felt the same sense of companionship each time.
While the rest of the world was waking up, going to work, school, running errands, dealing with the daily routines of life, we were among a group of renegades who were charging 140 miles on foot halfway across the state…all in the name of fun, no less. There’s gotta be a Forrest Gump reference around here somewhere…
The natural ambition our team possessed was admirable, to say the least. Paizley and Lauren were constantly ready for, “one more, one more,” and we’d all just smile, hop in the RV and move a little further down the line. There was no shortage of motivation out there in the valley, and with the temperature rapidly increasing, we were going to need it.
Even off of a fresh Achilles injury, Austen was charging like nothing mattered, keeping great pace and handling his stints like a boss. JC was fired up and doing his thing every step of the way, along with keeping the energy in the RV extremely high with his humor and natural energy. And in my eyes, Nev remained our fearless leader—the glue holding the team together, mile after brutal mile. I was there, too.
Our team was more or less a group of perfect strangers, but that quickly changed once the race started. A strong support system quickly grew. Aid and assistance was available around the clock. We knew that keeping our spirits high was a key ingredient to not only finish the race, but enjoy ourselves while doing it.
Despite the most difficult stretches, a few wrong turns and any other little hiccups that tried to break our smiles, there was no chance. It was all thumbs up from here, and that's how it would remain. One step at a time...
A race like No Shortcuts attracts a different group of people. And as different as we all were, we were certainly similar in the sense that we were doing this together, and there was no stopping until we saw that glorious Palm Springs welcome sign.
Some of the stretches of the race were sketchier than others. Often we found ourselves running alongside the cars on the road—sometimes inches away—mentally blocking them (and everything else) out as we continued to move along. From empty side streets to busy highways, the ground we covered was as diverse as the race itself.
Nonetheless, we were gifted with views and places we'd probably never see otherwise. Even if it was just some random bridge crossing or side street in the middle of the Inland Empire. The open road certainly provides, whether you ask or not.
By early afternoon, we were somewhere in the middle of nowhere. That was generally the case the entire time, at least once we officially escaped downtown LA and found ourselves in the valley. Under the unforgiving sun, we continued to take our turns and tally our miles.
Almost as if boastfully laughing in our face, the snow-capped mountains of San Bernardino and San Jacinto rested firmly in front of us for a stretch through the valley—far, far in front—while sweat dripped down our faces, necks and backs.
I tried my best to pretend I was close to reaching the snow, or that I could almost feel it…but let’s be honest—it did not work. At all. It was hot, I had barfed again and we still had a long way to go. No stopping now!
Having some of the Lasso crew trailing us from a separate car was unbelievably clutch. Major shoutout to Scott Sorensen, Carter Gibbs, Caleb Mings and Sri Durvasula for making the trek and basically taking the longest (and probably most irritating) way possible to get to Palm Springs.
Shortly into the race, Sri actually hopped in the RV and became the team driver, which was also unbelievably clutch. Meanwhile, every stretch of the way, Scott, Carter and Caleb were nearby making sure everyone was hydrated, feeling good and really just being the greatest help we could all ask for. I’d see Caleb on the side of the road shooting photos, Scott and Carter getting clips on their phones from the car, all while handing out water bottles and snacks when and if needed.
From the added early morning hype they provided to trailing us with their headlights in the pitch black desert night, it would not have been possible without them. That Prius can roll, baby!
Although our outfits and shoes might’ve changed throughout the entirety of the race due to the pools of sweat we were hosing out, our socks did not. This gave us no real advantage however, as all 100 runners in No Shortcuts were gifted a pair of our staple Lasso performance crew socks before the race started. In all honesty, we were thrilled to share the love!
A race like this begs for as much physical support as possible, and with Lasso’s unmatched compression keeping all of our feet comfortable, supported and strong, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like otherwise. No blisters, no soreness. Just pure comfort and support throughout the entire race. That really says something…
At mile 100, we really started to feel it. We were close, but still had a long way to go. Nonetheless, there were no signs of slowing down. What a day it had already been. The vibes were high and there was an energy in the van, whether the music was blasting or the silence was singing with the windows down.
No AC? No problem. We weren't here to be comfortable. This was no vacation! We were here to run alongside the train tracks and orange groves; to have cars honk at us and our friends and family claim we were crazy. We were on a mission—plain and simple—and felt it every step of the way.
The entire drive out there, you're stopping and going anywhere from every two miles to every six miles, so there was plenty of time to pull over and wait. Whether you stayed in the RV to relax, or hopped out to stretch and get some air, these moments were a major part of the trip. They were chances for everyone to gauge each others feelings, motivate each other, or just shoot some fun photos. Either way, these pull-offs are a major factor in this race and we enjoyed them.
It was really the last 14 miles that renewed a spark in the flame inside the RV. The glowing sherbet colored sky was quickly growing dark alongside Highway 111 as we passed the dim, yet familiar windmills and ran through the desert, dodging everything from snakes and cacti to numerous sketchy, unseen critters and creatures along the way. During one of the last, more difficult stretches, we nearly lost Austen as he ran through the lonely desert with no light to assist besides the weak glow from the moon and the dying light from his cell phone.
The end was near—closer than it had ever been—and it was almost hard to believe. Burnt, tired and sore, we charged through the brisk desert air with smiles that lit up the night. Then all of a sudden…
As a team we all stepped out of the RV and onto the road to finish the race together—Alex, our videographer and hype man also ran the last leg, filming interviews on his DaddyCam along the way! (What a G!) With the chilled bottle of champagne the No Shortcuts crew had provided to all the racers at the starting line, we charged on the final stretch of Highway 111 until we read the words we had been longing for since 5am that morning—PALM SPRINGS.
We took our team selfie at the finish line, sent it to the No Shortcuts group chat, and that was that! Champagne showers naturally followed, accompanied by a sense of accomplishment that is hard to explain. We each had our fair share of emotions and bewilderment, but nonetheless, the question had been answered. Were we really doing this? Yes, we were. We had.
All the runners, teams and supporters stayed at the Margaritaville resort in downtown Palm Springs that night and our crew celebrated with some pizza, drinks and much-needed showers. Thinking I'd have the greatest sleep of my life that night, I tossed and turned and couldn't avoid the adrenaline that was still piercing through me, but that was okay. We had finished—in great time, no less—and that was all that mattered. I think this picture of Nev below demonstrates how we all felt, in one way or another...in the best way possible.
We spent the next day lounging at the pool, appropriately drinking frozen cocktails, relaxing under the sun and reminiscing of the journey that was now behind us. That night, all the runners and teams met at the Sonoran for more reminiscing and celebrating, and not long after we were back on the road heading home. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't staring at the window dreaming of all the ground we had covered along the way.
A race like this really tests the limits of someone mentally and physically. While we all knew it was an ambitious endeavor on paper, actually living it proved to be a proper challenge, but an extremely rewarding one nonetheless.
At the end of the day, one thing every one of us who finished the race can say is, “We did it.” That in itself is the most rewarding prize possible, in my opinion. Walking up to my front door a mere 40 hours after finishing the race, I almost felt like a stranger in my own home. It felt strange to not be moving, sweating, plotting and laughing. I had only been gone two days, but it felt like a lifetime.
As in life, there are no shortcuts. Fine with me. Give me all the experiences, all the ups and downs, all the sweat and guts. I’ll take them. One thing is for certain—I can't wait until the next one! Until then... The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.
*We’ll see you in October for Round 2 — Los Angeles to San Diego! Stay tuned.
Photography: Alex Heller / Ryan Nevarez / Caleb Mings / George Sifuentes
Video: Alex Heller / Ryan Nevarez
Words: Brian Blakely