This 51-year-old Runner Is Racing From Santa Monica to Las Vegas in 6 Days
Malcolm Ebanks claims that he hates running long distances, yet he's currently in the middle of a 340-mile race that started on Monday, Mar. 21 at Santa Monica Pier and will end on Sunday, Mar. 26 at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign as part of the legendary, invite-only ultramarathon called The Speed Project. While it originally started as a relay, Ebanks is one of a handful of runners doing it solo.
"The only reason I run long distance is because, in the running community in New York, you kind of have to run more than a mile to be social," the 51-year-old, who was born in West Bromwich, England and moved to the Bronx in the 1980s, told Travel + Leisure ahead of the race.
But that kind of understatement is exactly what makes Ebanks such a stand-out personality on the New York running scene. He's more likely to tell you (several times) that he's not fast, not influential, and that he's never run a marathon, while burying the fact that last summer, he signed up for a DIY version of The Speed Project race on a whim a week before the race, without training — and ran 89 miles in 29 hours around a hub that Adidas set up in Brooklyn. And when you point out to Ebanks that this amounts to more than three marathons in just over a day, he simply shrugs it off.
The week before the New York City Marathon last November, the father of two was on the sidelines, only attending On Running pre-race pop-up events, because they were free. "I'm there minding my own business when someone I know from L.A. introduced me to some people that were the organizers of this race," Ebanks said. They offered him a coveted place in The Speed Project race on the spot. He thought it was all talk until he got an email early the next morning, officially welcoming him.
"They weren't playing! They called my bluff," he said. "I didn't even think about it — I just signed up."
As it turns out, The Speed Project organizers had kept their eye on Ebanks since the Adidas captains mentioned his amazing performance at the DIY race. Not just that: He's such a big deal that, despite Ebanks assuming his only financial help for the endeavor would come from asking his "very few" contacts for $20 donations on a Go Fund Me page, Brooklyn-based running brand Bandit Running was more than happy to take him on as their first-ever sponsored runner for the race.
The Speed Project, an underground race started by Nils Arend in 2014, has been described as "Burning Man" for runners. While it's up to participants to plot their own routes between the two points, no matter how you cut it, the bulk of the journey will be through hot and dry desert conditions. The race boasts two hashtags: #NoRules and #NoSpectators. The only requirements are to start at the Santa Monica Pier sign at 4 a.m. on Mar. 21 and finish at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign at noon on Mar. 27. Everything in between is up to the runners.
For Ebanks, it was all about planning meticulously for the weeklong journey — and bucking all expectations. While others said they could get by with two hours of sleep, Ebanks said he was going to get a "solid six," planning to be in bed by 10 p.m. and start running again at 4 a.m. While others aimed to get 100 miles done in a day, he said he's taking it "slow" with 50 miles a day. While others will clock in their sleep anywhere, including in the RV that will travel with them, he said he's being "really bougie" and has booked motels all along the way.
Every six miles, he has a check-in to make sure that he's properly hydrated, nourished, and has his salt pills and any other necessities to last the distance. "Based on how I'm looking and feeling, we might change the next segment and make it a little bit faster or shorter, and maybe slower because the idea is to keep me moving," he said. "This is not a whole 300-mile run — it's segments of running and walking."
For the Bronx resident, it's not about pace or speed, it's about getting the job done and reaching that finish line in Las Vegas, where he can't wait to celebrate at the Wynn Las Vegas' Encore Beach Club pool party with Diplo. "I'm thinking about just that alone," he said. "I'd like to finish because the party is happening!"
And it's just like Ebanks to put the emphasis on everything but himself. "Malcolm wants no praise or fanfare and probably won't tell people he's run The Speed Project, unless you ask him," fellow runner Louisa Tatum, who met Ebanks through the South Bronx running group MileStyle, told T+L just a day after Ebanks departed Santa Monica in pursuit of Vegas. "My best guess is he is doing this simply because he can and he's fearless. He's testing the boundaries of his body, mind, and spirit, while putting himself through challenges."
She agreed with Ebanks that everything about this race goes against what he's all about. "Yet I'm reminded that Malcolm Ebanks is the most consistent man you will ever meet — his word is bond, so if he says he will do it, it shall be done," Tatum said. "And he deserves to be celebrated for his constant commitment to the sport, his presence as the only Black man running this year, and being a dynamic and inspiring human being."
As a kid, Ebanks was always active. "I grew up at a time when if you [were] not running, then it [was] like, 'let's take you to the hospital and find out what's going on,'" he said. "We were running all the time, playing football, rugby, and cricket." By the time he got to high school in the Bronx, he joined the track team. Running fell to the wayside for a while post-high school. But about a decade ago, when Ebanks, a guidance counselor at Brooklyn's New York City College of Technology, took a group of students rock climbing, he realized he was struggling to keep up with them and was inspired to refocus on fitness.
Though he'd seen a sign for the Nike Run Club app at a store in his neighborhood, he thought that cost would be a barrier since "fitness is so expensive in New York City," so he had ignored it. One day, wearing jeans and running shoes, he finally got the "courage" to go inside and was floored to find the app was free. "Every event [Nike Run Club] had, I went to," he said. "I think I was in the best shape of my life at that point in time." The more he ran, the more he became a part of the community, making friends with other runners, including a group who travels to Copenhagen for half marathons.
Running has become an international affair for Ebanks, who said his favorite place to run is London. "Everything is so low and squished together," he said. "You can run across the Thames and see Big Ben, the Tate, and everything in one small loop." Closer to home, there's no beating Central Park, notorious for its deceptively hilly route. "If you can run Central Park really well, you can do anything," Ebanks added.
To prepare for The Speed Project, he clocked eight hours of running a day, where endurance is the key. "I'm running much slower and much more consistently," he said. "I have never run this slow in my life. Mentally, it's been calming, but at the same time, like, 'oh, I've only gone 10 miles in two hours!'"
But it's allowed him to bond with his city in a different way. "You know New York because you've run it," he said. "You can say, 'I've run across that bridge.' I've run the West Side, I've run to Rockaway; I know New York in a different way and in a different space because I've actually run [those roads]."
And he's taking that mentality with him during the desert run, where he said he'll be aware of "every pebble."
But it's simply about executing the plan he's formulated so meticulously. "It's going to hurt," he said. "But hopefully it will work out the way it's supposed to and we'll just get to the finish."
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