A Running Look Inside the Nike Montauk Project
[All photos by Zach Hetrick ]
It's a normal day. I sipped some coffee, hopped on Instagram, liked a few photos, made a comment here and there. Cute puppy - like. Beautiful sunset - Wow. Nike backpack and new Free Flyknits delivered to someone's door - cool… wait, HOLY SHIT what is this?
Let the insanity surrounding the mysterious #MontaukProject begin.
As quickly as one photo popped up, more started to appear. Most contained the invite, the backpack, the shoes, but that was it. Next step, search Google - nothing. Like, nothing. No info, no website or microsite, not even a mention other than on Instagram. Nike was up to something, I knew it. Exactly what it was, no clue. But then Knox Robinson reached out and asked the Resident Runners crew if we'd be down for a "running adventure" within the Thursday - Sunday window. We responded, "of course, we're free on Sunday," without connecting any dots. I imagine he laughed out loud and quickly corrected us, "Nah, we need you from Thursday through Sunday. And are you fit? It's a lot of running."
With that, Resident Runners' co-founder/my good homie Raymond Hailes and I sent in our info, shoe and apparel sizes, dietary restrictions, and address. A few days later, we started seeing a flood of insanely awesome #MontaukProject photos on Instagram from what turned out to be the Week 1 hand-selected attendees including Robin Arzon. Runners we knew of, had met, or planned on running with at some point. To be honest, we still didn't get it. But we knew it looked amazing.
Flash forward one week and it was our turn. The doorbell rings, a messenger hands over the goods and I slip my sockless feet into a fresh new pair of Nike Free Flyknits. The only instructions given: "Arrive at Nike Flatiron ready to run… You will take flight… Be prepared to train hard…" So we arrived, and as promised we ran through the streets of New York City to the East Side, each of the 14 soon-to-be-running-buddies unintentionally pushing the pace in excitement. And again, as promised, we took flight - literally. Two seaplanes awaited the squad as we were given official Montauk Project waterproof jackets and quickly lifted off the East River. Destination: Montauk.
Upon arrival it became increasingly clear just how special this weekend would be. Greeted by Men in Black-esque drivers and blacked-out vans we were driven to Ruschmeyers, a dope little hotspot where we were put up in side-by-side rooms. As we entered, each runner's eyes widened to find what else but a room full of Nike gear - shirts, shorts, socks, sunglasses, you name it. With only 10 minutes to soak it all in, everyone met back outside of our rooms for a laugh of disbelief and then hit dinner with the Montauk Project counselors and coaches.
Back inside the room we reviewed the weekend's schedule on an iPad Mini, fantasized about stealing the super-dope Montauk Project doormat, and then tried to get some sleep.
"Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "New Terra Kiger trail running shoes, that's who." In classic Nike fashion, we awoke to shoes on our doorstep perfectly suited for the morning's 5 mile trail run.
Off we go… bends, turns, roots, dirt, the beginning of a journey. After the run we were introduced to the rest of the team at the Montauk Project Head Quarters: co-Creator Pat Jeffers, a slew of coaches & counselors, and our chefs for the weekend including Nutritional Counselor & Herbal Medicine Expert Eileen Cuce HHC AADP (who, by the way, could "read our tongues" and diagnose basic ailments or deficiencies simply by peering into our mouthes). It was then that the true purpose of the Montauk Project was revealed.
The Nike Montauk Project was created to provide elite-level training, resources, and knowledge to a select group of New York City lifestyle runners. The information and guidance we received was to be taken back to our boroughs, neighborhoods, and streets and shared with our expansive yet connected community of urban runners. The Montauk Project was going to offer things that most of us don't regularly get: nutritionists, massage therapists, tailored cross training, world-ranked running partners, and one crucial intangible: inspiration.
Next up after eating and greeting was an intensely fun CORE workout with WNBA star and Nike Master Trainer Holly Rilinger. Explaining the importance of integrating CORE into a runner's regimen, Holly challenged the crew to reach, jump, and burn. From there we had some R&R, enjoyed the rain, and got into some gait analysis (in the rain and finished up the following day) courtesy of a space-age outdoor camera / screen setup. Raising questions about form, striking, and proper footwear the crew had their strides analyzed by Nike techxperts and a couple impressive specimens: Mike Rutt (3:57 miler & 6th in the world in the 800m) and Caroline King (Boston College standout and PENN RELAYS 4x1,500m relay anchor champ).
Afterwards it was time for the evening's activity: #TrackAttack! But not without the Flyknit Lunar1+ appearing on our doorstep, of course.
Incorporating speed into the mix, Knox broke down the importance of the track. Our workout consisted of a 1 mile warmup, 5x1000m high intensity intervals with 200m recovery, and a 1 mile cooldown. The coolest part: running alongside Mike Rutt. Nothing can describe the feeling, but trust me, you just want to run fast and run hard. So we did. The best part - hearing Knox scream at Ray as he fell back a bit from the pace group.
"Ray, you getting tired? Then run faster!" And, "Ray, if you're falling behind, then move to the front!" So simple. It worked… Ray moved to the front.
At the completion of the final 1000m (as I chased after Keith Morrison side-by-side Leigh Gerson) I let out a good old fashioned dry-heave and then hugged everyone within arm's reach who'd finished. Cheering began for those coming in right on our heals and everyone shared the same face of exhaustion + exhilaration. Our reward (aside from finishing) was track-side dinner and drinks with great conversation.
Okay, now for morning 2. (Yeah, everything before was all in a day.) Heading out for a run through the streets of Montauk everyone smiled with anticipation for what was coming. SUP! (Standup Paddle Boarding) Ladies & gents split up, which was probably best as the guys were likely to drag down any and everything within 20 feet as we plunged into the water trying to maneuver sharp turns during our relay race. The level of CORE and arm strength required to paddle with any form of speed and coordination was surprising making SUP a clear choice for cross training and running supplementation. After we cruised back to shore and dried off it was time for another quick run back to the rooms to refresh before heading to the Montauk Project HQ.
Tacos for lunch and another dose of CORE from Nike Global Yoga Ambassador Leah Kim awaited us. Outside, on the grass, breathing the fresh air we followed Leah's direction through a series of poses, stretches, and challenges. The highlight: headstands, during which most of us struggled but a few, like Res Run's Ray, managed to maintain some dignity and hold the vertical pose. Namaste, homie, namaste.
With massages on deck, pool-side chilling, more great superfoods, and a little Steve Prefontaine action on the screen (not to mention countless pieces of memorabilia and Nike history throughout the Real World-style crib) it was hard to realize that we were only hours from what many would later agree is one of the most challenging workouts ever accomplished. The BEACH FARTLEK.
If you're not familiar with the term FARTLEK, it's pretty simple and still in use after it's conception decades ago. Basically, you run hard and fast for a set period of time or distance, and then you recover for a set period of time or distance, ON / OFF, ON / OFF. By doing so, you're maximizing shorter workouts and pushing your body to limits that aren't possible on typical distance or tempo runs. The fartlek is challenging in and of itself, but Knox and Pat weren't going to have the Montauk Project crew doing a typical session. Instead, we set out for 20 minutes, only 20 minutes, of 1 MINUTE ON / 1 MINUTE OFF running through the sand including a damn-near-45 degree sand dune. The circular beach course had us hitting the dune anywhere between 7-8 times while challenging the mind and body to NOT do one thing: give up.
For me, it was Pat Jeffers who made the beach fartlek session so memorable. Ahead of us after 6 or so minutes were two elites: Lono and Mike Rutt. With each minute on, I pushed, growing tired. At the first mumble of "Fuck, my legs are beat!" I would receive a quick response of "Let's go, you're good!" from Pat. Two steps ahead he'd look back and push me to run harder. Right beside us was Knox, excited to have his lungs hop out of his back and #nevernotencouraging me to "Run faster, stop sand-bagging!" Heading into the final three ON / OFF cycles we made our way straight down the coast… while I didn't catch the two upfront, we all accomplished the exact same thing. We pushed our bodies further than anyone thought possible, to the MAX. It was difficult to express the gratitude I had to Pat, but he got it. We turned and everyone cheered-in the rest of the crew finishing right behind us… those cheers go a long way.
Ray led the way into the water first, followed by Regina, Lono, Mike Rutt, myself, and a few others. The ocean was freezing, but it felt great. Like we earned it. And Nike thought we earned a candlelit dinner on the beach too, fueling us with lobster and celebratory beer as we recharged around the fire. A quick word of advice: get some sleep and drink lots of water. Tomorrow we're running 14 miles bright and early.
Bags packed, we checked out of our rooms. Vans carried our gear away and we all laced up our shoes at the start of the trail. "Everyone here? Let's go!" The 14 mile journey, our last of the weekend, began on the trails. As a group we stayed together through the first 5 miles, building confidence with every stride. Upon reaching the Montauk Project HQ fueling station Knox explained in further detail our strategy for the remaining miles:
We're going to ease into this… slowly building, but cruising along until mile 11. At mile 11, you're going to GO. You're going to run fast. You're going to hit the uphills HARD, and you're going to hit the downhills HARD. This is how you pace a run… with strategy, with intent, and with the courage to attack your limits.
The next 9 miles progressed like this: 3 more feeling amazing, 3 more at a quicker pace (thanks to Caroline King pacing), and then 3 at a pace that made my heart want to leap out of my throat. Having the pleasure of running alongside Mike Rutt at a comfortable pace for the latter 6 miles, little did I know that the final 3 miles would be him pushing us to go faster, through trails laced with "WARNING" signs and subtle tails of "The Montauk Project" of the past.
"We're getting close," he told us. "Only a little farther, to that lighthouse," he pointed.
Looking up we saw it, high atop a rocky, grass-covered cliff sat this simple, white and brown symbol of achievement. The finish. It was so close… so we thought. Just as we began to near the base, a sharp left sent us another 5 minutes away. The pace quickened, the terrain roughened as we pushed harder, became hungrier. Again, the lighthouse came into view, only this time it WAS close. Around the bend and there was only one challenge left: climb the hill. With every last ounce of energy we drove up, up, up and with one of the most genuine feelings of joy we reached the top, conquering 14 miles - together. Screams, cheers, encouragement ushered in every member of the Week 2 Montauk Project squad…
The most inspirational finishes - Hector Espinal and Damien Correll. Runners, early in their journeys, both finished 6 miles that day. The longest run of his career, Hector conquered limitations both physical and mental. The whole crew screaming encouragement as Hector & Damien flew up the final hill remains one of my favorite moments. Pulling on our Montauk Project singlets one at a time, fresh with our names on the backs, we'd all made it.
36 miles in 3 days of running.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent reflecting, laughing, and continuing to realize just how lucky we all were. A little more R&R back at HQ gave us time to give thanks, exchange info, and say our goodbyes. The 14 "MP2" runners, as we dubbed ourselves, made the way home to NYC quietly at first, but then boisterous and excited to be taking home the experience.
The Nike Montauk Project was amazing. Plain and simple. As a group and individuals we owe huge thanks to Nike Running for planning and offering such a stellar program. No detail was forgotten. Nothing was spared. Short of naming every person, counselor and coach, all of whom made this so special, Resident Runners wants to throw a little extra nod to Knox Robinson and Pat Jeffers.