Meet the Allocators Running 340 Miles in the Desert

“I have a joke that we’re trying to find something harder to do than investing in hedge funds,” said SWIBs Derek Drummond.


Illustration by II

It’s the dead of night in the Mojave Desert. Stars dot the sky above. Below, a Jeep and a Winnebago are crawling at about five miles per hour. Their headlights illuminate a runner ahead.

Nick Hartnett’s feet pound against the sandy desert road. He’s been going for hours already, but he and his teammates still have a long way to run before they make it to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. Hartnett is far from his office job as a managing director at OCIO firm Agility. Even so, he’s ready. He’s been training for this for months.

On March 29, Hartnett, along with a team of allocators, will be running a relay race shrouded in secrecy called the Speed Project. Billed as a “no rules, no spectators” event, the race starts at the Santa Monica Pier and ends in Las Vegas. Participants can choose to take any route they like between the start and end points, but most land on a 340-mile path that takes them through the infamous Powerline Road, which connects Death Valley Boulevard to mountains near the California-Nevada border.

The race has just one rule: Don’t break the law. Practically, this means no running on the freeway, and no running on private property. But there’s no set route, no water stations, no crowds cheering along the entire race like the New York City Marathon.

Something of a Fight Club, to run in the Speed Project you need an in. Like investing, it’s all about your connections. There is no application website, and you can’t run other races to qualify. Instead, you must know someone with a connection to the race’s founder — and even then, only the runners who are fast or have interesting stories are the ones who make it in. It’s something that ultramarathoners dream about doing.

Enter Daniel Dart, the unlikely connection the asset owners needed to get into the race.


Dart grew up a world away from the manicured Ivy League that makes up a fair portion of the finance industry. After a tumultuous childhood, he fronted a successful punk band, Time Again, which opened for acts including the Offspring and Dropkick Murphys. But his past caught up with him: Dart got involved in gang activity and was eventually incarcerated on charges of carjacking and kidnapping.

After a three-year stint in prison, he began digging himself out of the hole that a prison sentence puts many formerly incarcerated folks into. “It takes 10 years to be a doctor,” Dart said. “It takes 10 years to be a lawyer. Don’t be discouraged if it takes 10 years to rebuild your life. I understand that sometimes having an arrest record or criminal conviction, there’s a higher bar to pass. Life is much harder for other people than you realize.”

He worked odd jobs, then started his own company to manage bands. That work expanded into building public awareness campaigns for the Wounded Warrior Project and the Bezos Family Foundation.

Dart sold that company in 2021 and has since been working his way into a venture capital career. He’s wrapping up a degree at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he’s the first (known) formerly incarcerated student. He is a member of the Milken Institute’s Young Leaders Circle, and fresh off of raising his first venture capital fund for Rock Yard Ventures.

Dart is a master networker: He sends postcards to every person he connects with after their first meeting (including this reporter). It should make sense, then, that he was able to build relationships both with these allocators and with The Speed Project founder Nils Arend, who helped them get into the race..

“It’s one of the world’s most prestigious difficult and mysterious races,” said Dart. “Their whole thing is no logos, no awards.”

As he networked his way through the Milken Conference in Los Angeles last spring, Dart found himself in conversation about the race with the State of Wisconsin Investment Board’s head of strategy, Derek Drummond, who happens to be an ultra-marathon junkie.

“It’s one of those life races,” Drummond said of the Speed Project. “It’s hard to get into. It’s hard to organize and get a team together. We were talking about it, he was saying this seems crazy, but we should put together a team.”

Drummond was all in. He has been running all his life, including as a college athlete at the University of Colorado. Years later when he moved for a job at SWIB, he joined a triathlon training team to make friends. “I have a joke that we’re trying to find something harder to do than investing in hedge funds,” Drummond said.

Through the tight-knit allocator community, he knew other distance runners (not to be confused with the golfing set, of course), and recruited Hartnett, Marron Capital CIO Matthew Hershey, MSD’s Aspyn Repp, and former Directors Guild CIO Edgar Smith. Hartnett’s soon-to-be-wife, physical therapist Jessica Chang, is also running with the team. “This is an unusual way to stay in shape for the wedding,” Hartnett joked.

Dubbed, naturally, the Wall Street Bets, the team is using the race to raise money for the MIT Sloan Prison Education Initiative, that Dart created to improve the financial and business literacy of incarcerated people. MBA students at MIT teach classes on entrepreneurship, consumer mathematics, and financial literacy in prisons in Massachusetts.

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Hershey said. “Hopefully we can make people’s lives better.”

Hershey has long been a distance runner, regularly logging between 40 miles per week in Central Park and around Manhattan. He ramped up the distance over the past six weeks, though, running up to 70 miles. He’s split the work into speed training and long runs and plans to include some interval runs closer to the race.

“Very much like investing, you need a plan and process,” Hartnett said. “Something you can stick to and be disciplined about. A lot of work goes into that.”

Because of the Speed Project’s no rules ethos, every team takes a different approach to tackling the 340 miles. Some run several-mile-long legs, others switch off every 90 seconds, like hockey players rotating in and out of a game.

The allocator team will lean toward the former, divvying up work based on time, rather than distance. Chang put together a detailed spreadsheet tracking who is running when — and at what speed. “We tried to optimize for that so everyone is putting in the same amount of effort,” Hartnett said. “We have some really impressive runners on the team.”

The team will start the run before the sun rises at the Santa Monica Pier. At about mile 20, they expect the sun to come up. At between 30 and 40 miles, they will reach the Soledad Canyon — a beautiful but treacherous mountain area. At mile 65, they’ll hit the desert.

Along a particularly demanding stretch in the Mojave, it’s possible that the team encounters dangerous wildlife, including dogs or snakes. They will be trailed by an RV driven by Dart and Drummond’s wife, as well as a Jeep with photographers in it. These will provide some defense against the elements, but there’s still a level of danger on the run. The entirety of the run is self-navigated, so if the team loses cell service, they’ll have to rely on low-tech solutions to finish strong.

When the sun goes down in the desert, the vehicles will light the way for the runners. Some team members will attempt to sleep in the RV for part of the night, and then will hit the road again around mile 75 as the sun comes up.

“Yes, running 60 miles is hard. But you get a lot of rest. The hardest bit is when you’re tired at three in the morning, running a three-mile stint while delirious,” said Drummond. "...[T]he whole race is training yourself to be mentally tough.”

Smith, for one, is excited to run at night. He enjoys his jogs in the dark at home in Los Angeles, and hopes to help the team with his “night running prowess.”

Smith is newer to running than some of his team members. Smith took up running about six years ago to get in shape. He fell in love, and now runs almost daily. Smith’s training has been soundtracked by finance podcasts like Capital Allocators and Meb Faber’s interviews, as well as hip hop classics from the ‘90s.

“It’s definitely a mental release from everyday stress that all people face, but that people in finance face in different ways,” Smith said.

Each of the team members who spoke to Institutional Investor extolled the important role running has played in their career. Running builds resilience, and adaptability, they said, key skills necessary for a level-headed approach to the markets.

Running is also process-oriented. If you train x hours a week at y speed, you will likely finish a marathon at a certain pace. “You don’t see the gains of your hard work sometimes for many years,” Hartnett said. “It’s the same way with running long distances. I also think it goes a long way toward building resilience as well.”

Plus, it’s good stress relief from a challenging job.

“I can be an emotional guy,” Drummond said. “It gives you discipline, a sense of fortitude.”