Twenty CSU police officers from all over California gather in front of a dusty motel off Highway 127, 25 miles north of Baker. Around 9 a.m., the sun starts to shine down on the hundreds of officers preparing to embark on the first leg of an all-day run through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Challenge Cup Relay/Baker to Vegas Race is a 20-stage, 120-mile trek. Los Angeles Police Department officers started the race over 20 years ago, hosting 19 teams. Now, the race hosts 280 teams that represent branches of law enforcement from all over the world.
The CSU officers anxiously wait until 2 p.m. to start their race for their division. Divisions are decided by team speeds, with the faster teams starting later in the day.
Chris Schively, from CSU Long Beach, starts the race for the CSU team. The team van follows closely behind in order to keep him cool and hydrated as 95 degree Fahrenheit heat beats down on him. An alternate runner rides in the van on standby, in case Schively needs relief. But the alternate runner remains seated 5.4 miles later, as Schively completes his leg of the race.
Not only is this a relay race for law enforcement, but it provides the CSU community a chance to come together and build a brotherhood.
“It is really the only thing that we can really rally around statewide and be one team. Generally we are CSU Fullerton, CSU Channel Islands, CSU Monterey, but here, we are the CSU running team, and that’s pretty special,” said Dan Borgstrom, vice president of the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA) and former CSU Channel Islands officer.
At the baton exchange for leg 12, a race official yells out, “Runner 69, you’re 100 yards out,” warning team 69, the CSU team, its runner is approaching. Standing on the edge of Highway 160, readying himself for the handoff, is CSUF Cpl. Detective Paul McClain.
“When I am in the shoot (lane) getting ready, I’m all pumped and jazzed and once I get that baton, I take off,” McClain said.
Each leg is ranked, with one being the hardest and 20 being the easiest. Three miles is the shortest leg and 10.7 miles is the longest leg.
“Duration, climb, incline, distance and elevation. (Race officials) take that into account,” McClain said.
Leg 12, at 4.6 miles, has a difficulty level of 14, and McClain has ran it for the past two years.
“It’s easier to train what you know if you have already run it,” McClain said. “I do a lot of hill and long-distance training to mix it up, but to compare that to the actual course is very different.”
McClain has been training for the last five months, but no amount of training can prepare runners for the nervousness prior to the race.
“Last year, when I grabbed the baton and took off, and our alternate … told me, ‘Slow down. It’s a long way to go,’” McClain said. “Warming up, I get very anxious. But around mile one or two, I start getting into my zone and pace.”
The Baker-to-Vegas race is “very competitive,” McClain said. Teams have to be invited to take part in the race.
Last year, the CSU team faced its main rival, San Bernardino County. McClain recalled watching San Bernardino racers pull ahead of the CSU team as his leg of the race approached.
As McClain started running, another runner passed him, but he kept going at his own pace. Eventually, he caught up to other racers.
“I pass one person, and as I am passing the second guy, I look up and it’s San Bernardino,” McClain said.
Despite CSUF coming in second place in its division last year, McClain said he was still excited to have passed San Bernardino.
CSU Bakersfield Officer Scott Jelletich explained that the spirit of the competition and the camaraderie between the team is the reason why he has participated in the race for 21 years.
“This is my first year running with the CSU team, but I wanted to run with all the guys just to meet them,” Jelletich said.
The CSU team has evolved in terms of logistics. In prior years, everyone would show up and hope for the best, McClain said. Now, the team sets up towers to have radio communications throughout the race and looks at projections that show where the other racers are in the course.
“We are a lot more competitive and have a lot more resources,” McClain said.
Borgstrom said that CSU has always had a team, but that its members have come together over the last few years to represent who they truly are.
“In the course of about five years, it has slowly turned into something much more organized to really tap into the resources throughout the state,” he said.
CSU placed first in its division, beating Corona Police Department and San Bernardino County. It placed 52nd overall out of 280 teams, which is an increase from last year’s 69th position. The race took place on Saturday and went on until Sunday afternoon. The prize for all this effort: a beer mug and bragging rights.