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Team of Downtown LAPD officers to run in 120 mile race to Las Vegas

By Hayley Fox
Published: Friday, April 12, 2013, at 12:22PM

A few days before the race, the Skid Row Runners received their matching warm up suits and were awarded prizes, including free overnight stays and hotels and movie tickets.

This weekend, droves of LAPD officers — along with law enforcement officials from around the globe — will head out to the desert to compete in a 120-mile relay run that beings in Baker, California and ends in Las Vegas.

Nicknamed "Baker to Vegas," this Challenge Cup began in 1985 with only 19 teams, and now organizers have to cap participation at 270 teams. Squads participate in a variety of different categories which recently has grown to include probation officers, district attorneys and U.S. attorneys.

Each racing team is made up of 20 people: LAPD's Central Division team is — appropriately enough — named the Skid Row Runners. It's made up of Central Division and Central Traffic LAPD officers.

In addition to the 20 runners that do the heavy lifting of the race, there are at least that many who make up a support system for them. These additional officers drop off participants at their starting points and drive vans behind the runners to keep them hydrated and safe.

Sgt. Leonard Ramirez has been with the LAPD for 22 years. He's attended Baker to Vegas for more than a decade; running for the first few years and working in the support team for the last few. He said the race divides teams into categories, from highly trained, near professional runners to those who just go for the fun of it.

"I don't think to win is the issue," said Ramirez. "If you're an elite runner that's something completely different because those guys, like i said, they train all the time. When it comes down to Central, the camaraderie, or not to central but individual stations, the camaraderie and guys are just happy to get a mug."

But the race is intense. Temperature and terrain varies greatly from the beginning of the event on Saturday afternoon to its end around 8 a.m. on Sunday in Sin City. The first few runners will face 95 degree heat and are instructed to run in the dirt if possible so the concrete doesn't scorch their feet. Overnight runners will deal with plummeting temperatures that may reach the low 40s and necessitate running tights.

Each leg of the race varies in length and steepness, with the shortest distance being four miles and the longest clocking it at 10.7 miles.

Matthew Bernal, 31, has been with the LAPD for a little over a year. This will be his second year running as a police officer; before that, he participated in the race as part of the Sheriff's Department.

“My stretch of the race is Leg 7 this year," said Bernal. "It’s going to be 4.7 miles all uphill and 1.6 all downhill. It’ll be midday – around 7:30 in the evening – the sun will still be out so it’ll still be hot. Last year I ran Leg 4 and it was about 107 when I was running.”

Runners prepare for the heat by hydrating days before the race and they are also instructed to drink water every four minutes or half mile while they're running, whether they are thirsty or not.

And although it seems like the after-party in Vegas is as big a draw as the race itself, the relay is serious. Last year, 32 runners had to be airlifted out because of health issues including dehydration.

But there are bright lights at the end of the tunnel, as participants and spectators end the weekend with a party in Vegas.

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