When Bakersfield Police Detective Chad Ott volunteered to join the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup team for the department, he offered to drive the van.
But months later, Ott found himself shivering in the cold at 6 a.m. while standing on a desolate highway between Baker, California, and the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. He waited for a teammate who would soon hand him a baton so Ott could run the second-to-last 5.6 miles in a 121-mile relay that had begun more than 20 hours earlier.
It was an experience he never imagined he would go through.
“I hate running. But I’ve always run because it’s good for me,” Ott said. “But this was a great experience for me. I am very happy I got to do it, (and) spend time with people that I work with in a different way. It was fun, and so much camaraderie, which is what made it fun.”
Ott was plucked from his driving duties mainly because he was already a runner, despite not “loving” it. He ran 9 to 12 miles a week from the station and came back to lift weights most days of the week. He spent 4 ½ years in the Air Force and has been an officer at the Bakersfield Police Department for the last nine years. Exercise is an integral part of his lifestyle at this point.
But running for fun? For joy? Not so much.
For Sgt. Nicole Anderberg, it was Ott’s weekly consistency that made her realize he may be better suited for the running team than for driving the van.
She has been on the team for 8 years and unlike Ott, she loves running. Running has been a huge part of her life since she was 12 years old.
This year, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, Anderberg found it was harder to get people to join the running team. She had a lot of people drop out and struggled to garner interest in the run, so she knew that the only way to get people onto the team was to show them how fun it could be.
“This year there were a lot of people who didn’t even know what the event was about, so it was kind of a hard sell,” she said. “I find you really have to do the run, and experience what you get from it, to understand why people come back every year. It’s the only way to grasp how fun it is.”
Anderberg handpicked and selected all of the runners and put them in the legs of the relay — 20 total —where they would excel and get the best time. She looked at their heart rates, had them run timed trials and run different variations from flat runs, to hilly runs, to intervals, endurance, and long runs. They also worked in tandem with a Bakersfield running group called The Donut Shop Racers, who would push the police officers on weekly training runs.
“I started watching Chad’s runs on Strava and I thought ‘man, he’s not running the distance we need,” Anderberg said. “But he was actually training every day, and he wasn’t the fastest, but he was comfortable, and he looked conditioned to run, to do well. So, every now and then I would give him some training advice, tell him to something to get through a really difficult hill run and he always impressed me.”
His dedication to running and his enthusiasm had Ott standing out in the desert highway that early morning. He was drinking coffee, wearing new shoes, new running shorts, and a new running shirt – all cardinal rules of what not to do on race day.
But he was pumped, and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
“When I saw Officer Ott in his new running outfit, looking so pumped, I just told him, ‘Well, you alreay broke all of the cardinal rules, so now just go for it’,” she said. “I told him what pace he needed to try for, and he nailed it. I could hear his new shoes squeaking, but he had a smile on his face the whole time he was running.”
For Ott, it was the experience of a lifetime, despite being “shanghaied” into service, he says with a laugh.
“Sgt. Anderberg just kept telling me I could do it, and I did. My leg was 5.6 miles and I got it down to about 8 minutes and 40 seconds. It was the fastest I had run, and I think the adrenaline and not wanting to disappoint people made me faster,” Ott said. “I definitely got a runner’s high … and was happy to help the team.”