Law enforcement agencies compete in 36th Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay


They have trained and pushed themselves. They are pumped up and primed to go. Starting at 8 a.m. Saturday and stretching over the next 24 hours, more than 4,000 runners will hit the pavement for the 36th Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay.

Here at Behind the Badge, we wish them bon voyage and best of luck.

Baker to Vegas, more formally the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club’s Challenge Cup, or less formally B2V, was founded in 1985 with 19 teams. This year, after a two-year pandemic hiatus, the race returns with a field that will include 219 relay teams of 20 runners each, plus alternates, staff, families, and supporters. 

The 2022 Baker to Vegas team at the Santa Ana Police Department.
Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer

The race, for law enforcement personnel and agencies, is a 120-miles broken into 20 stages, ranging between 4 and 10.7 miles. Temperatures are expected to range from a forecast 97 degrees (add 15 degrees for heat radiating off the pavement) to 40 degrees or less in the mountains overnight. Teams start in groups, with slower teams starting first, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, from the start line 20 miles north of Baker, California, concluding at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Team times typically range from 13 hours for the fastest to those struggling to beat 24 hours.

Orange County will be represented by about 18 teams from a variety of agencies and cities.

Battle for bragging rights

Each year, the Santa Ana Police Department battles the Anaheim Police Department for supremacy among the police departments in Orange County. The informal battle for bragging rights was codified in a way in 2019 with a trophy that goes each year to the winning team. Santa Ana Police Department won the inaugural showdown in 2019 and has kept it through the two-year pandemic.

Anaheim Police Department, which had won the showdown four straight times before 2019, is itching to get its hands on the trophy, while Santa AnaPolice Department is determined to hang on to the hardware.

The Baker to Vegas trophy up for grabs at the Santa Ana Police Department on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer

At a pre-race meeting with the Santa Ana Police Department, Chief David Valentin described a tense discussion he and his opposite at Anaheim Police Department had about which team would win this year and hold the trophy of a runner with “#1 in Orange County” inscribed below.

“Something takes over, it’s pride,” Valentin said  of the trophy.

Based on self-reported estimated times, Anaheim Police Department forecasts its team among the overall race hierarchy just behind the elite squads of Los Angeles Police Department, L.A. Sheriff’s Department, and California Highway Patrol. Santa Ana Police Department’s time is projected at an hour slower than Anaheim.

However, Valentin exuded confidence on both running teams as they prepare to head out to the race.

“They know Santa Ana — and for a good reason,” Valentin said, “because they know in extreme situations we perform.”

Officer Jonathan McKee had his “I got this” game face on as the race approached.

Detective Josh Espadas admires the Baker to Vegas trophy during a meeting at the Santa Ana Police Department.
Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer

Competing in the race for the third time, McKee has been tasked with tackling the toughest and pivotal 15th leg, a 6.4 mile, 1,200-foot elevation gain midnight run along the Western flank of the Spring Mountains.

The former Marine says he has trained for the challenge.

“I was excited and ready,” he said. “Everyone says, ‘You’re going to crush this.’”

Throughout the state, the buzz is spreading.

The Baker to Vegas trophy at the Santa Ana Police Department.
Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer

Kings of Kern County

The Bakersfield Police Department is looking for revenge. Like the Santa Ana Police Department, they have a local rival in the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and a little extra motivation.

In 2019, Bakersfield Police Department beat its rival to the line, but “they beat us on a technicality,” said Sgt. Nicole Anderberg.

Also, like their Orange County neighbors, the Kern County agencies battle for a trophy, a large silver cup that goes to the winner.

Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Department vie for the annual trophy, currently had by the Sheriff’s Department.
Photo provided by Sgt. Nicole Anderberg

This year, Anderberg says the team is remarkably diverse, ranging in rank from Assistant Chief Brent Stratton to several trainees.

Each year, Anderberg runs a leg that comes out of the mountains toward Las Vegas in the early morning.

She said the view can be spectacular as the sun rises over the mountain ridges and glints off the skyscrapers in Las Vegas.

This year, she is hoping the team can beat its time of 16 hours, 15 minutes, 54 seconds from  2019.

More important is the sense of accomplishment and shared work, the camaraderie and the pride.

“Being a part of that tradition is important,” she said.

From right, Santa Ana Police Cpl. Mario Lopez is given a bag by Santa Ana’s Police Chief David Valentin during a meeting at the Santa Ana Police Department.
Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer

Smaller OC agencies aim high

In the Tustin Police Department, they’re keeping a low profile, although Sgt. Ryan Newton said the team is striving to beat O.C. rival Laguna Beach Police Department.

Newton has run various legs over the years but this year is organizing the department’s after-party. This year, for the first time, Chief Stu Greenberg has entered and will run the final leg into Las Vegas.

Santa Ana Police Sgt. Jim Rose describes the rules of the Baker to Vegas running competition. Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer

Westminster Police Department is fielding a team this year that has its sights set on “mugging,” the term for finishing in the top 10 of a category and the large steins they are awarded.

“We have a lot of young guys,” said Commander Kevin MacCormick. “Us old guys won’t be in the way.”

That’s not entirely true.

New Chief Darin Lenyi will be leading by example and volunteered to tackle one of the brutal mountain stages. MacCormick will also be competing and running the last leg into Las Vegas.

Baker to Vegas running gear for members of the Santa Ana Police Department.
Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer

“Hopefully, I don’t embarrass myself,” he said with a laugh. “Our whole goal is just to ‘mug.’”

Facing the challenges of Baker to Vegas is like nothing many of the young officers have faced, Newton said.

“I don’t think these guys understand that running the beach trail at Bolsa Chica is nothing like 5,000 feet on a desert ridge,” Newton said. “That sucks the life out of you. I told the guys, the desert is not your friend.”

However, he adds, “At the very end, it’s very rewarding.”

More stories: 

2020: Baker to Vegas cancelled due to coronavirus

2020: Beverly Hills PD to (Protect and) Serve Pizza Saturday for Baker to Vegas Fundraiser

2019: OCSD’s all-female team is back for Baker to Vegas run this weekend

2019: Santa Ana PD tops Anaheim PD at Baker to Vegas, launching new tradition for bragging rights

2019: Anaheim PD to field its first all-female team of sworn officers at Baker to Vegas run

2018: Anaheim PD relishes a challenge at annual Baker to Vegas relay

2015: Lace up those shoes, guzzle some H2O — it’s time for Baker to Vegas Relay