BARSTOW When the gun fired outside Fort Irwin's fitness center at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, James Rasmussen, a heavy wheel mechanic for civilian contractor Northrop Grumman, took off running.

Rasmussen's end goal? About 40 miles away the Veterans Home of California, Barstow.

Luckily the 25-year-old Barstow resident wasn't on his own. Rasmussen and over 150 other runners, both contract workers and soldiers, were part of relay teams that traded off running legs of the race in the 14th annual race from the fort to the veterans home at the top of the hill on Barstow Road.

The race raises money for the veterans home through registration fees and corporate sponsors, according to event chair Renita Wickes.

This year's goal was to raise $2,000, said Wickes.

"My calves are just so tight they're pulsing," Rasmussen said as he smiled, sitting with his teammates and resting after crossing the finish. Each runner jogged between four to six miles.

James Green Jr., Rasmussen's teammate, said this year was either his sixth or seventh year running the race. Green, 47, said it was harder to recruit runners this year due to last-minute planning.

"We weren't really as prepared as we could have been," said Green, also a mechanic and a Barstow resident. "...You really should train for this." Despite the challenge, they were able to complete the race in four hours 11 minutes, according to Rasmussen.

"It was difficult" but the race built team cohesion, said Jaime Juarez, a contract worker from La Habra.

The fastest time of three hours 10 minutes was run by a group of soldiers the 58th Engineering Company, said Wickes. Commanding General Robert Abrams was also scheduled to fly into the veterans home by helicopter to meet the soldiers and address the veterans at the end of the race.

This was the first year the event was held on a weekday, according to Wickes, and will return to being held on Saturday next year.

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(760) 256-4122 or elee@desertdispatch.com