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Weather Airmen run across Sunshine State

The members of the 45th Weather Squadron before the start of the Sunrise to Sunset Relay, a 178 mile marathon from Jensen Beach to Fort Myers, Fla., March 27. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Carrie Volpe)

The members of the 45th Weather Squadron before the start of the Sunrise to Sunset Relay, a 178 mile marathon from Jensen Beach to Fort Myers, Fla., March 27. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Carrie Volpe)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- How many Airmen does it take to cross the state of Florida?

Eighteen, according to the 45th Weather Squadron, because that's how many ran in the 2009 Sunrise to Sunset Relay March 27-28.

The Sunrise to Sunset Relay is an across-the-state marathon starting out at Jensen Beach and finishing at Fort Myers, a total of 178 miles broken down into 36 segments which are divided up among the runners.

This is only the third year the relay has been run, and the squadron has participated all three times. Radar Meteorologist Todd McNamara first came up with the idea of participating.

"He figured it would be a great team-building experience, and at the same time improve the squadron's fitness," recalled Staff Sgt. Carrie Volpe, "he was right!"

For this year's race, the squadron was able to send two teams, Team Quasi-Stationary with six members and Team Gulfstream with 12. Each runner had a set of sections of the course to run, ranging from three to eight and one-half miles. Each runner on the 12-man team ran three sections and runners on the six-man team ran six. The first runner would start out, cover their pre-set distance and hand off their bracelet to their next runner waiting at the exchange point.

"It's a long 30 hours spent running in the Florida heat, sleep and food deprived, but we wouldn't have it any other way," said Sergeant Volpe.

The whole marathon lasts 25-30 hours non-stop, and the only resting is when not running. "There is a lot of quality time spent with each other and everyone gets super sweaty and tired," said Sergeant Volpe.

"There is little time to rest or sleep and when you do, to escape the tight quarters of the van, you may be lying in the grass at some exchange point in the middle of nowhere along Lake Okeechobee."

The squadron wanted to thank their two volunteers, Capt. Bill Ferguson and Tech. Sgt. Melinda Parker, who helped out at exchange points, drove the vans, and cheered the team on.

"We all do it for the challenge and the experience," said Sergeant Volpe. "We have many people that are not runners who now LOVE running and have already started talking about next year's team."