Bill Sprake and his buddies in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron of the Kentucky Air National Guard have served together for two decades.
They've rescued fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, saved civilians in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and earned their share of Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars along the way.
But when the Louisville-based servicemen get together to have a good time, they find it every year as they run along the Bourbon Trail.
Since 2010, the squadron has fielded a team of a dozen runners in the Bourbon Chase, a 200-mile relay that takes its 5,000 participants through some of Kentucky's loveliest horse country and past six famed distilleries.
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The race, which has staggered start times, began Friday morning at Jim Beam Distillery's American Outpost in Clermont and finished Saturday evening with a disco-themed party and bourbon tasting in Triangle Park in downtown Lexington.
The fastest team this year was Primal Sport Mud from Louisville, which completed the course in 19 hours and three minutes.
At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, half of Sprake's team was relaxing at Paulie's Toasted Barrel while the other half was still making its way toward the finish line on Main Street.
"It's just fun," Sprake said. "It's just an excuse for us to get together, do something challenging."
Kentuckians like Sprake are in the minority in the event, which brought participants from 46 states and three countries.
"It really draws on a national audience," said the relay's founder, Mike Kuntz, a former track and field coach at the University of Louisville and Bellarmine University. "We sell out the day we open up."
Kuntz, who on Saturday sported a brown leisure suit and gleaming white loafers in keeping with the disco theme, said the event is, for him, "a marriage of three things: a love of fitness, a love of Kentucky and, quite honestly, a love of bourbon."
The race has 36 legs. Each team member runs three segments, which average about 5.5 miles each.
Participants run throughout the night, passing through Bardstown, Springfield, Perryville, Danville, Stanford, Harrodsburg, Lawrenceburg, Midway and Versailles.
While one member from each team runs, the rest are ferried to connection points along the route in vans. They may stop to take distillery tours or eat at local restaurants during downtime, making the relay as much a tourist attraction as a fitness event.
"It ends up being like a college reunion type of deal," Kuntz said. "It's really about the experience in the van, around the van."
While some teams are time-focused (what Kuntz refers to as the "fast cats"), others, he said, are all about the party. That would be the "cool cats."
"They want to have a good time," Kuntz said. "The emphasis is on good, not time."
The official charities of the Bourbon Chase are Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, Susan G. Komen Lexington and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Kuntz said the event raises about $150,000 a year for the organizations it supports.
For the team led by Sprake, the relay is also an opportunity to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides scholarships to the children of fallen special operations forces. Two members of the 123rd Squadron were killed in a plane crash in Puerto Rico in 2002, leaving behind four children the foundation is helping to attend college.
"The fact that it's taking care of four of our own is huge," Sprake said.
Since the men began running the Bourbon Chase, they have raised $31,875 for their cause.
Sprake said the team is "middle of the pack" when it comes to speed, but they manage to squeeze in plenty of fun. "And there's a year's worth of stories until next time," he said.