DEATH VALLEY—Telma Ghazarian Altoon has become the first Armenian accepted as a participant in the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon.
This race is run annually in July, this year from July 23 to 25. Participants are permitted a maximum of 48 hours to complete 135 miles (216 km), 14,600 feet (4450 m) of gain and 6,100 feet (1860 m) of descent. But the challenge is not just in these extremes of distance, uphill/downhill running, and sleep deprivation, but also the shade-less environment with temperatures usually above 100°F (38°C), even reaching 130°F (55°C).
The race is named after its starting point, Badwater, the lowest point in North America, 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. The end is at Whitney Portal, 8,374 ft (2552 m) above sea level, the trailhead to the highest point in the contiguous United States. All but the last few miles of the course are effectively in deserts. There are stories the rubber under runners’ shoes starting to melt on the hot asphalt.
Held on weekdays to avoid automotive traffic, the race route starts in and crosses 41 miles (66 km) of Death Valley National Park, traverses two mountain ranges plus the broad Owens Valley, and ends with a 4,600 ft (1400 m) climb over 13 miles (21 km).
First run as a race in 1987, and originally all the way to the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft/4421m above sea elvel), organizers currently accept only 100 participants each year. Race Director Chris Kostman welcomed, “the Armenian community to the world’s toughest footrace for the first time. We’re proud to have Telma Altoon joining our Badwater family.”
Each runner is permitted a crew of four people who follow in a van, provide water, nutrition, and any other needs the competitor has. They also pace the racer, taking turns running beside her/him. Telma’s crew members are Hagop Abnoos, Balmore Flores, Aaron Flynn, and Valod Shahverdian.
Telma Altoon is an accomplished ultra-marathoner, having run in the Alps, deserts, the mountains of Southern California, and wherever else the siren song of extreme races summoned her. She always displays the Armenian tricolor with her, making Armenians a presence in the rarified world of extreme sports.
Some runners use the race as a fundraising opportunity for a cause or charity they support. People will have opportunities to give moral support to Telma, details about these will follow.
The record time, 21:56:32, for the Badwater 135 race is held by Pete Kostelnick, who set it at age 28 in 2016. The women’s record, 25:53:07, belongs to Alyson Venti (Allen), also set in 2016, at age 34. These data come from the race’s website which has a great variety of very interesting information.