How an Ultra Runner Was Born

Telma Altoon racing through Artsakh
Telma Altoon racing through Artsakh

Telma Altoon racing through Artsakh

NORTHRIDGE—How does a demure little girl blossom into a world class ultra-marathon runner and competitor?

Telma Ghazarian Altoon moved to the United States from Iran when she was twelve years old and already running and racing. Soon after, she ran varsity track and cross country for Glendale High School starting in her first year there.

Telma’s aptitude for running earned her a scholarship to the University of Southern California where she continued to shine as one of the school’s Division I athletes in track and cross country.

All of that is still a far cry from the elite, and fairly new, sport of ultra-running. In 2007, Telma just leapt in when she participated in a 50 kilometer (31.25 mi) race in Simi Valley, never even having run a marathon (26 mi/41.2 km) before. She has not stopped since then, participating in dozens of ultra races, some longer than 170 miles (272km), worldwide. She has run in the Alps of Europe, the mountains and deserts of California, and even Artzakh’s Janabarh Trail.

Telma’s favorite race was the Grand-to-Grand Ultra. At 176 mi (275 km), this race extends from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. It is self-supported, meaning runners must carry their food and sleeping gear as they run through all kinds of terrain surrounded by amazing scenery over the course of five or six days.

But she found the 100km (62.5 mi) race in Joshua Tree National park to be the most difficult, even though she placed first among the women and second overall. At one point during this race, she was close to being pulled out by the organizers because she started to hallucinate in the desert’s harsh heat. But she persisted and completed the run.

Telma usually places at or near the top of the field in these events. She always displays the Armenian flag proudly and is an excellent “ambassador” for the nation in this rarified circle of ultra competitors. She is even an Ambassador for three companies – XoSkin, IRUN4ULTRA, and Health Warrior Superfoods – which are involved in supplying and supporting the sport.

Looking forward to the future Telma says, “I hope to bring ultra racing to the Armenian highlands and participate in the Ultra Milano Sanremo”. That’s a 175 mi race that is run in only two days between those Italian cities, with only 50 participants accepted each year.

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