Local teacher looks to become a Bad man next month

Xavier Smith • Updated Jun 23, 2016 at 1:00 PM

Greg Armstrong will take a run through Death Valley next month, and it won’t be in college football stadiums at Clemson or LSU. 

The marathon runner will travel to the real Death Valley in California to tackle the Badwater 135, which is known as “The World’s Toughest Foot Race.” The race will take place July 18-20.

The race covers 135 miles non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, Calif. The race starts at Badwater, Death Valley, which is the lowest elevation in the country. The race finishes at Whitney Portal. The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100 feet of cumulative descent.

Armstrong, who has altered his already strenuous workout routine, said the makeup of the course attracted him to the event.

“I like that fact that nature depicts the course. You’re going from the lowest point in the U.S., 280 feet below sea level, to the highest point in the lower 48 states, which is the top of Mount Whitney. To me, that’s kind of intriguing,” he said. “You have the challenge of the heat and the challenge of the altitude.”

The temperature in Death Valley could reach 128 degrees, which is something Armstrong said is hard to duplicate while training in Middle Tennessee.

“I spend anywhere from an hour to an hour and 40 minutes jogging in place in the sun most days,” said Armstrong. “During the race, you’ll have about 20 miles of constant climb, which is hard to replicate here. I tied a rope to a tire and jog 6-8 miles pulling a tire to kind of simulate going up a hill for a long period of time.”

Armstrong finished third on the U.S. Men’s Team as the team finished in fourth in the Track and Field 24-Hour World Championships in Italy last year. Armstrong logged 141.67 miles in 24 hours and finished 48th overall in the competition.

He said that was the hardest he’s raced in his years of competition. A year prior, Armstrong qualified for the U.S. team by running 145 miles during the Run Around the World 24-hour event at Winfree Bryant Middle School. The 145 miles were a career best for Armstrong.

However, Armstrong said the Badwater would test him in more ways than any previous race.

“I’m probably a little more apprehensive about this challenge than I have been any of the others simply because there are a lot of variables. Any other race I’ve done, I kind of could prepare for the variables or the challenges,” he said. 

“I’ve never run in 128 degrees before. I’ve never run up a 15,000-foot mountain where you could potentially have altitude sickness. There are a lot of unforeseen challenges, and I don’t know how my body is going to react.”

Armstrong said the fact he doesn’t know how his body will react or what other challenges he will face aligns with the spirit of ultra-running, which excites him.

“You have a challenge or some difficulty and you figure out a way to push through it or kind of alter your plan and keep it moving. The same thing that makes me a little nervous and apprehensive also makes it exciting and challenging,” he said.

Armstrong founded and operates Run4Water, a nonprofit organization that strives to raise awareness and provide solutions for the worldwide water crisis. He said he would use his mission as motivation in a place where water is scarce.

“That’s one way I’m able to get through it, especially in the desert, because water is life there. It becomes even more real for me to think about the people that I’m able to minister to in Nicaragua and Hancock County about some of their water needs. You’ll realize how important water truly is to life,” he said.

After Armstrong cools off from his time in Death Valley, he said he plans to attempt to qualify for the U.S. Men’s Team for the next Track and Field 24-Hour World Championships.

For more information on Run4Water, visit run4water.net.

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