For This Regeneron Scientist, Ultramarathoning is Simply a Hobby

Pharmaceuticals scientist and acclaimed ultra-marathoner Alicja Barahona puts her phenomenal stamina to good use.



Alicja Barahona racing in the southcentral Sahara Desert.

On a regular day, you can find her in the Regeneron lab. 

For many people, completing a marathon is a major achievement. For Greenburgh resident and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals scientist Alicja Barahona, 26.2 miles is basically a light workout.

Barahona competes in ultramarathons, which can be hundreds of miles long and are often run in grueling conditions over deserts and Arctic snow. The 64-year-old, a native of Poland who relocated to Westchester in 1990, has competed in such far-flung places as Niger, Alaska, and the Himalayas. She is not, however, a professional athlete. Ultramarathoning is simply a hobby, Barahona says, pursued in her time away from her career in pharmaceutical quality assurance at Regeneron, where she has been employed since 2006. (She is quick to point out that she has never asked for extra time off, using only weekends and vacation time to train and race.)

Amazingly, Barahona didn’t start running until she was in her mid-40s. She began by jogging around the Hackley School track in Tarrytown back in March of 1996. That November, she completed the New York City Marathon. Exhilarated, Barahona wanted more. When she learned it was possible to race across the Sahara, she was all in.

To build stamina, Barahona traversed every inch of Rockefeller State Park for hours a day. “Even the chipmunks knew my name,” she laughs. During her peak racing years, her regimen might include 120 miles over a long weekend. This prepared her for events such as the Trans 555, a 400-mile race in Niger that she won in 2004, and, three years earlier, a 208-mile event in Mauritania she completed in 64.5 hours, again taking first place. Barahona competes less often these days, instead covering distances solely for charity. She has run the length of Long Island on 10 separate occasions, to raise money for breast-cancer research, and is planning a run in Greenland in June to support Doctors Without Borders.

Alicja Barahona racing 300 miles above the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories of Canada. 

Of course, success at such a challenging and dangerous sport — which often has her covering long distances without support, with minimal breaks for naps and nourishment — is not without sacrifice. Barahona admits that it can take a mental and physical toll. She nearly died of thirst during a race in the Sahara, and she often experiences symptoms far exceeding a normal runner’s high. “[I get] so physically depleted, I begin hallucinating,” she explains, claiming to have seen snow in the desert and an imaginary freight train.

Despite such trials, Barahona is proud that she has “always pushed herself to the maximum,” while also throwing herself into her work. Whatever she sets her mind to, Barahona will likely succeed. “When you have passion,” she says, “you always figure out how to reach a goal.”

 

 

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