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Richard Hoffer
November 19, 1990
Barbara Alvarez and Angelika Castañeda are age-group phenomena
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November 19, 1990

Those Twin Terrors Of Triathlon

Barbara Alvarez and Angelika Castañeda are age-group phenomena

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A less exciting and more traditional therapy—psychoanalysis—eventually helped, although even today they test each other with small claims of independence. "I am the courageous one," says Angelika, apropos of nothing. Barbara nods, saying, "But I am the strong one." Angelika: "She is a mule, but she is not so sensitive. I am the one who cries at sunsets." Barbara: "She is more dramatic, but I am the talkative one."

As they sorted themselves out in Mexico, they finally gained some freedom from each other. Barbara had married Armando Alvarez, a Mexican import-export businessman; Angelika, Henrique Castañeda, a Mexican manufacturer of men's clothing. (They have recently divorced.) In 1980, when the Mexican economy began to decline, Barbara, Armando and their two daughters moved to Brownsville, Texas, where Armando had business connections. At Pan American University in nearby Edinburg, she continued studying for the master's degree in psychology she had begun work on at the Mexico City campus of the University of the Americas. Angelika, who had decided to remain in Mexico to oversee the twins' business concerns, came to San Diego in 1985 with Henrique and their two sons, Alexis and Angelo, now 10 and 9. There she began working in acrylics. "For more than four years we were separated," says Angelika, proudly. And then Barbara followed you? "As always."

Barbara brought with her yet another career—running. She had plunged into marathoning while in Texas—she ran her first marathon in 1983, shortly after her 40th birthday—and carried news of the sport to her sister. Angelika was in no shape for endurance running, not at first. But in their total ignorance of accepted training methods, they were running a 10K race or a marathon almost every weekend during their first six months in San Diego. On their off-weekends, they ran ultra marathons (50 miles). The twins had heard that runners shouldn't compete in more than four marathons a year, but they hadn't heard why. Unconvinced, they did two ultras in one month. And from the end of 1985 until mid-1986, they completed a 43-mile across-and-back run of the Grand Canyon, a 112-mile bicycle race (their first) in Tucson, a 50-mile run, the Los Angeles marathon and still another marathon.

At first their interest was only in learning how far they could run. After their first triathlon, though, the 1987 Performing Arts in Mission Viejo, Calif., the twins realized that cross-training was a good way to pass the time until their shin splints or the tendinitis in their legs went away. But despite their growing success in the Hawaiian Ironman—they went from eighth and ninth in 1988 in their age group to third and fourth this year—they wanted to move beyond that. Anybody could run a marathon; they had run many. And what's an ultra but marathons back-to-back? Something called adventure running appealed to the two little girls who once climbed and hiked in the Alps.

The twins finished the 1988 Western States 100-Miler, an endurance run up and down mountains in California, which they recall largely for the hallucinations it produced. "Little men up in trees," says Angelika. "I saw them, too!" says Barbara. Then they read of the Marathon des Sables. They hardly knew what to expect, but what they got was a seven-day race through Morocco, in which they ran 12 to 42 miles a day and slept under the stars each night. Of the 200 starters, about 40 got lost and were later scooped up by trailing camels. Barbara lost four toenails in the race, but the twins finished 20th and 21st among all entrants.

But that was a walk on the beach compared to the Badwater. During last year's running of that race, temperatures rose above 120° in the desert, and Angelika lost 14 pounds within the first 20 miles. And though the twins wore shoes of Angelika's design, with heels and toes cut out, huge blisters formed on their feet. Yet they set the women's record—for any age group—of 53 hours.

For the 1990 race in July, the sisters vowed to break 50 hours and, to do so, instructed their four-person crew to allow them only three hours of sleep each night. It was 118°. The twins, starting slow, lagged behind the 24 other runners and didn't begin their first night's sleep until 2 a.m. Their crew got them up and running, and soon the sisters were passing landmarks they hadn't expected to see until daybreak, which was odd. They were exhausted and slightly disoriented when they broke for sleep the next night. Once awakened, they ran on and found themselves in Lone Pine, the gateway to Mount Whitney, by sunrise. Odd. The twins were met at the finish by their hysterical crew. Very odd. Barbara and Angelika had run the distance not only in less than 50 hours—but in less than 40.

"Our crew tricked us," says Angelika. "They let us sleep just one hour the first night, 50 minutes the next. It's interesting what the body can do."

Whatever that is, the twins intend to find out. Angelika, who schemes and plots their adventures ("I am the creative one," she says, without argument from Barbara), has heard of an eight-day race, from Sydney to Melbourne, that she would like them to try in 1992. Also, they have their eyes on another race, held for the first time this summer in Europe, that like the triathlon features several sports. It covers nine countries, with participants being flown from one country to the next. Angelika has a few ideas of her own, like a race across Baja, from the Sea of Cortés to the Pacific Ocean. There is no shortage of exotic terrain that can be mapped out and run across by the twins. "It could be a business," says Angelika.

Barbara suddenly brightens. "I'm the business one," she says.

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