By Steve Matsuda
"This is crazy, hell" says Angel Perez with a laugh, "Too hard, especially the last 35 miles." Perez, 32, is the youngest male runner in the 2004 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon. "Just a bambino" he says.
How does a young man get involved with a race like this? "He talked me into it" referring to fellow entrant Adalberto "Flaco" Mendoza. Mendoza crewed for Jay Anderson last year. "He didn’t want to do it by himself. He said it wasn’t very hot. It IS hot."
In contrast with some runners who have two, even three sets of crew, Perez had only two crewmembers, Jorge Pacheco and Maria Lemus, very accomplished ultrarunners, but neither had ever been to Badwater. "My crew gave me water and paced me. They only let me take three 10-15 minute naps so we wouldn’t lose much time. They were great." "He’s a tough man," said Pacheco. Says Lemus, "He just kept saying he wanted to finish, then he’d smile. It isn’t easy crewing in Badwater but I feel so good."
So did Perez ever worry about making it to the finish? "I had no doubt that I was going to make it," he says. "It was hard at the beginning and I had lots of blisters after mile 100 but I knew I was definitely going to make it. Your mind is the one that gets you to the finish line, but your body doesn’t think you can." he says with a big smile on his face.
The last 35 miles were the hardest for Perez, who has run 100-mile races before. He started having severe pain above his left ankle about six miles from the finish and he wasn’t able to bend his leg. A zombie-like stare replaced his carefree smile the last mile. His responses are limited to one word. Still he finished, in 34:08, 7th place overall.
Mendoza, also with a two-person crew of Anderson and his daughter, finished in 37:33. Because Perez started with the 8:00 wave and Mendoza at 10:00, the two friends never saw each other during the race. We’ll never know what they would have said to each other or what Perez will say if Mendoza invites him to another race.