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Mosqueda No Longer a Mystery Woman : She Hit the Wall in This L.A. Marathon, but She Has the Stride Required of a Winner

March 24, 1987|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

Sylvia Mosqueda, who finished second among the women in this year's City of Los Angeles Marathon, used to make the 40-mile round trip between City Terrace and Citrus College in Azusa each day on a motor scooter.

But when a crack in the pavement separated her from her scooter one day and left her sprawled across the intersection of Marengo and Soto streets in Lincoln Heights, her coach took her transportation away.

"I was lying on the ground, thinking I was dead," Mosqueda said.

She lived to tell about it, of course, and these days Mosqueda is much more adept at navigating the streets, as she showed in leading the women through the first 23 miles of the marathon.

She faltered at that point, eventually finishing more than two minutes behind Nancy Ditz, but left a lasting impression.

Bob Prichard, a Northern California-based sports physiologist who specializes in biomechanics, said Mosqueda's stride characteristics are "way superior to any other woman distance runner I've ever seen."

Prichard, who analyzed the runners' forms for Channel 13's telecast of the race, said Mosqueda has a stride angle--the space between the front and trailing legs at full stride--of 98 degrees.

In comparison, Prichard said, Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit-Samuelson has a stride angle of 90 degrees and Grete Waitz, Olympic silver medalist and eight-time winner of the New York Marathon, has a stride angle of 90 degrees with her right leg forward and 86 degrees with her left leg forward.

"What that means is that a person who has a stride angle that is 10 degrees greater than somebody else will cover about 20% more ground with every stride they take," Prichard said.

And Mosqueda, he said, was not overstriding in the marathon.

"She's very efficient," he said.

Then why did she lose to Ditz, whose stride angle is 90 degrees with her right leg in front and only 78 degrees with her left leg in front?

"She just hit the wall," Prichard said. "She ran out of fuel."

But Mosqueda, who said she was running only for a workout, is much better than anybody thought, Prichard said. "Once she gets her conditioning, she's going to be among the best in the world. She's not just a local runner."

Who is this pesky Mosqueda?

Less than a month shy of her 21st birthday, she is a brown-haired, brown-eyed, 5-foot 5-inch, 103-pound sophomore at Cal State Los Angeles who shares a one-room apartment in Alhambra with her best friend, Elizabeth Castaneda.

Her coach, Greg Ryan, calls her a free spirit, "almost like a street kid . . . who is going to do what she wants to do."

The last of six girls born to Guadalupe and Dolores Mosqueda, Sylvia came by her independence at an early age. When she was 6, her mother was crippled by rheumatism and her parents separated.

An aggressive child, raised by her sisters and invalid mother, she took up running as a freshman at San Gabriel High School.

"I was real active and real competitive in sports," she said. "Anything I played, I tried to win. We had a mile loop we had to run in P.E., and I always had to win. I'd stay with this one girl and I'd always out-kick her at the end."

Her teacher suggested she join the track team.

By the time she was a senior, she was good enough to win the Southern Section 3-A cross-country championship.

Letters from colleges trickled in, but Mosqueda, who said she went to class only to stay eligible for track, threw them away.

"I got through high school by cheating a lot," she said. "I'd copy other people's papers and put answers on my arm. I didn't study very much."

After her senior track season, she didn't watch her weight much, either.

She went from 103 pounds to 126 in her freshman year at Citrus, which she chose over Cal State L.A. because she didn't believe she was ready for the academic load at the university level.

She ran infrequently for about 1 1/2 years, eventually left Citrus and finally enrolled at East Los Angeles College two years ago at the urging of Ryan, who was coaching there at the time.

Ryan told her straight out that she'd have to lose weight.

Said Mosqueda: "He told me, 'You're fat. You've got a big fat butt. You're too heavy to run. You're going to run like a turtle.' "

She cut out sweets and other junk food, dropped the weight, attended class often enough to retain her eligibility and won the state junior college cross-country title in 1985.

Last year, she was thrust into the limelight when she led the L.A. Marathon for 19 miles as "the mystery runner." An unofficial entrant in a green singlet, she ran in the lead for all of Los Angeles to see on Channel 13.

She dropped out, but only after putting a scare into Ditz, who won the inaugural race and later called Mosqueda a "bandit," according to Mosqueda.

Ryan said it was all an accident.

He said that Mosqueda makes a long run--usually 13 to 17 miles--two or three times a month. Running by herself can be tedious, though, so sometimes she runs, unofficially, in marathons. At Irvine one year, he said, she led for about 13 miles before dropping out.

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