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Along San Vicente, They Can Run But They Can't Hide : Jogging: From early morning to late evening, runners traverse pavement along what is arguably the oldest and most popular jogging strip in Los Angeles.

March 12, 1992|MIKE GOODMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA MONICA — The nightlong drizzle eased to a sprinkle about 4:30 a.m. A private security cruiser splashed along the tree-lined parkway that splits San Vicente Boulevard from Wilshire to the sea.

The car's taillights faded into the blackness of the unlit parkway. Minutes passed. No new headlights appeared. Not a creature stirred.

Suddenly, a man burst from the darkened parkway, scooting over the pavement in short, precise strides, arms at his side. He was thin, almost frail, and well past retirement age.

At 4:45 a.m., despite rain and darkness, the first jogger of the morning had cleared--arguably--the oldest and most popular jogging strip in Los Angeles. Several hundred more would follow before sunrise.

The jogger ran through the empty intersection of San Vicente and Bundy and continued east for another mile to his house on Barrington Avenue.

He wore faded-blue rain gear and a long-billed cap pulled low over his ears. His glasses were thick, framed in clear plastic and fogged from rain. Nylon clung to his body in damp patches. His leggings were streaked from puddles and mud.

Eddie Lewin, 75, was barely breathing hard.

"They call me Fast Eddie," he said with a shrug and smile.

And for good reason. Lewin, a gardener, won the Los Angeles Marathon last year in the 70-or-older division.

"I started jogging at 61 because my doctor said it might help my arthritis," Lewin said. He went from 165 to 137 pounds and now averages 60 races a year.

"Sometimes I run back-to-back races on the weekend," he said.

Lewin said he jogs about an hour each morning--7.25 miles from Barrington to Santa Monica Bay and back. Then he goes to work.

"San Vicente is one of the most famous jogging strips in the world," Lewin said. "I usually start out alone, but somebody always joins me. Sometimes two or three. I see a lot of runners here from the marathons. Almost 24 hours a day you'll find somebody out here."

Lewin spotted a figure moving briskly along the sidewalk west toward the parkway. "There's a 'walker.' We get a lot of them out here too."

It's 5:05 a.m. The first walker had arrived. A score or more will follow before dawn.

"I'm one of the early walkers," said Andy Navilio, 79. "I'm out here every morning at this time. The joggers all know me. You see the same ones every day."

Navilio, a retired design engineer, said he walks between four and five miles. "I walk on this side one way and the other side coming back for a little variety. Takes about an hour. Then I come back in the evening around six with my wife and do it again. She's 81."

It was still dark, but the rain had stopped. More joggers arrived. Most wore reflective tape and ran on the street and sidewalk, avoiding the unlit parkway. It is lined with coral trees planted in the late 1940s and towering 30 feet or more.

"It's pitch black out there under those big trees. You can't see nothing," said Rigo Lopez, 26, the lone attendant at the 24-hour Union 76 gas station on 26th Street. The station is located in the darkest section of the parkway.

"My first night on graveyard I was sitting here about 4:30 in the morning and these people run by," Lopez said. "I was saying to myself: 'I can't believe this.' Then more came by. Pretty soon joggers are running everywhere--up and down 26th, up and down San Vicente. Now, it's no big deal."

By 5:30 a.m., about 20 joggers, two walkers and four cyclists were scattered along San Vicente in both directions.

"I was determined to jog today--rain or not," said Steve Rykoff, 55, a lawyer who lives near San Vicente. "I'm embarrassed to say how far I jog--about three miles--but I'm out here every day at 5 a.m. I started in 1976."

At first light, around 6 a.m., roughly 50 joggers and 12 walkers were strewn along San Vicente. By 8 a.m. the number of joggers had dropped in half.

"People jog all day long, every day, but most come in the morning or evening," said Hector Diaz, 24, an attendant at the station at San Vicente and Bundy.

Diaz and other workers along the parkway estimated the number of joggers each day ranged from several hundred to a thousand.

"All we can do is guess," he said. "We don't even see a lot of them. They turn around before they reach Bundy, or peel off on a side street."

A casual--very casual--study that rainy morning of some 200 runners--their age, sex, height, weight, dress, and technique--helped develop the following portrait of a typical San Vicente jogger:

Anybody between 21 and 71 who wears sneakers, grimaces constantly, moves faster than a walk, but slower than a run and eventually returns to point of origin.

The pattern, clearly, was none at all.

"It's like scrambled eggs," said Joe Fernandez, a private security officer who patrols San Vicente. "All ages, sizes and manner of dress mixed together."

Said Fernandez: "I live too far away--Gardena--or I'd jog here myself. It's a great place to run."

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