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Jogging His Memory : Marathoner's Wrong Turn Takes Him on All-Night Run

August 13, 1994|TIMOTHY WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SHERMAN OAKS — In the mood for a long, hard run, Michael Alexander, a marathoner visiting from Trinidad and Tobago, made a wrong turn on his way back from a track in Burbank on Thursday evening, and ended up running a good part of the night trying to find his way home.

Thirteen hours--and nearly the distance of a marathon--later, after Alexander's sister had reported him missing, the 25-year-old flagged down a Los Angeles police patrol car Friday morning, about 1 1/2 miles from his sister's house.

"I'm a little embarrassed, but OK," said Alexander, who is on his first trip to the United States. "I'll never forget L.A. after this."

Among the runner's memories will be his accidental jog on the Ventura Freeway at nightfall, and, a few hours later, a collect phone call to one of his relatives in Tobago who passed on Alexander's predicament to his sister in Sherman Oaks.

On Friday, after spending a good part of the day napping, Alexander was in good spirits. But he wasn't ready to take any more unaccompanied runs, even if his sister Angela Alexander would let him.

"That is the longest run he's been on in the U.S., literally speaking," she said, her brother smiling sheepishly. "What happens is that he concentrates so deeply when he runs that he forgets everything else."

*

For four consecutive years, Alexander has won the Trinidad and Tobago Marathon, his time for the 26-mile event hovering near two hours and 20 minutes, a few minutes slower than world-class runners.

Alexander's less-than-excellent adventure began about 7:30 Thursday night after he waited for the weather to cool down so he could go on a training run. Usually, he runs with a partner or walks the route in advance to get a feel for it.

This time, however, he did neither, and soon became disoriented in the San Fernando Valley's look-alike topography.

The first problem, Alexander said, was that he did not know it is illegal to run on freeways--which he did for about four miles between Sherman Oaks and Burbank.

"I thought it was just like a normal street," he said. "Yes, I did hear some cars honking, but I didn't pay much attention."

As the sky continued to darken however, Alexander realized he was lost for good--or at least for the night.

He said he told police cruising past in their car that he was disoriented, "but they didn't seem to care." Then, he got misdirected by a store clerk he happened upon. "He told me to go left when I was supposed to go straight," Alexander said.

With no money, and unable to remember the address or telephone number of his sister's apartment on Moorpark Street, Alexander jogged on, fruitlessly searching for familiar landmarks.

Finally, Alexander decided to call home collect. His home in Tobago, that is.

His sister there phoned his sister in Sherman Oaks to tell her Alexander was safe. Unfortunately, Alexander had no idea where he was--and still doesn't. When asked Friday about his circuitous route, he still was unable to say where he had been.

"When it got dark, everything changed," he said. "I couldn't recognize anything."

*

Several hours later, after running, then walking for a while, the marathon man came to Moorpark Park, where he spent the hours until daylight.

"I didn't want to sleep," the 5 foot 9, 115 pounder said. "I didn't feel it was safe. And by that time, there wasn't much point."

Meanwhile, his sister was having her own sleepless night. "I couldn't sleep a wink until I knew he was OK," she said.

About 9 a.m. Friday, an LAPD car patrolling the park finally found him, and police called his sister to come and pick him up.

In making his all-night odyssey, Alexander unintentionally proved his own philosophy of the marathon: that it isn't the fastest runner who wins, but the one who perseveres.

Quoted in a Trinidad newspaper article earlier this year, he said, "The marathon race is never won by the quickest athlete if that athlete is not going to endure to the bitter end and always keep trying to do better and better. . . . The prize comes to those who endureth to the end."

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