By Christopher Roberson
In 2008 resident Daniel Vassallo ran the Boston Marathon for the first time and placed 24th out of 21,963 entrants with a time of two hours, 25 minutes. Now, 10 years later, he is returning to Hopkinton on April 16 to join 45 other runners in the marathon’s elite wave.
“It’s cool to be on the same line as guys I see on television or read about. There are some guys I root for, some guys I root against and certainly some guys I think I have a chance against,” said Vassallo. “It’s important to remember I belong there.”
Vassallo said he is confident going into the race despite competing against six former champions. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Kenyan, American, Ethiopian or from anywhere else. If you deviate from your game plan, you run the risk of getting sucked out too fast and having a long way home,” he said. “Especially if the weather is bad, I expect some of the races to go off the rails for superior runners, and that’s where I have a chance to beat a few of them.”
Vassallo said pacing oneself is the key to completing the 26.2-mile course. “If you can run sort of fast for a long time, you can be competitive here,” he said. “Due to the distance, strategy is different.”
Although the Newton Hills have been a source of torment for runners over the years, Vassallo said that section of the course is where he feels most comfortable. “I actually like the hills in Newton. It’s a place where I really pressed last time I ran there and kind of realized I belonged where I was,” he said.
However, that changes three miles up the road. “The most challenging part is when you hit Cleveland Circle, see all the big buildings so far away and realize you’re not even close to almost there,” said Vassallo.
In terms of preparation, Vassallo said he takes his practice runs at Presidential Heights along a route he calls “The Roosevelt.” “It’s been really helpful to have my wife to run with sometimes and to have my friends Jordan, Jason, Scott, Kevin and DJ come to Peabody,” he said.
Vassallo said he originally took up running as a “refugee from real sports.” Although he ran track for Wilmington High School, he only did so to stay in shape for soccer and baseball; however, Vassallo said, he was not chosen for the soccer team his sophomore year and his fastball was “about 40 miles an hour.”
“Track was the only outlet I had left to be an athlete,” he said, adding that he continued to run track at Colby College. “At Colby, I met my wife, Katrina, who ran track for Peabody High and imported me to her hometown.”
From bowling with his GraVoc colleagues to playing Mario Kart with Katrina, Vassallo said he has always maintained a competitive edge. “In running, all I really need to do is put in the work and stay healthy and there aren’t too many people who can beat me,” he said. “My soccer, baseball and basketball friends are playing beer leagues right now, and I’m playing against the best in the world.”