Vassallo Goes to Work in Philly

by EJN Comments (0) Articles, Racing

Dan Vassallo won the Philadelphia Marathon this past Sunday. Not only did he win, but Dan also qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials with his 2:17:28. This was the second victory in Philly for Vassallo with the first win coming back in 2010 (2:21:26).

In the wake of his big win, Dan has gotten some pretty good exposure too. There was a nice story featured in the Boston Globe, then his interesting interview on Fox 29 in Philly, and most recently a nice piece in the Lynn Daily Item.

Not only was it a huge day for Dan, but his wife Katrina also ran an impressive race. Katrina ran a new PR of 2:53:40 and finished 4th in her division and was the 14th woman.

We sent Dan a few questions to find out more about his impressive race.

Saw you posted a link to Jeezy (no tears) the morning of the race. Any special significance there?

I actually was listening to No Tears at 5:50 Sunday morning. It’s a good song. It’s not as blunt or profane as Standing Ovation, which was also bumping through my $20 speakers on Sunday morning, but it was just as emotional. Jeezy’s been grinding for a long time, and he’s “been real from the beginning.” I also see myself as someone who’s been real from the beginning.

2:17 is a big race. What was your PR coming in? Were you aiming to get under 2:18 or did you have a more ambitious goal in mind?

My PR coming in was 2:21:13 at the 2012 Maine Marathon. I was aiming for 2:17:59 or thereabouts. After failing - badly - to qualify for the Trials in 2010 in Houston and in 2011 in Vermont, I knew it would have to be a very long and concerted effort to qualify. Particularly when they took another minute off of the qualifying time for the 2016 Trials. From the time I hurt myself in 2013 and had to withdraw from the Boston Marathon, it was about qualifying on November 23, 2014. Nothing more ambitious, because I feel like breaking 2:18 would require every last second out of my body. Turns out I had a 32-second margin for error.

Was your Manchester *long run* on your mind at all? Or were you confident that you were strong enough to recover from that effort without any ill effects?

Thank you for not referring to Manchester as a “workout.” I hate when people use that word in reference to a race. I was happy with what we all did as a CMS team in Manchester, and it worked out really well in preparation for Philadelphia. I proved to myself that my body could handle a “last 10K” in the 5:20s after a hard “first twenty.” I bounced back great after Manchester and the other 98 miles I ran that week, and actually ran a 5K down the street (Editor’s note: the Colton Buckley 5K, which Dan won easily in 15:24) the week after. Felt like a million bucks, and from there it was all systems go. A lot of my advisors told me not to run Manchester, and I ran the first twenty faster than I wanted to, but I have no regrets. Manchester never crossed my mind until I hit the 20 mile mark in Manayunk and calculated that I needed to run my last 10K in 33:37 to qualify.

What was your game plan?

My game plan was to qualify. I would have rather finished sixth and qualified than won and run 2:18:01. I wanted to run as close to 15:45 for each three mile segment as I could, get over the hill at mile 10, and hold on for dear life for the last 10K. I knew it would be tight and that every tangent, turnaround execution, water stop, and drafting decision may  result in a second here or a second there.

Was a win part something your were aiming for or was it a secondary goal (assuming the OTQ was in hand)?

From another of Dan’s recent victories, the Manchester City Marathon. Courtesy of Krissy Kozlosky.

I like winning, but for just one time, it was not about winning. At the first turnaround at 10.5ish, I had been aware I was leading the marathon for a mile and a half. I saw a pack of six guys behind me, including the three guys who ended up passing me. I’m so glad I saw them, because I probably would have freaked out if I had led for so long and then got chewed up and spit out by a pack of three. I expected their footsteps that came around 15. All three of them dropped me around 19, but because my plan was to qualify, fourth and qualifying was better than first and 2:18:01. My splits between 15 and 21 were still around 5:15 per mile. Passing a guy at 21, running with someone for second between 22 and 24 was really helpful (really for the sake of focusing as the leader had probably a hundred meters on us), but I still saw it as irrelevant as long as I hit the standard.

Also, like anyone’s, my math skills deteriorated as the race went on. Dividing 7:05 by 1.2 is really hard. So at no point did I assume that the OTQ was in hand. I knew it would be tight no matter what.

We’ve heard that you made an impressive move late in the race to take the lead. Could you take us through that move and how you held it through the finish?

I’m not sure if it was really a move that I made because I’m like Jeezy: I have one style, one speed, one gear, and make up for a perceived lack of talent by boasting about how real I am. The move was made at 19 when all three of the other guys dropped me. All three had 20-50 meters on me by the time we hit 20 miles. I took second place around 24 miles and change, and all the runners headed in the other direction were yelling at me that I could catch the leader. I didn’t believe them, as I was just trying to keep myself from melting down and spectacularly missing the Trials again. But it was all in the last mile: you can ask Amanda, as she was at 25. 75 yards became 50, 50 became 25, and it was as if I didn’t even notice I had passed him. I think it was at 25th Street, which is 25.8 miles. I had about three minutes before my deadline. I looked back twice and didn’t see him either time. It wasn’t until I was a hundred meters out that I saw the clock and knew I was going to make it - and win!

For some the OTQ is a be all end all type of goal. How do you refocus?

It’s going to be a challenge to re-focus. Ever since Sunday, I’ve been crossing the street with the number ticking down and it’s reminded me of sprinting across the street simulating getting there before 2:18:00. I was thinking about a story from Hartford, and remembering the feeling of wondering whether the knowledge I gained that day would help me qualify someday. A ton of things like that. It’s almost like wondering what the new world would be like on the other side of October 27, 2004. But it’s not going to be like I want to treat the Trials like a victory lap. I want to challenge Ashe, Harvey, Pelletier, guys like that who should be burying someone like me eight out of ten times. That will require getting on my grind again.

Katrina ran a heck of a race herself (2:53:40, 14th woman), how did you guys celebrate such a big day?

Regardless of how I feel about her character and her ability to run 8-15 miles a week with me, I think it is evident that Katrina is a remarkable runner. It’s a six-minute PR for her and hopefully a true breakthrough race where she can be reminded of what I’ve always thought: anything I do in this game, she can do as well. There’s a long way to go, but the thought of the Trials for her is not out of the question in our household. We had a really amazing crew from Colby College join us, and after having a milkshake with her and her parents, who also made the trip, we had a big meal at a restaurant where we tried to replicate way too many dining hall experiences from eight years ago.

And there’s a whole new game, new players, I gotta grind

Damn right. I’m pretty sure I’ve been trying to qualify for the US Olympic Trials since Tim Ritchie and Eric Ashe were looking for prom dates. It is a whole new game, new players, I gotta grind. New diamonds in my name and my chain, and I gotta shine. I gotta go to work.

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