BOSTON — Sometimes it pays to fly under the radar.
Just ask Peabody resident Daniel Vassallo, age 32, who survived the brutal elements at yesterday’s 122nd Boston Marathon and ran one of the toughest races of his career, finishing 10th overall in 2:27.50, behind Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi, who won in 2:15.58, and five other Americans who finished in the top-10.
While many of the elite runners, male, female and wheelchair, were licked by the bitter temperatures, body-chilling winds and driving rain, Vassallo, a 2003 Wilmington High and 2007 Colby College graduate where (“I majored in track and minored in school”), stuck to his game plan and kept his focus on what was in front of him, methodically picking off one runner after another on the 26.2 mile race route.
“I had no idea I was 10th until I crossed the finish line,” he said. “There was a lot of attrition out there and I knew I was passing people as the race went on. I knew that people were probably dropping out in front of me because the conditions were so tough, so I thought it was possible to finish higher than I did 10 years ago (24th in 2008). But to finish where I did was a surprise to me.”
Vassallo said he could not have done it without his “pack” that included Jason Ayr of Brighton, Scott Mindell of Burlington, Rob Gomez of Windham N.H. and Nick Aguila of Manchester N.H, and of course his wife, Katrina Gravel Vassallo, a 2006 Peabody High and 2010 Colby graduate who ran her first Boston Marathon the year of the bombings in 2013.
“We had a great pack and I get so much support from my wife,” he said. “My friends and I had a plan to go out and work the race together because it’s a lot easier sharing the lead as a group, sharing the responsibility and we did that and passed a lot of people, so it was really helpful to have those guys.”
Prior to the race, Vassallo had said that his least favorite part of the race was Cleveland Circle. He said he dreaded seeing the Boston skyline and realizing that there were still four more miles to go to the finish line.
Yesterday, however, that was the least of his problems.
“Hey, I couldn’t see any buildings today, the visibility was so awful with rain pelting down, I had no idea where I was,” said Vassallo. “Today, it was just a matter of survival, so I didn’t see anything or anyone the entire race. I maybe saw two or three people that I recognized the entire course. I can’t even say I have any memories from along the race route as it was really about survival with the rain and wind in my face . All I could do was just try to stay focused on the guys in front of me and try to pick off as many as I could.”
This was Vassallo’s second Boston Marathon, having run 10 years ago in 2008. All told, he has 16 marathons under under his belt, winning four of them. He won the Philadelphia Marathon for the second time (he also won in 2010) in 2014 (2:17.28) and qualified for the U.S. Olympic time trials where he finished 41st. He also won the 2012 Maine Marathon and the 2011 Vermont City Marathon.
“I wouldn’t say I am a professional runner as I have a full-time job and am proud of having been able to work my training around that,” he said. “But I heard that I won $4,200 today, which is pretty cool, so I guess at least for this year, I am a professional runner.”
When asked if he planned to run Boston next year, Vassallo laughed.
“Right now I am hurting so badly that I don’t know if I can get off the couch tonight,” he said. “It’s way too early to think about running again, I might, might not. I have the rest of competitive career mapped out at this point. At 32, I don’t have too much time left as I have done a lot of damage to my body since I was 19 or 20 . I’m just glad that at the end of the day that today, I was able to add a chapter to life that I never really expected. I never thought I’d be as fast as I am, so today was pretty cool.”
While there were many “cool” moments for Vassallo, chief among them being the weather, one moment, no doubt surpassed them all.
Immediately after crossing the finish line, Vassallo was whisked to the medical tent, which would treat thousands and thousands of runners that day.
“I was convulsing and shaking, so they brought in me for medical attention, then they said I had go for drug testing,” he said. “I knew then at that moment that was an indication that, hey, I made it. If they start drug testing you then you are relevant, not to say that I am relevant, but maybe for a three and a half hour period today I was. It was pretty cool. I’m just thankful anytime I put up an athletic accomplishment and can see that my training pays off.”
As tough as the conditions were, Vassallo said a race he ran last spring was even worse.
“It was much worse, if you can believe it last spring when I ran the Cabot Trail Relay as part of a 17-man team in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia,” he said. “I had 8 mile leg and didn’t run my best and kind of beat myself up over it, but it was good mental preparation for today.”