Massachusetts bounces back from surgery to win Philadelphia Marathon

Daniel Vassallo, of Massachusetts, crosses finish line first at Philly Marathon.
Daniel Vassallo, of Massachusetts, crosses finish line first at Philly Marathon.
Posted: November 22, 2010

FIVE MONTHS AGO, Daniel Vassallo was undergoing abdominal surgery. Today, he is the winner of the men's Philadelphia Marathon.

Vassallo, part of a record-setting field of 23,000 in the 17th annual event that included the half marathon and an 8K this past weekend, finished yesterday's race in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 28 seconds. It eclipsed his previous personal best, which he set in Houston earlier this year.

"I was kind of overcome by emotion a couple times," Vassallo said minutes after he crossed the finish line. "At 24 miles, I was kind of like, 'Holy crap, I'm going to do this.' Then, at 26 [miles], when they were playing the music and calling my name, I got a little bit emotional, especially through all the garbage I've been through this year . . . it was a good ending."

The 28-year-old from Wilmington, Mass., had surgery to repair an abdominal tear on July 8, similar to the sports hernia surgery Phillies leftfielder Raul Ibanez underwent last offseason.

Having previously competed in two half marathons here - finishing second in 2008 and fourth in 2009 - Vassallo received a courtesy invitation to participate once again, and following surgery, he planned on running. But after rehabbing at an exemplary rate, Vassallo decided he was healthy enough to participate in the full marathon.

"I've got fresh legs and, some of the time, my worst enemy is my own work ethic. So I probably do a lot more miles than I should be doing or that my legs really want me to do," Vassallo said of originally training for the half marathon. "I had to take a lot of 2010 off and I did recover a lot better from surgery than I thought I would."

Heading into the race, Vassallo had a plan, and he figured to stick to it no matter how far ahead or behind he was. But as soon as the race began, that philosophy went out the window quickly.

"I was a little bit ahead of what I was going for the majority of [the race], even through 20 miles," he said. "I wanted to be right at the 5:20 [per mile] pace and I stuck at the 5:20 pace. I fell apart a little bit in the last couple miles, but, at that point, it was kind of survival mode, trying to make sure I kept first place."

Although Vassallo has had some meaningful finishes in the past - 24th in the 2008 Boston Marathon - no race is more impactful, in his mind, than winning the Philadelphia Marathon.

"Winning the Maine marathon was pretty cool, especially being from Boston, and everybody was planning on putting on my gravestone, 'Finished 24th at the 2008 Boston Marathon,' and I'm pretty grateful that I can put something else on my gravestone," Vassallo said.

On the women's side, Mariska Kramer finished with a time of 2:38:55, a little over 2 minutes faster than the next competitor. Once the race began, Kramer, a 36-year-old Netherlands native, was very high on her chances.

"I was first from Mile-Marker 1 on, and I'm in it to win it," Kramer said of her commanding victory.

Along with jumping out to an early lead, she was also extremely confident in herself because she had run in the marathon 2 years ago and finished fourth in sub-30-degree weather.

"I'm convinced that confidence is a part of leading you to victory," she said. "If you're confident and you have confidence in yourself and stay confident through the race, it gives you a little bit extra."

Kramer retired from triathlon competition this past June to focus all of her time on running. She won two ironman competitions during her career: France in 2005 and Louisville in 2008. Kramer talked about the difference in finishes between the two types of competition.

"Winning an ironman, when you come to the finish, you are so happy to be there because you're completely exhausted and all you can think of for the last 2 hours is a big cup of Ben and Jerry's ice cream," she said. "[A marathon] is more challenging to me . . . to go very fast in a marathon, it's completely different."

Other notables

Kiprotich Kirui, a 25-year-old from Santa Fe, N.M., by way of Kenya, won the men's half marathon (1:04:02). And another 25-year-old, Hirut Mandefro, from Flagstaff, Ariz., by way of Ethiopia, won the women's half marathon (1:17:52) . . . George Gallego won the marathon's wheelchair division in 2:34:34 . . . Haddonfield's Edward Callinan (2:26:29) came in fifth in the men's marathon and Emily Hulme (2:44:30), of Havertown, finished third in the women's race . . . Also in the women's race, the top Philadelphia finisher was Abby Dean, 39, of Center City. She finished ninth overall in 2:52:33.

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