Sunday, May 19, 2013
Dan Vassallo ran his first marathon five years ago, not quite knowing what to expect. Not only did he win it, but he set a course record.
ONE DAY, TWO RACES
WHAT: The Maine Marathon and Half Marathon
WHEN: 7:45 a.m. Sunday
START/FINISH: Baxter Boulevard near Forest Avenue
WINNER EXPECTED: Shortly after 10 a.m.
The race was the Maine Marathon. Sunday morning, Vassallo will return to the race for the first time, looking once again for more than just a 26.2-mile run along the roads of Casco Bay.
"I'm trying to hit the reset button on my career," he said.
Vassallo, you see, has never quite recaptured that winning feeling in the marathon. He's run four marathons since, his best effort a 2:25:10 in Boston in 2008. Since then, he's battled injuries and disappointments.
"I ran Vermont City in 2011, trying to qualify for the Olympic marathon," he said. "I didn't. Between that and my injuries (he hurt both Achilles tendons in the spring), I decided it was time to go back to where I started."
There's also the matter of his course record of 2 hours, 26 minutes, 54 seconds. When the 21st Maine Marathon begins at 7:45 a.m. on Portland's Baxter Boulevard with a combined field of 3,500 for the marathon and half marathon, the record will be in jeopardy from several runners, including Moninda Marube, a Kenyan living in Auburn with Edward Little High cross country coach Dan Campbell, and Saco's Rob Gomez, a friend of Vassallo's.
"I'm not going to lie and say I don't think about it," said Vassallo, a 2007 graduate of Colby College who lives in Peabody, Mass. "It's a source of pride for me. It'd like to defend it.
"I was hurt the first half of 2012. Once I started getting healthy, and once Rob told me he was going for the course record, I decided I was going to return. If you've going to grab it from me, I might as well put up a fight."
Gomez admitted to almost goading Vassallo to return.
"Yeah, I told him I was going to take the course record back to Maine," said Gomez of the friendly trash-talk. "We're good friends. I just thought I'd let him know that."
It could be an extremely fast race by Maine standards, with the winner finishing in the low 2:20s. Only two men have run under 2:30 on the current course.
"I honestly feel I can set the course record," said Gomez. "But I don't know if I can beat Dan. He's in the best shape of his life and he could blow everyone away."
Maybe, but Marube will have something to say about that. He has lived in Maine since January, when he met Campbell in California at a marathon. The two talked, Campbell was upset with Marube's living conditions, and offered him a bus ticket to Maine.
"I invited him to live here and he took me up on it," said Campbell. "I was surprised that he would come to Maine."
Several months later, Campbell and his girlfriend Shari had a couple more visitors: Kenyans Njoroge Mana (who will run a race in Akron on Saturday) and Cynthia Jerop (who will run the half marathon here).
Campbell's training is about more than just running.
"Shari and I provide them a home life," he said. "They train, and they do family activities with us."
Campbell is confident that Marube, like Gomez, will break the course record. "But will he win it, I'm not sure," he added.
Marube is hoping the runners will push the pace. He won a half marathon in Brunswick in April (1:07:03) and the Patriots Day 5-miler in Portland despite suffering a leg injury during the run.
"So far everything is going fine," said Marube. "I'd like it to be a quick race."
(Continued on page 2)