The Magic of Mammoth Diaries: Daniel Tapia - Marathoning Amidst a Marathon Schedule
By: Cait Chock
When Daniel Tapia finished 9th at the 2013 Boston Marathon in 2:14:30, he was running up to 140 miles per week, finishing law school, and working at his family's restaurant. To say he was packing 72 hours worth of work into 24 hours each day would not be an exaggeration. Yet, despite being mentally drained, he qualified for and went on to finish 27th in the 2013 IAAF World Track and Field Championships for the marathon event.
Tapia's rise from middle-of-the-pack high school runner to now professional runner is both non-traditional and a testament to just how far one's work ethic and drive can take them. As the newest addition to the ASICS Mammoth Track Club, Tapia exclaims, "Right now I am 'living the dream.' I would not change my current situation for anything in the world."
This dream realized was hard earned for the runner, just as it for all elites; yet, one would be shocked to learn just how long Tapia's been running at an elite level while holding down a packed school and work agenda. Finally, upon passing the BAR exam Tapia knew there was no timestamp on his ability to practice law, the same does not hold true for a professional distance runner. "Now that I finished law school I want to completely focus on running and reach my full potential in the sport. I want to look back and have absolutely no regrets, giving myself the best opportunity and putting my best effort forth to be successful in running until I can no longer run at a competitive level." And so, the graduate took a visit to the MTC in September; sensing it was the perfect fit right away he needed no more time to decide Mammoth would be his new home.
Tapia was warmly welcomed, something he appreciated just as much as the level of tenacity the group took to their training, "I could tell they were all very determined." The results of the MTC speak for themselves and as for Coach Andrew Kastor, "My heart sensed that he was not only a great coach but a great person who really cares about his athletes." Tapia describes the dedication Kastor brings to the team far surpassing that of merely writing the workouts and holding a stopwatch. Kastor's the man out mapping the long runs and chalking the interval marks before the runs and providing the fluids during them. "The man is extremely passionate about what he does- ensuring that MTC is successful."
To be the best requires near single-minded focus from both coach and athletes; yet, that focus must always be driven by passion.
Finding the Passion
As a sophomore at Monterey County High School, Tapia was introduced to the world of running on the cross country and track team. Though a scoring member, as the fifth man, "I was not fast enough to get recruited or offered a scholarship by a good running school so I figured it wasn't for me." He went on to attend UC Santa Cruz to pursue academics; a University that doesn't even have an official track or cross country team. "I stopped running for about a year but decided to pick it back up for physical health reasons. I was not trying to improve my times, but life tasted better when I ran-the food, sleeping, everything."
That's when it happened. "I fell in love with running for the first time. I was literally enjoying every step." Outside of the pressure to perform for a team Tapia thrived; he was having fun and he took the 'no-stress' attitude into his first half marathon. But the thrill of race day has a funny way of pulling the competitive nature out in every runner; exceeding his 6 minute per mile goal pace (a 1:18:39) he finished in 1:16. He tasted the bitter sweetness of pushing your limits, he liked it, he wanted more.
In a coincidental twist of fate another legend of Mammoth TC played a key role in motivating Tapia to take his running to a higher level many years ago. "I will never forget the women's winner that day, Jennifer Rhines. I said to myself, 'I need to come back next year, and beat the first woman'."
Tapia also knew he needed direction, which he found by way of the Harnell Community College (Salinas, CA) Coach Christopher Zepeda. Under Coach 'Z' he witnessed his half marathon time drop to 64-minutes and Tapia progressed his marathon time down from 2:26 to 2:14. All the while studying law at Monterey College of law and taking enough credits at Harnell to allow him to compete.
This takes us up to last summer which was, in Tapia's own words, "indeed a marathon of a summer for me with law school graduation, studying for the BAR exam, helping at the family business and training for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow for the marathon. But you know, I looked at it as a blessing. I thought, 'It could be worse. I could have not gone to school, not sit for the BAR, not be working, nor training for a marathon,' which as tough as it sounds, many people would love to do but they are either not blessed with the opportunity or don't have the physical ability to walk, let alone train for a marathon."
Scheduling was key: main run done by 10am, studies from 10-5pm, chased by his second run, followed up with more studying until 10pm. Riddled between, any spare moments were spent helping his family, working at the restaurant they own. "In the end, I believe it made me a better person because the experience taught me to appreciate everything that I have, no matter the circumstances, including the great and bad experiences because they all build character."
The support of his family was key, and Tapia makes a point to emphasize that. In now moving to this next exciting chapter of his running career, that same network is sending their sentiments of support from afar. "Before, I thought I could fit everything into one day, but now I am realizing how much rest I was missing and in order to do anything the 'right' way you need time. Now I have it and I can't wait to see the results."
A New Life at Mammoth
Still quite new to Mammoth Lakes, with its miles of trails and air that smells of endless possibilities, Tapia's primary focus is to fully adjust to the altitude. Much of those miles have been strictly aerobic-work yet, "Most of our runs are usually at or above 8,000 feet so I don't think it will ever be, per se, 'easy'." Still, he feels the transition is going quite smoothly and his body is handling the adjustment really well. He looks forward to the next phase: running those hard workouts at up to 10,000 feet.
In the past Tapia's gained confidence from his long runs and tempo workouts, "Nailing a tempo gives me huge confidence because it is the most specific workout, in my opinion, for marathon training." Another key component to Tapia's progression going forward will be having the support of his new MTC teammates to carry him through those tempo runs, and all other workouts and long runs.
The MTC makes a point of everyone meeting at least once a day in the morning, easy days included. "It is important for team chemistry and accountability. We all need to be firing on all cylinders, and if we are not, at least we are all there to lift each other up and there needs to be accountability for everyone to show up to practice daily." It is this highly collective and strong team component, not present in all elite training environments, for which attracted each of the MTC harriers. To have both a team and a second family. That same sentiment is carried over to the Mammoth community; the high regard for these elite runners is felt across all individuals, businesses, and walks of life. Here is a town eager to support those pursuing their passion at the highest of levels.
Hours previously spent studying and cooking are now spent recovering. "You are only as good as you can recover from your last workout. I strongly believe that sleep is the absolute most important tool to recover and stay healthy." Tapia's routine now includes much more massage therapy, ice baths, stretching, and stability work. "I used to think running was all that I needed to better my times. Now that I've had a few injuries however, I realized how important it is to incorporate strength, flexibility, and proactive recovery."
For Tapia, who has run a 2:14 marathon off of skimped sleep, incredible mental taxation, and limited time for extra recovery measures, one can only imagine how quickly the minutes will drop away from that PR living this 'new' life. With the support of his family and the ASICS Mammoth Track Club, he eagerly looks ahead to a fall or winter half-marathon and a full marathon next year, either the Los Angeles or Boston Marathon in the spring. "My goal is to put myself in the best position to be in contention for a spot on the 2016 Rio Olympics team in the marathon and whoever makes that team may very well have to run under 2:10 for the marathon."
Tapia discovered his love for running in his own time and for many years he balanced an amount of life stress exponentially higher than that of his competitors. Today, he is able to put his Olympic endeavors first. In reaching for higher goals he's given himself fully over to the 'runner' life and relishing every moment. "Right now I am really happy doing what I love and I would not trade my happiness for anything in the world."
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.