During the first half of Sunday's California International Marathon, while being pelted by rain and battling a head wind, Daniel Tapia turned to the runner beside him and made a remark that sounded promising, if not downright surprising.
"He said he wasn't even breathing," Anthony Costales said of Tapia, a 26-year-old from Castroville and member of the Sacramento Running Association's elite team.
Tapia hovered with the leaders' pack as it dwindled from a dozen at the midpoint to three with a few miles to go. And then he pulled away on the streets of downtown Sacramento, crossing the finish line at 9th Street and Capitol Mall in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 29 seconds to win the 30th annual race.
Alisha Williams of Colorado Springs, Colo., won the women's race in 2:34:57, breaking away from the Bay Area's Clara Peterson in the last two miles to become the first American since Kristin Schwartz in 2000 to win the CIM.
Tapia became the first American to win the men's race since Joseph LeMay in 1999.
With runners falling off the pack along the tree-lined stretches of Fair Oaks Boulevard, Tapia said he waited to make a move until two others – Ethiopia's Tesfaye Alemayehu and Kenya's Christopher Kipyego – made theirs around mile 24.
"They went and nobody else went with them," Tapia said. "I was like, I'm going to go with them and just gamble, and if I die, I die. At least I'm still going to be (in the) top three unless I completely hit the wall.
"I did and I just felt strong."
Until then, Tapia said, he had been unusually patient. On a storm-tossed morning that brought out only the hardiest of spectators, a big group of the top runners stayed together for most of the race, none wanting to tackle the Folsom-to-Sacramento course alone.
"If it would've been 35 degrees with no head wind, I probably would've gone out fast like I did for my previous three marathons, and I probably would've tanked at the end," said Tapia, a student at the Monterey College of Law.
Instead, Tapia had enough left at the end to open a comfortable lead as he approached the Capitol, even hazarding a glance or two over his shoulder. Alemayehu finished second in 2:17:06, and Kipyego third with a time of 2:17:59.
Tapia, who finished 24th at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January in a personal-best time of 2:15:28, said he hadn't expected to collect the $10,000 winner's check, one of which also went to Williams. He said he was sick last week until Thursday, and his initial goal of finishing in 2:13 went away with the weather forecasts.
"Yesterday, I told some of the guys, man, if I'd have known it was like this, I wouldn't have come," Tapia said, smiling. "But I'm glad I came."
Williams planned to run the New York City Marathon until its cancellation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Shifting to the CIM required her to stay in race shape for a month more, and Williams admitted she was worried about the final six miles.
"We probably did about five marathon-specific workouts between New York and now, but I only got one long run in and it wasn't good," Williams, 30, said. "But my coach said don't panic. I felt really good the last six miles."
Williams, a financial analyst, beat her time from her only previous marathon – the Olympic Trials, where she also ran with Peterson, of San Anselmo. The two kept pace Sunday until about mile 24, Williams said, when she made a push for the end.
"I was terrified. I did not relax at all the last two miles," Williams said. "I had no idea where she was, and I know how good of a runner she is."
Peterson finished in 2:35:35, followed by Natalia Sergeeva, who placed third with a time of 2:38:22.
CALIFORNIA INTERNATIONAL MARATHON
Top five finishers only
1. Daniel Tapia, Castroville, 2:16:29
2. Tesfaye Alemayehu, Antioch, 2:17:06
3. Christopher Kipyego, Mexico, 2:17:59
4. Jason Ordway, Bellbrook, Ohio, 2:18:09
5. Nicholas Arciniaga, Flagstaff, Ariz. 2:18:36
1. Alisha Williams, Colo. Springs, Colo., 2:34:57
2. Clara Peterson, San Anselmo, 2:35:35
3. Natalia Sergeeva, New York, N.Y., 2:38:22
4. Alvina Begay Flagstaff, Ariz., 2:39:07
5. Marci Gage Phoenix, Ore., 2:39:19