By Miriam Longobardi
To be an elite, award-winning runner, one may think it takes years of training and dedication from a young age. Not so for Armonk’s Danny Tateo, winner of New York Road Runner Club’s Runner of the Year.
As a teen, running was never his interest. Instead, Tateo participated in team sports such as baseball and football, mainly out of a search for admiration more than any great love for either sport. He described troubles at home which left him searching for something to boost his self-esteem.
Tateo left college to start his own business and soon after married his childhood sweetheart, Elena. “I knew she always liked me for me,” he said. He attributes the success of their marriage to mutual deep respect and admiration as well as commitment to putting their relationship first. The couple has two children, a daughter, Reese, 13, and son, Morgan, nine.
In his thirties, Tateo began to understand the concept of low self-esteem and recognized his habit of working to convince people that he was smart and successful. Still, he began seriously building up his muscles and admits much of his identity and what he valued about himself was associated with appearance.
At age 46, Tateo began incorporating running into his workouts, but strictly for aerobic benefit to his heart and lungs. He ran three times weekly for 30 minutes, careful not to lose too much muscle mass. “Finally one day I just kept going,” he said. Deciding it was time to grow up and stop trying to make people like him, he continued to run regularly and quickly dropped 35 pounds. “People thought I was sick or something,” he said, though he had stopped caring what others thought. He entered a 5k race in Armonk and finished in 20 minutes. Shortly after, he ran a 10k in Central Park and finished third. “I started thinking, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at this,’” Tateo said.
Not one to do anything halfway, he began immersing himself in learning about running. He read books about how to train, the physiology behind running and which muscles to build and strengthen to help run faster and more efficiently. “Learn, read, improve,” he said. In his research, he looked up the best runner in New York City at the time and learned it was Paul Thompson. Thompson was ranked nationally and had won Runner of the Year seven years straight. Tateo called and asked to train with him. Thompson agreed and they began meeting regularly in Central Park and nearby Rockefeller Preserve.
“It was a rude awakening!” Tateo exclaimed. “Long runs were hard for me.” Tateo’s average mileage was about 25 miles per week, while Thompson ran about 70 miles per week. “He really showed me the ropes,” he said of Thompson. Within a couple of years of training with Thompson, Tateo had built up his own personal endurance to between 87 and 93 miles per week and continued training. Five years after his first run, he looked up the finishing times of other Runner of the Year winners in various races, and the idea of achieving that goal for himself grew. Tateo researched the criteria.
In order to be considered for nomination of Runner of the Year, one has to run six races of varying distances within the year. Tateo placed first in one, fourth in another, and second in the other four races. To his delight, the New York Road Runner Board nominated Tateo, along with four others in his age group after considering distances, times and best finishers in all qualifying races.
On February 26, Tateo, with his family, joined hundreds of nominees from many running clubs at the Hard Rock Café for a dinner and award ceremony. “It was like the Oscars,” Tateo said. “They call your category and show all five nominees on the big screen. When they announced my name, my family and I went nuts!” A long night of celebrating followed.
The only downside for Tateo was that for more than four years he felt his family paid a heavy price for the training required to achieve his goal. “My family is everything to me. Without them I am nothing, and I plan to show them that through actions, not words.” Thompson asked Tateo to join the U.S. Track and Field team, which competes around the country. “I told him I can’t. My family needs me and they are the only people I will work for, and I will never regret that decision.”
He shared advice he gives to his daughter about goal-setting. “Focus on finding your strength, and formulate a dream, something you think is possible. Put your head down and go. One day you will look up and say ‘I did it!’”
Miriam Longobardi is a freelance writer, fourth grade teacher and single mother of two daughters living in Westchester. A breast cancer survivor, she volunteers for the American Cancer Society, has completed four marathons and travels the world. Follow her on Twitter @writerMimiLong.