L.A. Woman: Blake Russell Storms Back For Her First U.S. Marathon Championship at Age 39

(All images courtesy of KTLA 5)

Last Sunday morning, I could not believe my eyes as I watched the live feed of the L.A. Marathon on KTLA 5 : 39-year old Blake Russell was still in the lead pack deep into the race.

What was I so surprised? Perhaps it was the fact that Russell had not finished a marathon in seven years. I was surprised probably because the entire week media had been promoted the race as “Sara Hall’s Breakthru / Debut Marathon” and considered Hall to be a favorite; Russell was barely mentioned. Maybe I was suprised because being close 40-years old is a bit of a cut off for both men’s and women’s elite marathoners. However, in the end, it was Blake Russell who was just 47 seconds off first place, earning her first U.S. Marathon Championship in a pre-Olympic year with a 2:34:57.

What will 2016 hold for this 2008 Olympian with the Olympic Trials lingering ahead in eleven months? The OTM will back on this very same course in Los Angeles on February 13, 2016.

By Michael J. Atwood / CoachAtwood.com / HistoryofSantaMonica.com

Mike is a freelance blogger from the Boston, Massachusetts area who can be contacted at CoachMikeAtwood@me.com or (508) 243-2591 for comments. He Tweets at @AtwoodWrites.

1) Hi Blake. Thanks for taking the time to talk with CoachAtwood.com Blog.

First and foremost, congrats on a fantastic race at the L.A. Marathon and for winning the U.S. Championship. How are you recovering after this breakthrough race?

I was in a world of hurt for about three days with the usual quad and calf stuff, walking down the stairs backwards etc…I think a marathon is hard, but factoring in the heat took its toll a little more. I took a week off and now I just plan on running easy for a few weeks.

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2) This was the first marathon you completed in seven years, and completed with a win, at that. What happened over that time period to slow down your progress and success back in 2007- 2008 leading into the Beijing Olympics?

I’ve been here putting in some good work and squeaking out some good races like a Team Bronze medal at World XC in 2011, or placing top four or so at USA track and road races over the years, but I have definitely not been as consistent as I was prior to (having) kids. I just had a lot of inconsistency with injuries slowing me down, illnesses and childcare stuff.

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3) Tell me about your training. How much mileage are you doing? How do you set up your week with tempo, speed, and long runs?

I am usually on the low side, it’s pretty easy for me to get 90-100 in for a marathon, but this time I tried to hover around 115-120. I try and do the easy runs and workouts as fast as I can which means I run from my front door, or might drive ten minutes to another location. My weeks kind of vary. I was trying out a ten day cycle which gave me more recovery time and allowed me to do an interval workout, a marathon pace workout, and a long run every about every two or three days.

4) There seemed to be a quick break around 20 miles and you dropped back into 4th with the Japanese runnerMao Kuroda. However, around 22 miles you perked up and came back to move into third. What happened to “wake” you back up and go for it? You were closing so hard, I thought you might grab 2nd, maybe even the win.

Yes, I was feeling good around the 20-mile mark and picked it up a little with Kuroda. Guess I was still a little hesitant to just go for it at that point (hind site is 20/20) I wanted to make sure I was first American and played it a little safe. I also was not sure if the finish line banner was 26 miles or 26.2. I couldn’t see too far, but every other banner had been a mile marker. I certainly had more in me for a kick, but I’m not complaining.

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5) I’ve read you run on a treadmill for your second run every day, a night. I dragged my three kids to the YMCA to child care to do my winter runs but I have to say, getting up to 7 miles on the “Dreadmill” even with music, makes me a little whacky. How did it help you get ready? The pacing?

Oh yeah, I feel your pain. You know when it is your only option you talk yourself into it. When my husband started a new job and had to be out the door by 5 am, I knew we had to buy one. I was fine with it, but I said I needed a TV. HGTV is my saving grace! The good thing was it did allow me to practice hydrating and got my body used to sweating more than if I was outside.

6) Financially, without corporate sponsorship, how did you make for the last seven years? Did L.A. give you any appearance money as a former Olympian?

I was with Reebok until the end of 2012. When I made a comeback from 2104, I thought I could get equipment from them or someone else. Even after a 3rd at a USA 20k Champs… nothing. So, I finally gave up and just focused on getting fit. If there were appearance fees at LA I did not see any. I drove down and paid for my own hotel. With the family there, I actually spent a couple thousand yikes!

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7) What races are ahead for you? As the U.S. Champion, you have to be considering the Olympic Trials and taking a shot at the team again. With injured stars and aging former Olympians, do feel you still have to believe you have a shot in 2016? (BTW, I DO!)

Honestly, I am still in recovery mode and need to whip out a calender and make a plan. I actually feel very confident that I can run much faster and fast enough to be in contention for a spot on the 2016 team. It’s a actually a really exciting challenge in front of me.

8) How do you fuel during your races? Do you have a special fluid bottles or is race water and Gatorade? I noticed elite runners – especially the Kenyan men – taking a ton of water during the race due to the heat.

Yes, I did use the option of the fluid table. Elites are spoiled for sure, and I managed to get them at every stop. LA had them every 4 miles as opposed to every 5k like most marathons, so by the end I was grabbing at cups of water and Gatorade though I was mostly wearing it or getting it up my nose.

9) What’s your diet like during a typical week?

Hmm. Diet. Mine is probably laughable compared to most elite runners. Morning is usually a cup of coffee and some special K cereal. I’ll eat a snack or have a smoothie after my morning workout, lunch is a sandwich, usually PB&J with some yogurt and granola, afternoon snacks like bread/peanut butter and honey, or almonds, fruit, string cheese. Dinner is usually chicken, steak or salmon, with rice and veggies, or regular or sweet potatoes. I also make homemade chocolate chip cookies almost every other day.

10) I ran 102 miles one week at Boston College as a sophomore. I used your technique of adding a second run, usually running 3 p.m. then again at 8-9 p.m. The result was a 14:47 5K and a P.R. in the steeple that spring. Tell me what runners can gain from that additional 5 miles per day – especially marathoners . How was your pace on these second runs?

I like to get at least 6 hours in between runs. I think the point of adding a second run is to not get your body too tired. If you want to get in 15 miles a day, it’s physically and mentally easier to do it at say 10 in the am and 5 in the pm. It might even be more helpful because you are stressing your body two times a day verses 1, not mention from a metabolism point of view, you stay elevated for 30 or more minutes after you are done working out. I run very easy on second runs now, usually about 7:15 pace at sea-level.

11) I know you’ve worked with Bob Sevene. Sev was a legend back here in Boston for his work with Joanie but also as an athlete and the coach of others in the community. However, this time you went solo as a coach. What went into that decision and how did it help your race so well at L.A.?

Yes, Sev is a legend and owe him almost my entire career. I always tease him that he all but carried me to the finish line when I made the Team in 2008. It was rough goings the year and a half prior.

I think coaching for me was just a natural progression, I knew I had a short window and wanted to try some new training. Sev is an amazing coach, but prefers to call the shots which works great unless you are as old and stubborn as myself.

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12) The L.A. Marathon press seemed to be raising Ryan and Sara Hall on a pedestal compared to the rest of the field. Ryan dropped out and Sara ran well for a bit but ended up debuting with a 2:48. What advice would you give to these guys about the future – especially Ryan who has DNF’d in two marathons in the last three years and ran a 2:17 at Boston last year – well off his 2:03. Is the marathon just a beast of a race that requires perfect execution and conditions?

Well, it’s hard to give advice when you don’t know how someone else is training. I respect both their coaches, Jack Daniels and Steve Magness, so at this point it seems a matter of just figuring it out a little more. The talent is there in both of them. They are both young and hungry, and will figure it out I am sure.

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