It’s only April and Patrick Russell, 31, of Minneapolis already has three wins under his belt this year. Unfortunately, the race he was keying for, the U.S. Road 100K Championships, which were in Madison, Wisconsin last weekend, didn’t go as well as he had planned. Patrick completed 5.5 of the 10K laps before pulling the plug on his first ever DNF. Luckily, as they say, “We learn more from our bad races than we do our good races.” Based on his answers, it appears Patrick has indeed learned a few things from Saturday’s race.
You just ran the U.S. Road 100K Championships in Madison. Can you tell us a little about how your training went and the race; what was your goal, how’d the race progress and what were your results?
As for the race, I’m still sorting it all out in my head at the moment, “taking stock” so to speak. The short story is that it didn’t go well. It was my first DNF and I’m finding it hard to be objective at the moment. There is a bit of a “This is the end of the world,” feeling to it, but I know I’ll regain my senses after a good night’s sleep. I’ve been through this before unfortunately.
The training was good, not great, leading up to the race. I had good overall volume for January, February and March, which is actually good volume for anytime of year. I averaged 100 mpw over that time with a high of 131. I had a good mix of hard track workouts, longer tempo runs/workouts, and a few long runs. I did miss a couple of my longer, ultra specific runs due to weather in February and early March. In retrospect that probably played a small part in Saturday’s result. Actually, I didn’t even get a result, did I? “Outcome” seems more appropriate. Regardless, I felt confident going into the race.
My goals for the race were more on the subjective side. I thought winning was a possibility, but I was determined to be passive the first half of the race no matter what was going on in front of me. My first tier goal was to finish under 7:20, which would have qualified me for the World Cup team again this year. After that I wanted a new PR and a sub-7 hour finish. Looking back now I wish I had just finished.
When we got to the start it was about as cold and windy as we thought it was going to be. I had been crossing my fingers that we would luck out and the conditions would be a little better than the forecast, but it was probably around 20 degrees and close zero with the wind chill. Really the course was set up as well as it could be for the direction of the wind. The difficult stretches were pretty short; one of the advantages of a 10k loop course.
I ended up finishing 5.5 loops. I was at or near the front the whole time, but didn’t feel very confident about my chances. Greg Crowther [race winner] looked great throughout the race, even though he slowed down towards the finish. I, on the other hand, just felt labored from about lap two on. My energy was fine, but my legs felt beat up almost right the get-go. This is where the big error in my training was. I really pushed myself through some aches and pains that I should not have. Namely, my left…well, just my left everything. I needed to pay more attention to those [aches and pains] with therapy or rest. I was able to get through my training runs and workouts, but when it was “all-in” come race time, my body was just too beat up to handle the pounding for 60k, forget about 100k.
The course was rolling with gradual up hills and a couple sharp downhills. The downhills did me in. On the sixth time around I went down one at three miles and felt spasms through my left hamstring, butt, and lower back. It just locked up, forcing me to stiff-leg it for a minute or two. Finally I tried to walk it off and that was all she wrote. I couldn’t get going again. I was reduced to walking the rest of the loop back to the start/finish. End of race.
I have to mention that I didn’t have the worst day out there. Sonya Anderson-Decker ran a great race up to 90k when all of sudden she succumb to hypothermia and was carted off to the hospital. I haven’t seen complete results, but I’m sure the attrition rate was high. It makes my little pity part seem silly.
Have you made any U.S. teams?
I was a member of the U.S. teams for the 2005 and 2006 World Cup 100km. They were both great experiences overall, but the second was sub-par race. I felt I was in good shape and challenged myself to run with the leaders as long as I could. Unfortunately, it isn’t really possible to “gut out” the last 50k of a 100k race. You need to run smart. But I was testing my limits and it didn’t work out. That’s part of the learning curve.
How’d you get involved in running? Did you run in H.S. or college? If so, where?
My story is pretty typical. My dad was a cross country coach at a small high school in Wisconsin and I would occasionally accompany him to practice or local road races. My parents never pushed me into running, I more or less gravitated towards it because I was exposed to it and seemed to be better than average. I ran cross country and track at North High School in Eau Claire. I was somewhat successful; qualifying for the state meets as an individual a couple of times, but, on the whole, I would say I underachieved. That seems to be a theme with me, but then again maybe I’m being a little harsh. I went to college at UM-Duluth where I experienced some highs and lows athletically, as well as academically. It was a tumultuous five years emotional development-wise and that was reflected in my running, very inconsistent and not really that much improvement. I did qualify provisionally for nationals in the steeplechase my last year, but missed the cutoff by 3/10ths, I believe.
When did you start doing ultras? What’s your favorite distance to race?
My first ultra was the 2004 Edmund Fitzgerald 100km. The conditions weren’t unlike Saturday, in fact. Of course, the Ed Fitz is in October! Ultras are definitely a different type of challenge. I like to think it has given me a different perspective on the shorter races, in that once you’ve run for seven hours, a two and half hour marathon doesn’t seem so bad. Obviously, the relative speeds are quite different.
I don’t know if I have a favorite distance. If pressed I would say the 10M to half-marathon distances.
2007 has started off pretty well for you with victories at the Winter Carnival Half Marathon, Human Race 8K and the Get your Rear in Gear 5K. What else do you have planned for the year? What are your goals for 2007?
It was a lot more defined before Saturday. A lot of things seemed more defined before then, in fact. I had penciled in the World Cup in September (the ultimate jinx). That is probably off now. I don’t have a qualifying time, but I could try again at the Ice Age 50M in May. Obviously, that is not very attractive right now. Like I said, a good night’s sleep may change my outlook. Even before Saturday’s race I was planning to focus on a marathon next year. Now I think I’ll move up the timetable to this fall, probably Twin Cities or Chicago. The silver lining is that, if I can heal up, I didn’t really go into the reserves, so I’m relatively fresh. Coming back should be easier. Over the summer I would like to take a shot at sub-50 minutes at Lumberjack Days 10M and a sub-30 10k sometime in August. I really feel stupid talking about times I want to run after just dropping out of a race. It doesn’t seem like I’ve earned the right to speculate.
What are your PRs?
½ Marathon: 1:07
50k (trail): 3:15
50M: 5:34 (road split) 6:01 (trail)
Is there anyone with better range from 5K to 100K?
Actually I think my versatility is overstated. Like I told Charlie Mahler, running is running. I think the success I’ve had has less to do with my ability and more to do with the relative dearth of our best talent running ultras. That’s not to say I’m not proud of my achievements, but I think you could take the guys running the [Olympic] Marathon Trials in November, throw them in a 100k and half of them would run as well or better than I have. And believe me nothing would please me more than to see that. I want to know that I’ve earned my accolades by running against the very best, not simply because I showed up.
Obviously, you can compete at shorter distances with some of the local guys that have qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon and you’re obviously very good at ultras. How come your marathon PR is “only” 2:25?
I don’t know if there is a simple reason for my marathon PR. Mainly it is because I haven’t focused on a marathon since Grandma’s 2003. That race went so horribly for me I just decided I needed a break from that distance and that coincided with the genesis of my ultra-running phase (which may or may not have passed after Saturday). I think I’ve experimented a lot with various training regimens while I’ve been running ultras and with that knowledge I feel like I’m ready to tackle another marathon. It looks like I’ll get that chance sooner rather than later.
Would you like to run in the Olympic Trials Marathon in November?
That was the hardest thing in deciding about what to focus on this year. I felt this could be my last chance to qualify for the Trials, but I still had a desire to see what I could do at the 100k. In the end I didn’t feel ready to take on a spring marathon yet and this was also the first year in awhile there was going to be a 100k championship. If I do decide to run a fall marathon I would like to qualify for the Trials just to compete, but I won’t be devastated if it doesn’t happen for me.
What’s your training philosophy? How do you go about setting up your cycle/year?
I don’t know if I have a real firm training philosophy. It probably falls somewhere between Lydiard and Daniels. Sometimes, I think people get a little too caught up in formal phases. I tend to look at training as cumulative over the years, so I don’t see the point in setting aside 8-10 weeks strictly for base every season. I tend to classify my workouts in a similar manner to Daniels, but work in more volume and longer long runs. After Saturday I’m painfully aware of the value of supplemental training like weights and core workouts. Those will work their way into my regimen as soon as I’m healed.
I’m usually looking to “peak” twice a year, spring and fall, but it largely depends on what races I’m considering doing. This year things were accelerated a bit since the 100k Champs were in April.
What was your training like over the winter? Do you focus mainly on base building or do you tend to touch on speed throughout the year?
Winter tends to be more of a base phase, but I try to work in some workouts spread out over a few weeks. I try to keep a balance year round, but have certain areas I focus on as the season progresses. Winter tends to be strength, spring is threshold, and summer/early fall is more speed/VO2max type workouts. I’m doing those types of workouts year round, but more or less of each depending on what the focus is at the time.
Do you have a benchmark workout that you like to do leading up to a key marathon or ultra?
It really depends on what I’ve done through the training cycle. Sometimes a certain workout just clicks and I end up repeating it a few times. I’ll use that to measure my progress. I do tend to like 1Ks. I’ll start out with 8-10 with 1 min rest and build up to 15 reps. I usually consider that my half-marathon pace and base my goals/expectations off that. For ultras I like doing a hard 20 miles. The first time I do it I like to be around 6:00 pace and by the end I’m looking for 5:30-5:40’s.
Do you have a favorite local/national race? Why?
The Human Race [8K] has been especially kind to me. I think the slowest I’ve run there is 25:00, which is pretty good for such an early race in the season.
Who do you enjoy training with the most?
I do 99% of my training alone, so I guess, yours truly. I wish I did more of it, because I find that I run more relaxed in a group. As it is I’m usually really pressing in most of my runs, even the supposedly easy days. I rarely get to run with him, but Chris Lundstrom is one of my favorites. The nicest guy you’ll ever meet and very interesting to talk to.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
What about future? I call dibs on the Lemkuhle/Nicolini offspring. As for the ghosts of running past, I would have to say Barney Klecker. In my mind he is vastly underrated when talk of Minnesota running legends comes up, from what I’ve seen anyway. He had some real range.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d know when you first started running?
I would have to say just about everything. The importance of patience would be a big one. But I don’t regret how things have turned out. I don’t think I ever considered that I would still be running my best at the ripe old age of 31. I can’t complain.
If you’d like to learn more about Patrick, check out his blog.