Rugby player, runner and Edinburgh-based customer, Dylan Russell, is taking on a year-long accumulator charity challenge, the @dr365challenge – 35km a week, every week, for 52 weeks – in aid of Hearts + Balls and Support & Offload. Run4It's Romain caught up with Dylan at the halfway point to see how he was faring...
You’re now halfway through your 365 Challenge, how do you feel physically and mentally?
Physically ok! I just find myself asking whether I just got used to being generally sore and niggly, or am I actually feeling good? Yet to be determined! Maybe I’ll have a proper answer in another 6 months time.
There have only been some weeks where I experienced niggles or I had the flu just after the summer, which had me dead run down and I struggled to fit in my weekly runs, but I managed to get them under the belt anyway.
But it’s going ok. It’s definitely tougher on a mental perspective than it has been physically, for the most part.
From a mental point of view it’s been pretty tough, especially coming into the winter (which I appreciate we’re just at the start of!). I can run in the daylight on my days off but the rest of the time it’s pitch black, and I do most of my runs on my own. So that’s been quite tough.
I guess it adds to the mental load knowing you have to run 35km per week, whatever happens in your work and personal life?
Yes, 100%. My partner will probably vouch for it, but sometimes when I come back from a busy week or couple of days at work and I know I have to drive myself out in the cold or in the rain, or the storm we had the other month, it doesn’t bring my best self at points.
But thankfully from a physical point of view, PBs are getting beaten and I’m probably the fittest I ever felt. It’s awesome. As I said, I had a few niggles, but I have been injury free and I managed to keep playing rugby at the same time, playing a handful of 5 and 7 tournaments. So it’s pretty awesome.
How do you manage to keep motivated?
I suppose it’s really just that I’ve set myself the challenge and I’m probably the worst for noising things up before I’ve actually done it or put a lot of thought into it. I’m too far deep now! I’m simply stubborn enough not to quit.
The driving factor is also the two charities I’m doing it for. It’s knowing that the more I push myself through, the bigger the reward should be for them at the end of the challenge.
This is why I thought I’d plan something big for the halfway mark of the challenge and at the end as well. As if running 35km a week for a year wasn’t enough!
Can you tell us more about the challenge you’ll be doing on New Year’s day?
I will be doing the David Goggins 4x4x48 challenge, which consists of running 4 miles, every 4 hours, for 48 hours. I’ll then end up with 48 miles under the belt in those 2 days!
A friend of mine did it during the lockdown last year. I thought ‘4 miles, how hard can that be?’. But it’s the whole repetitiveness of it with the short rest and accumulated fatigue that made me want to do it, to celebrate making it to the halfway mark of the 365 challenge. I don’t know how enjoyable it will be!
It’s going to be cold, wet and I know that knees, ankles, and calves all start to feel those runs more in this weather.
Have you changed anything to help you recover better week in week out and make those winter runs easier?
Footwear wise, I started off with a pair of ASICS Novablast: they were great, nice and light! I felt really quick in them. I’ve not dropped a huge amount of weight so I’m still a fairly sturdy frame for a runner, that’s why I think I started to feel more niggles in my ankles and joints as the challenge went on. I went back to the Run4It Edinburgh Lothian Road shop to get a different pair: the ASICS Gel-Kayano 28. They are heavier than the Novablast but I felt they offered more support during my runs, with softer cushioning. They definitely help me run at a more even pace, as I’d sometimes set off too fast in the Novablast!
The other thing I factored in is the use of CBD oils and rubs to aid recovery. I use the oil with coffee for that extra boost in the morning and then a rub just before bed to help the muscles recover.
Finally, kit wise, I’ve never run so much in long sleeves. With the weather we’ve had and the frequency of the runs, it’s definitely not allowed for running in t-shirts or vests like I would normally do! I was always one for overheating when I was running, so the idea of running in a jacket and mid-layer didn’t appeal at first. But just coming home and being dry makes a huge difference. On windy days too, a technical windbreaker is super beneficial.
It probably sounds obvious to all the well seasoned runners out there, but this is something I had to learn. This is something I had never factored in - you think that even wet and cold you’ll be able to run well but on some runs I felt it was taking a lot more out of me, at a pace I usually maintain easily. So the weather, and ultimately the layering system, plays a huge role (especially in Scotland!).
What has been our favourite day or week of running during this challenge so far?
When lockdown hit last year, I set myself performance based goals. I couldn’t go to the gym, I couldn’t play rugby, so if I didn’t set myself a goal to work towards, I was going to fall out of training. And I like to eat, so if I don’t train, this is just a recipe for disaster!
I set myself three goals: I wanted to run a sub-20mn 5k, I wanted a new half marathon PB and I wanted to cycle 100k in one go. I ticked off the sub-20 5k and the 100k cycle before the start of my 365 challenge. I thought the half marathon PB would have to wait.
But the other week, and this is why it stands out from the others so far, I went out for a run and I knew I needed to run a big distance so that I didn’t have to run too much in Dubai (I went there for a rugby tournament). I did a few runs close to the HM distance at a pace that would have gotten me a PB and I thought if I kept running a bit longer this would probably be my PB. My personal best was 1h53mn and that was the first HM I had ever run.
So the other week I went out for a run before catching my flight to Dubai: I was feeling good and didn’t feel I was forcing the pace too much. So I kept going and thought at some point that if I pushed the pace a bit more I could finish around the 1h45mn mark. I finished in just over 1h41mn, knocking 12mn off my previous PB. I was over the moon with this result.
Ticking off that final goal that I set myself was a special moment for me.
That just shows how consistency and more structured training plays a huge role in improving running performance?
Yes, 100%. I do a lot of heart rate work and the pace that is now what would be my Zone 2 run, is a pace I was struggling to hold doing intervals a year ago. The consistency and the measurable improvements have been amazing.
Is your objective just to go out and complete the weekly distance or do you have a structure?
It really depends on the week to be honest. Some weeks if it’s been work heavy or a manic week, I just go out and I just want it done and over with.
But similarly, on the flipside of that, one of the ways I managed to keep motivating myself to do longer runs for instance, is by breaking it up into intervals. So it’s a combination of everything.
For this second half of the 365 challenge, I’ll need to keep some structure in my training to help get through my final challenge (similar to the Goggins challenge).
Has your perspective on running changed since you started the 365 challenge?
Running used to be a tick box type of exercise for me. Like I wanted to achieve a half marathon and maybe push myself more at some point to achieve a marathon.
I think I have become addicted to running now. And I never thought I’d be into it all. I remember thinking doing extra running outside of rugby wasn’t for me. I’d run during my rugby training, that’s all.
And now, one thing I’ve noticed is that running has become a form of release as well. If I've had a stressful day at work, as much as I hate to drag myself out and run, I do feel so much better for it once I’ve done it. The whole mantra of the charities I’m supporting, about the mental wellbeing through being active, is just huge.
You might find it difficult now to stop or reduce your running after the challenge. What is your plan after this?
I know, this my worry, when 1st of June comes about, do I just stop? I’m sure there’ll be something else, but I don’t know what it will be. I like the idea of maybe training toward an Ironman or maybe having a year not as heavy on running and giving rugby another full concentration for the year. But I don’t know what it’ll be yet.
With regards to the end of the challenge, I don’t want to give too much away yet but it will pretty much involve distances over consecutive days and over various locations. It’s probably as specific as I can be right now. But a lot of travelling, a lot of running and as far as I’m aware I’ll be the first to have done it, so I’m filled with a little bit of dread but a lot of excitement too.
That sounds really good, we’ll follow you closely on Instagram. Tremendous effort so far and we wish you all the best for the rest of your challenge!