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Run4It  •  Running Culture •  31.05.2021 •  13 min read

Real Runners: Dylan Russell on his 365 charity challenge


Rugby player, runner and Edinburgh-based customer, Dylan Russell, is taking on a year-long accumulator charity challenge, the dr365challenge, in aid of Hearts + Balls and Support & Offload. Starting 1st June 2021, Dylan will be running 35km a week, every week, for 52 weeks. In partnership with ASICS, Run4It are delighted to support Dylan with two pairs of running shoes for the challenge. Run4It's Romain caught up with Dylan to ask about his inspiration and running journey to date...

How did you get into running?

I’ve always been quite active. I’ve been a rugby player for a number of years now (since Under 15s) and my running journey started after one new year, when a couple of friends and I decided to sign up for a half marathon. We wanted to go to Barcelona, as we thought it would be a sweet location for a first race experience. But after a bit more thinking, we thought we should probably get a UK based one done first, before we attempt one in a warmer climate. So we all signed up to do the Scottish Half Marathon, the one just outside of Edinburgh in East Lothian. But circumstances changed and I ended up being the only one running, as all my friends pulled out!

That’s how I caught the running bug. I’m always looking for the next thing to do, so after this first half and a couple more afterwards, I signed up for the Edinburgh Marathon for charity. And then last year, because of the pandemic I couldn't play rugby and gyms were shut so there wasn’t anything else to do! So I got into running a bit more seriously.

The idea for an accumulator challenge

Through my rugby team we had a charity event in Summer 2020. It was a combined total distance challenge - we split up into two teams and we all went out to do solo runs to see which team could accumulate the most miles in one day, with a minimum target of 10km. And on that day, me and another guy ended up doing our first ultra marathon, we ran 50km! Lots of the guys pulled off half marathons and marathons without much training or running experience so we managed a pretty good distance in the end. The team I was in covered 416km and the rival team 408km. So then, I kept up with running last year and I thought “where can I go with this?” and this is how the 365 Challenge came about.

Rugby is still my main sport. Normally this time of year I would be playing Rugby 7s. It all starts to open up again as of June 2021. We have our first tournament next month and I’m planning to do a few more this year.

back of dylan russell with 365 challenge vest
Photo credit: Oscar James OJ Media

How do you approach your running training then, compared with rugby?

I have been working with my rugby team coach, Andy Smith, for a number of years now. He owns LIFT Gyms in Edinburgh, so I’ve been working with him and he pretty much sets my programme for me. It includes a wide range of different types of runs. For instance, I have short interval based sessions, tempo sessions and a few longer distance ones. I like having the guidance from him, it makes it a lot easier.

Measurable progress

The main thing I love about running is to see the evolution of my training and looking back at the time I used to run. Like during a 45min interval session when I used to cover 7km, I now manage to cover 10km. It’s really quite motivating. It’s similar to being in the gym and lifting heavier weights and doing more repetitions. With running you also have your measurable goals.

Have you always had this structure in your running training or is this quite new?

I have followed more of a structured programme over the last year, mainly because I couldn’t plug in gym sessions. But prior to that my running was very much like how most people approach it. For my first half marathon for example, I thought if I could just run 8 miles in training then I could run the half. But I had no idea about pacing, hydration and nutrition. I was just running. Whereas now my understanding of it is a lot better. You can’t run a 10k at your 5k pace or you’re just going to crash!

What’s your favourite type of training session?

I have always been built for rugby so the transition to running obviously brought a few challenges. To begin with, the long steady zone 2 heart rate sessions were a struggle. I couldn’t keep my heart rate low. It just felt like I needed to walk to keep it low! But in the last block of my training for the 365 Challenge it became my favourite run of the week – it was a chance to get out and soak up the surroundings at an enjoyable steady pace.

When the challenge comes next week it’s quite good to know that if I get caught up with work etc. I have the endurance to pull off a 15km run for example to help catch myself back up.

What’s your favourite route/location to run?

I’m just outside of Edinburgh in East Lothian and we’ve got the River Esk which runs through Musselburgh and to Whitecraig. I like going out there. There’s a nice path out the back of Whitecraig that loops towards Dalkeith. It’s a nice route as well coming back in. It’s all relatively flat! With the forest along that path you also get a bit of wind shelter. Where I am it’s also really easy to go out on coastal routes. But regardless of which direction you’re going, you’ll be hit with a headwind!

I like to vary my routes depending on the session I do but the river is definitely one of my favourites.

dylan russell running
Photo credit: Oscar James OJ Media

Have you planned different routes for your 365 Challenge?

I think I’ll definitely mix it up as much as possible. I’m quite familiar of course with some of the local routes but I always enjoy discovering new places to run as well. A lot of my friends are rugby players and are into keeping fit and active, so I’ll probably be doing a bit of travelling to get runs in different locations with them. Also, my fiancée is from Manchester so we’re heading down there towards the end of next month for 4 nights, so I’ll have to get some runs in there.

Further afield, I have a Rugby 7s tournament (fingers crossed it goes ahead) in Dubai in December. We’ll be over there for over a week, so I’ll have to get some miles in there. I’m also planning a family trip to Germany at the start of next year, when the challenge is still underway. So yeah, I’m quite excited about taking on this challenge and getting to run in different locations, countries, places I never ran before.

Tell us more about the nature of your 365 Challenge?

I’m planning to run 35km a week, every week, for a year, which equates to 5km everyday. Initially I thought I’d go for 5km a day but then my coach cautioned that it only takes one thing, whether it’s an injury, a family emergency, etc. to derail everything. Whereas I could aim for 35km a week and I’ll be covering the same distance, but could factor in some longer, more impressive runs which would challenge the body even more. There’s still going to be that mental battle from the fact that one week could derail a bit and if I’m behind, it won’t matter if it hails or if it snows, I’ll still have to get out and get the distance in.

I’ve definitely noticed over this last training block how hard the consistency is going to be. For example, last week something came up with work and I had a few little niggles so I took a few extra mobility sessions during the week rather than going for a run. So to catch up with the sessions I missed I had to combine a few sessions at the weekend - I did the equivalent of 6 sessions over the two days. If it had been during the challenge I wouldn’t have managed the 35km! That was a bit of a turning point for me!

Tell us more about Hearts + Balls and Support & Offload, the two charities you’re supporting through this challenge?

Hearts + Balls – Helping rugby help its own

I’ve been involved with Hearts + Balls for a number of years because they’re directly linked with the Rugby 7s team, Hearts + Balls and the Mighty Bovs (HBMB7s) that I play for and organize. They’re a rugby charity that pretty much help support ex rugby players that have had life changing injuries. Some of the things they do, if it’s a career ending injury then they can help and support by giving them access to uni courses or the resources to study from home.

It’s a charity that I always felt close to. I had a few injuries over the years but I was always lucky enough to get back on my feet and get back at it in the end.

For the guys in the rugby community, it’s a sport that we all love and we put so much effort into it. It’s horrible to think of having it suddenly taken away and not having the possibility to do so many other things. So for me it was a no brainer when I was thinking about the charity I wanted to go for for my 365 Challenge.

Support & Offload – Combating mental health issues through sport and exercise

The second charity, Support & Offload, is a newer one run by a couple of close friends of mine. It’s about tackling the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s obviously quite a prevalent topic today. They encourage people to look after their mental health and wellbeing, and try to raise awareness about it.

People aren’t necessarily naturally equipped to handle stressful situations. It’s something that I’ve come across in my line of work. I’m a manager of an opticians and it’s something you’ve got to familiarise yourself with in order to be able to help those around you and offer the right support. That pushed me to do a mental health course for example.

The charity’s mission is to reduce any stigma that surrounds seeking help for mental illness and one of the ways to do that is through inclusion and sports. It’s about getting people to try team sports at an early age and have people around them that they can talk to. The pro clubs can have the resources to make it more accessible and focus on it, but at the amateur levels we also need to give them the opportunity to have those discussions. So I know that the money raised through this challenge will be put to good use in both charities.

Where did the idea for '5K a day' come from?

My Dad is also into running and he set himself goals that he wanted to tick off before he turned 50 last year. He did a 5k everyday for 50 days. He’s always been fitter than me and I think I only just have the edge over him now, but I thought his challenge was interesting and I wondered how far you could go with that idea.

It's the consistency of the challenge that’s difficult and not necessarily the actual distance. You can go out and run a slow 5k and it will feel relatively easy. So I thought there was something to do there.

What running shoes will you use?

Courtesy of you guys at Run4It, I’ve got the ASICS Novablast (Tokyo edition). I’m a big fan of them. The first week I got them I did a real mixture of sessions and a half marathon on the weekend and they felt really good from the get go.

I have tried running shoes before that felt clunky and I just wanted something that was a neat fit and lightweight. I noticed the difference straight away and have advised my mates who’ve started running to go have their gait checked and get some advice to choose the best running shoes.

Prior to the Novablasts, I had the ASICS Dynaflyte that I kept replacing for the newer editions. The Dynaflytes were the ones I picked when I first had my gait analysed at your Edinburgh Lothian Road store. I’m heading back in a couple of days to choose a second pair to rotate during my challenge and make sure nothing’s changed gait wise.

What are you looking for from that second pair of running shoes?

I’m torn to be honest! My head says to go for something quite similar to the ASICS Novablast purely based on the routes I’m running. All my runs are city based so I run on pavements and I like the springy feel I get from the Novablast, I feel like I get a quick turnover. But another part of me wonders if I should look for something a bit different. Maybe even explore a trail option if I want to venture in the Pentlands.

I think it’ll be a last minute decision on the day and I’m quite interested to hear what the guys in the Lothian Road store will advise me.

During his recent visit to Run4It Edinburgh for +runlab analysis, Dylan chose a pair of ASICS Gel-Kayano 28s, finding he required some added stability. The Kayano 28 sits in our 'Stability Soft' category and is a maximum cushioned stability shoe that offers a high level of protection and support – ideal for high-mileage. The 28th edition feels noticeably springier than previous models thanks to a lively FlyteFoam Blast top layer (the same cushioning used in the Novablast).

What’s your plan in terms of nutrition and hydration?

My coach, Andy Smith, factors nutrition into my training programme too. I’ve trained with him for years, but typically in the past, I'd do extra at the gym or on the rugby pitch and be a bit lax with what I’m eating. Now I'm paying more attention to the nutrition side of things. He’s giving me more guidance on calorie content for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. My water consumption has been a big thing too with my job, being on my feet all day doing various tasks. It’s always important to keep hydrated throughout the day. It was something that I definitely struggled with when I was marathon training.

Thankfully I’ll be going into a bit of calorie surplus for the challenge! Over the last few months, I dropped a little bit of weight to help me achieve some of the running goals I set myself. Now I’m at the kind of weight where I feel good and pretty quick when I’m out on a run. But I also feel solid and strong enough for my rugby training. I need to make sure that when the kilometers start to rack up, I don’t drop weight.

What about other kit?

I’ve had a lot of support from Edinburgh-based brand Rival Kit. They do a lot of sports kits for rugby and hockey teams. They made me custom running clothing for my 365 Challenge, which looks amazing. I’ve definitely made some rookie errors in the past, like heading out for long runs without proper technical clothing and we all know the issues that arise off the back of that!

We wish Dylan all the best with his 365 Challenge! 

Instagram links…

Coach Andy Smith @pretty_powerlifter

It’s the consistency of the challenge that’s difficult and not necessarily the actual distance.

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