Monday, October 31, 2016

He Who Raced Most: Interview with Ben Russell

With all due respect to Afton Ware and Mandy Oscarson (8 Utah tris), no one raced more this season than Ben Russell.

We reported on a total of 18 Utah triathlons (34 total races when you count sprint, olympic, etc), but with some races occurring on the same day, there were 13 race opportunities.

Ben raced 9 of them, and come to find out, he was probably doing a marathon, a Spartan race, or a kids' fun run on the other weeks! 

We wanted to recognize this racing fiend for being atop our list and get to know him a little better... thanks for the time, Ben!

What’s your athletic background and how did you get into triathlon?

This is actually a funny/sad story. I played multiple High School sports and my favorite was basketball. I did best at cross country and track which I only did to stay in shape for my other sports but quickly became my most competitive event. In college I still ran and worked out but my primary sport was ballroom dance (true story, got me married!). But as I started working and opening up my own business I stopped being active altogether. I gained weight and lost all semblance of endurance or athleticism. It was July of 2015 actually that changed everything for me. My 64 year old uncle challenged me to do a Super Sprint Triathlon with him in Tooele, UT. Think a 5K, 10 Mile bike, and 300 yard swim (yes, just 300 yards!). I didn't think I could do it honestly but the fact that my Uncle over twice my age was calling me out did me in. I did horrible, almost cried from pain on the bike, and nearly drowned in a 25 yard pool! But it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Let’s cut to the chase… it’s been rumored that you refer to everyone who raced fewer than 9 tris this season as “a basket of deplorables.” Can you elaborate? What would you say to encourage people to race more often?

Don't know about the "deplorables" part but I do like to get into it with the "A" race type mentality. It's just two different ways of approaching the sport I think. If you are a pro or on the verge of pro and have Kona goals or sponsors and have a shot at taking overall or your age group in a major event I think the "A" race and "B" race mentality makes perfect sense and is necessary for your top performance. For the rest of us (think almost all endurance athletes) this just isn't the case. Racing is why we do what we do. Testing our physical and more so our psychological and emotional strength and grit is done on race day. It's the atmosphere, the competition, the performing at a level you never thought possible, the pushing forward even though you are under-performing, the competitive respect for those beating you, and the thrill of passing someone else. That is why we get up at 5 AM all year or stay out late on a ride or run instead of a million other hobbies. To sum up, "If you are running, biking, and swimming this weekend anyways; might as well do it in a race!"

What are the 3 things you love most about racing?

For me personally it’s the test of fitness in a competitive atmosphere. And I don't just mean physical fitness. I want to know how tough I am, when it comes down to it, when I want to quit and everything hurts; I want to know my limit of when my mind will say, "NO!". And when I find it, I want to burst through it, overcome it, and come out the other side a better husband, father, and business owner because of it. That elusive mental wall and overcoming it is what I seek in every race, much more so than winning. Winning is nice too however and I don't mind when it happens!

What was your favorite and least favorite thing about each of your tris this year?

1) Icebreaker (RaceTri)

Favorite: Atmosphere was awesome! Aaron Shamy’s speeches are worth the price of admission alone. Also the Iron Cowboy James Lawrence had a moving speech at this one as well for first time triathletes that I took to heart.

Least favorite: Cold, but it made the event cool and unique while making it miserable all at the same time.

2) Ghost Town (TriUtah)

Favorite: Just a "Fun" race. Cowboy hat across the finish and pizza after. Just a good time.

Least Favorite: Personal performance, had some severe tendonitis that stuck around most of the season, couldn't bend my knee by end of run. So I didn't enjoy this as much as I could have.

3) Salem (RaceTri)

Favorite: The course, it was fantastic and very well marked.

Least Favorite: not the most pristine body of water but besides that it’s great.

4) Daybreak (USTriSports)

Favorite: Big turn out and difficult hilly course. Great course layout and good spectator support.

Least Favorite: ditto Salem. Fantastic race though.

5) Rockcliff (RaceTri)

Favorite: The location is second to none!! Seriously, so beautiful up there. The run actually goes on a trail for half and was just beautiful.

Least Favorite: Honestly, I have nothing. Everything for the race and me personally was perfect this day. Stars aligned!

6) Echo (TriUtah)

Favorite: Huge turnout, lots of energy and had a cool conversation with Chris Hammer who killed the event. Great out and back course on both bike and run so you know exactly where you stand.

Least Favorite: Didn’t seem to have as much post-race “fanfare” as some others, but another awesome event.

7) Utah Half (RaceTri)

Favorite: Bike course once you get out of the city, flat and fast and well supported. Also loved to see Aaron Shamy make a great race despite a deadly algae bloom that popped up week of the race in Utah Lake.

Least Favorite: Just a personal performance on this one. Knee swelled up and I had to walk for the first and only time in a race in my life. Looking forward to next year and being able to create a different memory on this one.

8) Black Ridge (RaceTri)

Favorite: Whew, loved this one. Such a fun and diverse course. And personally it was one of my favorite moments as I did this and performed very well, then drove straight up to the UT Spartan Super and did that right after on the same day. Great day for Ben Russell overcoming mental adversity!

Least Favorite: I have nothing, another one where the stars aligned and I think everyone there had an awesome experience.

9) Yuba

Favorite: Cool course, pretty lake, great for making a family camping vacation out of it.

Least Favorite: Huge boat ramp run out of swim, and just didn't perform well personally, off day.

After all those races, what’s your podium for favorites overall and why?

Selfishly I loved the ones I performed best but trying to be unbiased based on personal performance but thinking of the race location, course, and atmosphere I would say: 1) Rockcliff 2) Black Ridge 3) Icebreaker / Salem (tie)

people who raced >5 of the 13 Utah tri weekends
Based on this season, the book’s out on you, Russell… swimming is your strength, and biking is your relative weakness. Did you swim growing up or have you just been able to pick it up quickly? What’s your plan to get your bike and run on par with your swim?

HA! This one cracks me up especially since you are dead on. I had to literally learn to swim to do a triathlon. I learned last year. I couldn't even swim 25 meters when I started and was so panicked even in a pool. It's been a huge overcoming fear for me. I still haven't gotten formal instruction (just watch other people creepily in the pool...) and have just put in the time. I am just a bigger upper body build than most triathletes and kind of throw my weight around in the water. Sorry to all who I have swam over.... The bike is a constant battle for me, I hadn't ridden a bicycle in almost a decade when I started doing Tri last year and am still building up. The problem is I get bored training the bike, so bored! I need to find a way to make it enjoyable for me, either spin classes or an indoor trainer and a movie/book. Not sure, still a work in progress.

You mercilessly threw us under the bus on Facebook ;) claiming we “missed” some of your races… what other races have you done this year?

I actually have done 34 races this year. Triathlons, Half-Marathons and Spartan Races. I loved the Doxa Triathlon relay mid-season. Also the Salt Lake Marathon put on by Lifetime and Jennifer Nelson is fantastic and such a massive event you have to try it. Nothing like running with 10,000 people through downtown. Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon was also fantastic, running through the gardens was a beautiful experience. And lastly the Spartan races, so much fun and a great test of physical and mental grit. Spartan Lake Tahoe World Championship was my absolute favorite race of the year.

Do you typically train solo or with a group? How has SLTC helped with your progression?

All solo, something about just you and the rhythm of your cadence, whether bike/swim/run. Just driving yourself for yourself, no peer pressure needed. But I am seeing the benefits of group training as I just went to my first cycling class ever last week, it was fantastic! I am honestly grossly under-trained as I try to spend as much family time as possible evenings and weekends so my only training is early morning before work. As far as SLTC, I don't take nearly enough advantage of the club and everything they do. So many group events and workouts. An online immediate resource to hundreds of athletes for any questions or needs you may have. For me since I haven't taken advantage of the group workouts and support, the benefits have been two-fold: 1) Financially, the discount they provide on races (especially as much as I race) has saved me a fortune! 2) Race support is second to none. Any race you do if you have any SLTC gear on you immediately have dozens to hundreds of friends/(almost family) supporting and cheering you on. It's the best investment I have made in triathlon, over gear or training.

Plans for next year in the works? Goals for the future?

I want to race more, that sounds crazy with how much I did this year but I enjoy it. Yet I want to race as injury free as possible. So off season I need to build on the base I have built this year and train properly so I'm not over doing it during the season. I also want to win a race, desperately. I don't mean my age group, I did that in dozens of races this year. I want to win overall. Seeing Andrew Hall this year come across the finish line first put the vision and dream in my mind. I don't care if I have to sneak into a kids’ 5K, I'm going to win one this year.

Anything else you want to share?

I love quotes and there are so many great ones for endurance racing. Companies like Garmin have coined the phrase "Beat Yesterday" and so many others that can get your thinking in the right place for training or racing. But a favorite I came across the other day by a Scottish scholar in the early 1900's is, "Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory." -William Barclay

I'm looking forward to turning pain into glory with my fellow athletes for the rest of this year and into a stellar 2017!

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