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The First Time: Meet Stephen Russell

Features — Posted 21/09/14

We chat with Stephen Russell, who is using his first Melbourne Marathon as a reason to kick start his fitness journey.

Stephen Russell, 36, relocated from Glasgow to Melbourne nine years ago. A one-time Fairfax staffer, Stephen now works as a freelance journalist mostly in the Arts, with sidelines in design, food and drink. He recently became a citizen and admits to feeling a little bit James Bond with his two passports and dual nationality.

Being a Glaswegian, he's particularly fond of the drink. Attending many evening events (read: bar launches), somewhere along the line he fell out of the habit of going to the gym, even as his membership fees keep popping out every fortnight.. .and walking past it almost daily.

As someone who hasn't taken on a sporting challenge like this before, what made you want to run 22km in the Melbourne Marathon?

Actually, it was kind of accidental - a friend suggested me to the team. At first I thought my mate was crazy for suggesting me, but then I realised I'd wanted to get back into exercise for a long time but was battling a mental block about it. A major challenge like running the half marathon, as huge and impossible as it seems, would be the ideal way to take charge of my personal fitness, with all the support and encouragement I need.

Like any good Scotsman, we're sure that you enjoy a tipple. Will you be kicking the booze during your training? What else will you have to sacrifice?

I started my training yesterday eve, but had already bought a bottle of red as, you know, the start of the week can be hard work. The thing is, after I ran round the local oval a few times then did some sit ups, push ups and planks, by the time I got home there was no way I wanted to touch a drink. So it looks as if alcohol is out for the next few weeks, and there will be no social smoking either. I'm looking at this holistically - exercise, diet and anti-vice. Apart from the odd cookie. Hey, nobody's perfect, right?

Race day can bring on nerves but also a great team spirit with other racers. What is your goal? Do you think you will achieve it?

I’ll be seriously glad if I can just crawl over the finish line with all my organs intact. This isn't about scoring the perfect time for me, it's about mental and physical endurance, proving to myself that I can take on an impossible challenge and beat it, forget what the naysayers say. Forget what my brain and grumpy feet say...

What's the first thing you're going to do after the race?

Probably throw up. Barring that, a few sweaty hugs with my mates on the sidelines, a gallon of water and probably a bar of chocolate, plus some seriously up-myself social media selfies.




Scottish writer Stephen gave up on exercise some time ago, and is starting from behind when it comes to building up his fitness. With the pressure mounting, Stephen has just four short weeks to turn his 5km runs around Albert Park Lake to a 21km half-marathon down St Kilda Road – and he’s starting to show some cracks.


Stephen showed surprised us all with a strong start to his training this week, as he combined his personal training sessions with some late night jogging. Using his freelance lifestyle as an edge over our office workers (sorry Erika and Elliot!) Elliot smashed his Fitbit stats with a mega 14, 713 steps taken in just one day!

Stephen and his trainer, Phil.


The Fitbit doesn’t lie: amazing results from Stephen for incidental activity during his day.


But it takes more than just exercise to prepare for a marathon, and it seems diet is a hurdle Stephen is yet to conquer. Struggling to kick his favourite breakfast – corn fritters – at local café Batch, Stephen was also busted sneaking in some chocolate cookies with his broccoli and almonds when food shopping mid week. Moderation is important to a healthy diet – but can Stephen say no to treats until the race?

We would find it hard to say no to these, too!


Duck, duck…goose. Which one needs to go?


Naughty Stephen!


Late into the week, Stephen suffered another setback as he was struck down with the flu.

But, with a little Scottish Braveheart spirit, he dug deep and smashed out some great sessions regardless.

Tired, sore and turning to comfort food (and a few glasses of wine, too) – Stephen needs to buckle down with just two weeks to the race. But with his training improving in leaps and bounds, we can’t help but wonder if this underdog has more bite than he’s letting on…





Stephen battled in the early weeks with the temptation of mid-week glasses of red wine (who doesn’t?) and unhealthy snacking. However, our Scottish writer seems to be taking notes from his trainer Phil, this week opting for protein rich meals to assist with his training. (We’re not completely convinced his steak sandwich with a fried egg was the best option, though!)


Steak and egg are protein…right? 


And not a cookie in sight! Nice work, Stephen. 


A mid-week surprise delivery of new Asics running gear had selfie-king Stephen smiling, and by the time he reached Thursday the reality of the race set in as he officially signed up on the Medibank Melbourne Marathon website. 

Looking the part in his new Asics getup. 


And all of the sudden, it seemed very, very real. 


Yep, the grumbles and yawns of last week were nowhere to be seen as an energetic and enthusiastic Stephen gave it his all with a new personal best of 15km continuous running (for those in Melbourne, that’s three laps around Albert Park lake). However, he still has to add another 6km of running onto that before he makes the finish line on Sunday.







The runner with the most last minute training to squeeze in, Stephen upped the pace for his final week on training. Getting up before the sunrise most mornings, Stephen’s confidence was definitely beginning to grow. But is that enough to get him over the line?



Sometimes, the hardest part is just getting out of bed.



Up before the sun? Yep, that’s dedication.


The increased hours of training did little to dampen our chirpy Scot’s spirits, as he beamed his way through the last few days before the race. The only thing slowing him down were some pesky running blisters – ouch!

Stephen couldn’t wipe the smile off his face after reaching his 21km goal at his training session.




After four weeks of having to avoid his favourite bars and restaurants for the sake of his training, Stephen gave himself a little something as motivation to make it to Sunday: a bottle of champagne!


“Post Marathon Medicine: take as needed”


New-found confidence aside, Stephen has only reached the 21km goal once – our other runners have now all managed it a few times – and it was a real struggle. Will the added distractions on race day prove too much for our Scottish writer? Or will he crumble away from the motivating force of trainer Phil?



Stephen Russell finished the race in 2 hours, 15 minutes. He placed at #6455, and went straight home to nap before finally cracking open his contraband champagne.


 You can see all of Stephen’s Instagram updates here and Twitter updates here.

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