Quinns Rocks runner Dale-Lyn Russell competes in last month’s Comrades Marathon – a total of 90.07kms – barefoot. Image – Supplied.
By Kate Dzienis
If there’s a bit of sunshine floating about on race day, chances are it’s coming from an Aussie runner who is as unique as she is delightful.
Dale-Lyn Russell from Quinns Rocks (WA) has only been running for two years, but already she’s made a name for herself amongst the Perth community.
The 45-year-old mother of two is a barefoot runner and last week completed South Africa’s Comrades Marathon without running shoes.
But let’s go back a little bit to where it all began.
Russell says a few years ago, her eldest commented that she’d put on weight, and after taking it to heart, discovered gym memberships were simply too expensive but running was free – so she took to the streets, deciding to run around the block.
She measured it as 1.5kms and can still remember the excitement when she could run an entire 2kms.
“I never timed it then, just aimed to keep moving,” she says.
“Facebook memories popped up the other day with my photo from when I ran the Joondalup Half (WA) in 2014, I think that was my first race, and I was just thrilled I ran it all the way!”
Russell eventually got in touch with the Perth Trail Series – it was there she found her happy place, running through the native Australian bush and being in her element of off road.
She’s a woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t fuss around when it comes to the things she needs – or doesn’t need – like shoes.
Russell found she was most comfortable without them, having grown up running around on a farm in her bare feet, and as she continued to gain an enjoyment for the sport, her fitness levels began to excel.
Last week on May 29, she raced and finished in her second Comrades, completing 90.07kms in a time of 9:35:31.
Russell competes in last year’s Comrades Marathon with lingering injuries.
Russell recaps some of the event, and highlights her running style, which in itself is amazing.
“Comrades starts in the dark, in the cold, and the first half of the race is over some very old and rough roads,” she recalls.
“I know this from driving the route and having run it in my Luna Sandals last year.
“However with the down run this year, the ‘down’ runs, as few as they were, were sharply gradient and I was worried the steepness charging downhill would cause my foot to chafe against the toe piece of the sandal.
“Running a marathon or longer barefoot is no problem for me, therefore I planned to start the Comrades in my Luna Sandals, and when the route was dry from the sun, and clear of the old roads (about half way) to remove my sandals and carry on barefoot.”
This strategy allowed Russell to keep a decent run pace, which she would not have been able to do in the sandals without high risk of injury caused by the toe piece.
“I actually run much faster barefoot,” she reveals.
“The sandals are thin enough and flexible enough to tuck into the back of my running belt.
“My feet are 100 per cent fine – no scratches, bruises, chipped nails or blisters…plus they are baby smooth from the five-hour exfoliation they received afterwards.”
She felt it was a vast improvement from last year; in 2015 Russell used an internet training program and then joined the ‘C Team’ – the WA Comrades training team of which there were more than 40 people. However she fractured her ankle early in the year, which ‘really messed up my training plan’.
When Russell got back into gear, she had to compensate with her knees and landed with overtraining injuries so at the start line at the 2015 Comrades, her knees were strapped and she still had a wonky ankle.
“I was determined to cross the finish line in 12 hours – the cut off time,” she says.
“I had a terrible run, with nightmare hills and mountains, ridiculous pain and the most horrendous cramps, making the last 48kms an epic marathon.”
The barefoot runner got through it in 11:13:35 but collapsed at the finish line, then spent a decent amount of time at the medic tent and had to be carried home.
Russell couldn’t feel her legs for four days, she couldn’t move, and it took her two weeks before her legs could take the weight of her body again – then another two months before she could run again.
Despite it all, she was adamant she would return to South Africa for the epic event (with 2016 being a ‘down run’, as it changes direction every year) and this year it was certainly a different race for her.
To top off the achievement last month, Russell finished this year’s Comrades in the top eight per cent of female entrants – 414th out of 4,976 entrants and 3,962 out of a total field of 20,000.
She also got her coveted Back 2 Back medal, which can only be earned once with a consecutive Up and Down Run.
“Wow,” she confesses.
“I know the figures don’t sound much, but you have to know the route, the magnitude of the race and the caliber of entrants to understand it.”
Russell’s smile, always contagious, really puts a perspective on the entire notion that running should make you happy.
“If you put your mind to anything, you can do it,” she tells the world.
“But remember all things in moderation and make sure you always enjoy yourself; if you want to run barefoot go for it, if you want to stay in shoes, great!”
You can follow Russell’s barefoot running adventures and experiences by visiting her blog site realbarefoot.com.