The rain pelted Gabrielle Russo with every step, and 40-mph wind gusts meant there was a literal invisible force pushing her off the road. Nearly 3,000 runners ending up dropping out of last month’s Boston Marathon, including many elite runners, but not Russo, the Stony Brook University assistant professor, who was the 58th woman to cross the finish line.
Now, let’s rewind to October 2017. Patchogue’s Russo is running in the Suffolk Marathon, rain is again pelting her with every step and high winds rattled more than a few runners. Russo, though, not only won the event, but did it in a women’s course record of 2 hours, 55 minutes and 31 seconds.
Russo admitted she wouldn’t mind staying dry for Sunday’s Long Island Marathon. But even if the forecast holds steady — morning showers are predicted, though nothing as bad as Boston — she at least knows she’s had plenty of preparation and, along with it, plenty of success.
Russo will join hundreds of runners in the Long Island Marathon, which begins at Charles Lindbergh Boulevard at 8 a.m. and wraps up 26.21 miles later at the finish line in Eisenhower Park. Shorter races kick off on Saturday, with the Kids Fun Run, 1-mile run, and 5k. The marathon, half marathon and 10k are all held on Sunday. Last year’s main marathon had 474 finishers, while thousands more competed in the shorter events.
Though she came in second in last year’s Long Island Marathon — only her second marathon at the time — Russo’s goals for this year’s race are modest: a good time (and a pretty good running time).
“The expectations I have for myself . . . are to remain grateful for the opportunity to run another marathon locally, and within a reasonable time frame [after reaching her goal of running Boston], to be brave and believe that I am capable of leaving on the course whatever is left in me after a long training cycle,” said Russo, who also won the United State Track and Field 50k Road Championships in March.
Russo, 33, would like to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials, which means a running time of 2:45:00. That, though, means keeping a fairly strict routine — and one that fully balances a burgeoning running career with a well-established career as a professor of anthropology, and researcher. Russo’s training regimen has her up at 4:30 a.m. and running twice a day, while her career in academia has her juggling grant writing, data analysis and the occasional trip to Kenya, where she’s a research partner at a field site.
“I just figure out how to make it work,” she said. “There’s a lot of meal planning — I’m vegan — and efficiency strategies I’ve come to adopt, and these are just as important as eliminating things I don’t consider important. Simply, I’ve defined my priorities. . . . That’s how I choose to live — deliberate choices to make my dreams happen.”
That was certainly the case last month when Russo finished the Boston Marathon in 2:58:16, despite “epic” conditions that made it feel below freezing, she said. “At several water stations, I thought I had grabbed fluid cups, only to look down and realize there was no cup in my hand — my hands had lost feeling,” she said. “Boston 2018 has now become a reference point we look back on during future races when we feel we’ve reached the limits of our effort. We can ask ourselves, ‘Is this as difficult as Boston 2018? Am I digging as deep as I did that day?’ And hopefully, we can use that checkpoint to push ourselves a little bit further, dig a little deeper, when we need it most.”
Turns out, one of the few things stronger than rain, cold, fatigue and 40-mph winds, is a marathoner on a mission.