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Recharged Russell is ready to reemerge

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS — Wheelchair racers Ernst Van Dyk and Wakako Tsuchida, along with Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot and Teyba Erkesso, are happy to receive their bibs at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel yesterday. DEFENDING CHAMPIONS — Wheelchair racers Ernst Van Dyk and Wakako Tsuchida, along with Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot and Teyba Erkesso, are happy to receive their bibs at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel yesterday. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / April 17, 2011

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Talent doesn’t go away.

That was the mantra Blake Russell adopted post-pregnancy. She repeated it when sleepless nights tending to newborn son Quin slowed workouts. She relied on it when thoughts of retirement from professional running surfaced.

Russell, 35, described her first eight months of motherhood as “brutal’’ because of sleep deprivation. While the media, her agent, and her shoe company talked about how she needed to reestablish her career, to prove herself in races, Russell and her husband, Jonathan, struggled to find balance in their life.

Russell quickly learned why “mother’’ and “elite marathoner’’ are titles that are difficult to combine.

“I had like one foot in the loony bin,’’ said Russell of those early months. “Quin was up every three hours at night. Sometimes I would feed him and couldn’t get back to sleep.

“So I might have three hours of sleep total for the night and then I’d try to run the next day. Your body can’t recover. You can’t do it.

“The few days that I might get five hours of sleep, I’d feel like a totally different runner. You’d kind of hold on to that, knowing that, OK, it’s in there somewhere. I kept in the back of my mind something my coach said, ‘Talent doesn’t go away.’ You just have to find it again.’’

Gradually, Russell rediscovered the talent that made her a 2008 Olympian in the marathon (third at the trials in Boston) and pushed her to a 2:29:10 personal best at the 2005 Chicago Marathon.

She returned to competition at the 2010 USA Cross-Country Championships in February, finishing eighth. She signaled her increasing readiness to run a fast marathon, winning the Rock ’n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon in a personal best 1:11:55 last fall.

In tomorrow’s Boston Marathon, Russell hopes to better her marathon personal best and run with the lead pack. Having pulled out of the 2010 New York City Marathon because of a calf strain, it will be her first marathon since Quin’s birth on April 27, 2009.

It also will be her first marathon in nearly three years, since she finished 27th at the 2008 Olympic marathon in Beijing. She was the only American to complete the race.

Upon arriving in Boston from her home in Pacific Grove, Calif., and going through her pre-marathon routine again, Russell said, “It feels like it’s a first-time marathon. Three years is a long time ago. But I know once you start running it, the pain of the marathon will come back fairly quickly. You’ll remember everything.’’

Her coach, Bob Sevene, hopes Russell remembers she can compete with the best and run fast over 26.2 miles.

“She has not run as fast in the marathon as she is capable of running,’’ said Sevene. “That’s why she’s still in the sport. She thinks she can run in the middle 2:20s. She’s in lifetime PR shape. She’s very, very focused.

“This whole year, regardless of what happens here, you’ll see her reemerge. I get very upset when nobody even talks about her being a player in 2012 [at the US Olympic trials]. She will be a player.’’

At home, Russell is already game for anything that entertains her toddler son. Usually, that means playing with his toy cars (“don’t step on those things in the middle of the night — they hurt,’’ she said) and throwing rocks into any nearby body of water.

Russell tries to schedule her workouts around Quin’s naps and playtime. Still, she might find herself fresh from a 20-mile run walking stiffly to a nearby park for some fun with Quin.

During workouts, Sevene is coach and surrogate grandfather, babysitting as Russell runs. (Quin’s middle name is Robert in honor of Sevene.) Fond of imitating Sevene, the toddler tries to help with training.

“Quin will sit there and yell, ‘Ready, set, go,’ ’’ said Russell.

At this point, she is more than ready to get going in her marathon comeback.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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