I finished the tree but can't speak russian - what now?
This spring I finished the russian tree after half a year of doing 50xp every day. Because I mostly kept the strength bars high it took me 12.5k experience to do it, but I never ended up getting everything to gold simultaneously. After I finished justice I stopped using Duolingo pretty quickly because I was discouraged. I felt like I had learned to do the Duolingo course but not really russian. Yea you can't expect too much, but I could do almost no english to russian translation. I also felt a severe lack of strong vocabulary. The majority of the words in the Duolingo course were ones I would just recognize because I knew this phrase and lesson or from context, but I didn't really just know them by hard.
After stopping Duolingo I got a book of классические рассказы in 2 languages and a few stories but I couldn't understand much without the translation.
Right now I started again and I want to get all my lessons from zero to gold atleast once which should take me a week, but I am not sure how to continue then. I heard memrise is good for vocabulary but besides a somewhat decent sense of intuition I don't have a rigid knowledge of grammar. I really don't want to feel like I wasted half a year of doing Duolingo so I dont want to drop this language...
Don't be discouraged! It just takes a while.
At Duo you might try a different tack: rather than just completing a lesson, work at completing it with no mistakes and without looking at hints of any kind. This usually entails doing it over several times--if you get something wrong (other than on the first or 2nd question), finish the exercise but then repeat it--which, although sometimes a bit boring, really pounds the Russian into your head. It also keeps your skills golden for a long time, FWIW.
Aim for one lesson done perfectly as the minimum each day, rather than so many XPs. Count the strengthening practice available at the end of each skill as a lesson, as well as (maybe) the timed practice, although that is harder. At the beginning of the tree, you may be able to do a whole skill per day, as it will be much easier. But don't do just one lesson once through per day (it sounds like you were not), as that is just not enough to make progress.
The above will work especially well doing the English for Russian speakers tree, as most of the writing will be in Russian.
Probably the stories you tried to read were just too difficult. That's what happens with nearly everyone at first. Try these bookbox stories. You might try really easy material on LingQ, too. If I knew of anything easier to read, it would be recommended.
For really fun practice, copy (usually cut-and-paste :) ) a text you want to work on into keybr.com and type away. Once you get to be pretty good at typing, you may want to try klavogonki (but the site is all in Russian) or some similar typing game, of which there are several.
Something that is useful is to "take dictation" from the audio of some text that is at your level, stopping at the end of every phrase/sentence to write out what you have heard. This works especially well if you have a copy of the text being read, so that you can check what you heard/wrote against the original.
The most important thing is to keep going, and do something every day. If things don't seem to be working for you, try something else, and just keep going.
Apart from seconding many of the recommendations here, I would just note that the Russian tree can give you a reasonable amount of translation into Russian, but it does take a while to get there (and I suppose there are no guarantees). Like slogger said, I'd recommend focusing skill by skill. Getting the transcription questions right may have a particular role in increasing the amount of English-to-Russian translation you get. Having seen the sentences recently will certainly help you achieve that. Have no qualms about racking up several hundred XP in a single skill if that's what it takes. I actually found timed practice really valuable for getting the vocab into my active recall. Using a phonetic keyboard obviously makes that easier, as it's ever so much easier to achieve the typing speeds you'll likely need to have good luck with timed practice.
Of course, there's always the reverse tree (well, up to four of them depending on what languages you know :) and lingvist is also great. I'd definitely recommend it over Memrise for Russian. Memrise is upping its game in general, but its efforts for Russian seem to be lagging for the moment.
Internet gives a lot of opportunities. Try everything you can. Watch videos, listen podcasts, read fairy-tales (they are easier for understanding than классические рассказы). Try English from Russian course on Duolingo. It will help you with translations. Memrise is really good in vocabulary in many languages. Take a look to this site www.russianlessons.net. you can find grammar and vocabulary here. Try the app Hellotalk. You can find friends there to practise your Russian. Good luck!
Мне жаль, что вы немного впадаете в отчаяние. У русских тоже такие проблемы в изучении английского. Полагаю это из за представлении другого языка в виде логичного явления. Часто выбирается наиболее стандартные (логичные) схемы в изучении языка, что в конечном итоге результат многолетнего изучения иностранного языка ограничивается всего лишь несколькими банальными, заученными фразами. Я начал изучать английский язык ещё в школе и мои результаты не особо отличались на этом фоне. Duolingo представляет, на мой взгляд, приемлемый метод в изучении иностранного языка. Хотя можно было ожидать это должен быть нелогичным способом. Пожалуй, так и есть, но это оптимально. Здесь затрагиваются разные; жизненные и абстрактные ситуации, после которых нужно заполнить пробелы также другими способами или с помощи описания ситуаций в своей жизни. Вам нужны больше ситуаций и желательно русскоязычную среду для практики. Классические рассказы для изучения языка взрослыми - не обязательный путь. Сказки для детей, чтобы их заинтересовать, чтобы они задумались, задавали вопросы, тем самым разговорились. А у взрослых сказки могут сбить охоту в изучении, кажется. Если этот способ интересен вам, тогда пожалуйста. Мой взгляд на русский язык могу считать сторонним, так как на нём начал говорить в юношеском возрасте, с большими ошибками и пробелами. В русскоязычную среду попал в 22 года, и вот уже 24 года продолжаю изучать русский язык. А вам желаю терпения и неугасающего интереса!