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The Real Illinois – Entry 6

***To get into the Olympic Spirit, listen to the following music as you read

Welcome back to The Real Illinois. This is the last post of July, which means that August is now officially here. With August, come the trips back to college. As I mentioned in the original post, The Real Illinois will be a continuing process throughout school to update readers on how all the athletes are doing as the competitive season falls upon them. But, this week, the last weekend of July, Andrew and Zach will be unveiling their posts as well as another new contributor, former coach of IXC and current coach of Illinois Elite, Jacob Englander. Anyways, here is Andrew with his update:

Andrew Gazdziak

The summer training continues on. Not much has changed, except that I have started doing workouts now. My mileage is slowly increasing, although this week will be quite a bit shorter due to some poor planning on my part. The good news is that I found a pretty good place to run right from my apartment! There is a bike path that runs along the San Diego River all the way to the ocean. It is mostly concrete, but there aren’t a lot of street crossings, so I can get a great run in. The best part is there is a long stretch right next to a bunch of buildings so I can check myself out when I run.

Andrew rolling through San Diego

Andrew in the field

That is enough for now. Summer has flown by – I only have 2 weeks of work left and I can’t believe it. I’ve really enjoyed my time in San Diego so far, and while I love it out here I am also very excited to to be back at home and to start my final year of school. Hopefully this summer won’t be my last one in San Diego, I would really like to come back here.


Zach Boehmke

Hey, everybody. The last two weeks have not presented too many differences in my daily routine. The only thing that has picked up is my Organic Chemistry class. After my last exam, I finally understand why people fear taking the class. To keep things concise, I will just mentioned that the average for the exam was a 50%… after the curve. Anyways, my final exam is this week, so this week will be super crazy preparing for that and hopefully getting an A.

Another thing to add to my schedule this week is the fact that my family is currently in Cocoa Beach, FL. Cocoa Beach is a place that I have been to every summer of my life up until this year. About a month+ ago, my family went the first time and I had to miss for work and class, and the same still holds true now. It stinks not being there, but I can be confident knowing that I am doing the best thing for my future by being here.

Cocoa Beach

At work, things remain the same. A lot of the time I am not very occupied with things to go because of the efficiency at which I do that is assigned to me. Although, my efficiency has been called into question in the last week which has made me take up the mentality of Jurgis Rudkus, which is, “I will work harder.” While I work quickly, I try to do it to the best of my ability so that no one has to clean up after me and thus far I have been able to accomplish that. Something cool at work this week was that we got to go to the Chicago White Sox game. We got free tickets to the sky box which brought with it free food and a great view… and also a way to avoid the 100 degree heat.

From the Sky Box

Takeda provides a lot of cool opportunities to me as an intern, some of which I have not taken full advantage of. However, it has also provided me a nice network of people I can talk to and hang out with (when I’m not locked in my cubicle doing OChem) that have knowledge and experience from all over the medical field. I still have four weeks left there, but even with the time remaining, I can still look back and reflect and know that I am getting a great opportunity and that I need to take advantage of it.

Post-Kickball, Intern luncheon

There are a couple of new experiences that I have been able to partake in relating to running. In the past two weeks, I have run a half-marathon and a 10k. I will start with the half-marathon first.

As Jackie talked about and I alluded to last week, we participated in the Rock N’ Roll Marathon in downtown Chicago. It was an amazing experience. While I did not officially sign up, I still wanted to participate. I’m not exactly proud that I bandited it and do not plan on making a habit of it, but I think it was nice to be able to run with Jackie and help her accomplish a personal best. I made sure not to take any of the other finishers’ swag (medals, t-shirts, etc) to be respectful to them. While I was a little let down with the amount of music that actually played during the race, I did not let that bring down my spirits. Being a part of that environment, where everyone there is fighting to reach whatever goal they have in mind is very inspiring. I was able to fight through hardly any sleep in the previous few days and came out at the end feeling filled with energy. The half-marathon is something that I would definitely like to look into post-college.

This past Saturday, I also ran my first 10k at the inaugural Big10 10k. I met up with 10+ people on Illinois Cross-Country as well as a few alums. There was a lot of people who showed up on Saturday (the race actually sold out!). Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not giving myself a seed time, so instead of starting out of the elite start (6-minute pace and under), I had to start with everyone else… which was fine. I ran with Henry and another friend, Alex Manois. The first 2-2.5 miles were spent just trying to get around everybody as we had to start at the spot where the 12:30 milers were beginning. After the first 5k, there was a slip n’ slide, which we took full advantage of as it filled us with a little adrenaline. The last 5k was a lot of fun as we got a great view of the lake and city running back toward Soldier Field. Henry, Alex, and I hung together the whole time until I pulled away the last 200 to finish strong. It was a good effort, not a race effort, but definitely a cool experience surrounded by many other people who came from the Big10 school system. It was also well-run, and the post-race festivities were very fun.

To finalize my post, I just want to make a quick note of the next week. The next week will be probably my most intense of the school year. I am going to relax a little with running so my body does not explode, but after that, full speed ahead.


I would like to take a minute to introduce our next contributor. When I came to college, I did not know what club running was. I thought it was just something I could breeze into and be one of the top tier people. However, I was sorely mistaken. My first month at college dropped me on my bum, but my coach was able to pick me back up. My former coach, Jacob Englander, is one of the most well-rounded individuals I have had the pleasure of working with. His passion and enthusiasm for club running, let alone running in general is one of the major reasons that club running has transformed into what it is: an ultra-competitive experience for people of all talent levels. While maybe being a little intense at times, his will to win is one of the reasons our men’s and women’s teams were able to bring home the title and trophies belonging to the  NIRCA Cross-Country Champions. He has moved on to the next phase of his life which still involves coaching Illinois Elite and assisting with us and Club Track and Field, but his hard work has impacted the lives of everyone who can currently call themselves a runner and competitor for the Illinois Cross-Country Club.

Jacob Englander

Hello, my name is Jake Englander. I used to be the head coach of the Illinois Cross Country and Track clubs. I worked with Zach, Andrew, Henry, Ben, and over one hundred other fine people. We started from a very modest beginning and did great things over the next four years, but at the end we had to part ways and go on to our next life challenges.

And so, having just left the greatest experience of my life, I had mixed feelings when I showed up to work at the job I have wanted since I was four years old – I am now a flight dynamics engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Goddard Space Flight Center is one of ten NASA centers, and is the center of activity for earth science, astronomy, and astrophysics missions. We are a flight center, which means we are actively engaged in building and flying spacecraft. Not all NASA centers do that – some focus on technology development or research. Goddard is best known for astronomy missions like the Hubble Space Telescope and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, but we probably do even more Earth science missions that you haven’t heard of – and we are now making our first forays into planetary science missions as well. And that is where I come in.

Goddard, specifically the Navigation and Mission Design Branch, paid for my PhD. I developed a tool called “Evolutionary Mission Trajectory Generator,” or EMTG. EMTG finds “first approximation” trajectories for complex interplanetary missions using multiple gravity assist maneuvers at other planets and various different types of propulsion. EMTG is completely automated and quite fast. For example, the Cassini mission to Saturn flew an Earth-Venus-Venus-Earth-Jupiter-Saturn trajectory to arrive at Saturn having expended minimum fuel. Preliminary design of that trajectory, which means choosing the planets to use for flybys, the dates on which they occur, the flyby altitudes, the dates, magnitudes, and directions of the major propulsive maneuvers, etc, took months of man-hours. EMTG did it in two days with no user input except “launch between 1997 and 2000, and take me to Saturn in 7 years or less.” That is just one of many examples of what EMTG can do. It is still not as fast as I’d like, but now that I am at Goddard I have access to a powerful computing cluster and that will change. So far I have used EMTG to support three mission proposals – OSIRIS-REx, which will travel to and return samples from a near-Earth asteroid in 2016, Comet Hopper, which is a proposed mission to land on and examine a comet in detail, and an as-yet unnamed manned Mars mission concept. Last year OSIRIS-REx was selected as NASA’s next New Frontiers class mission. That means that my boss’s boss’s boss gets about $1 billion to build and fly it. I think that my contribution through EMTG was at most 0.01% of why we were selected, but I am excited to have contributed to a winning proposal and I am looking forward to helping to build and fly the real thing over the next several years. Comet Hopper is a proposed Discovery class mission – that’s about $400 million cost cap – and is one of three finalists. We’ll know in about a month whether or not Comet Hopper will fly. Either way, it was an honor to help the Comet Hopper team, even though all I did was confirm the results that they had found a different way.

Goddard is the most wonderful place that I have ever worked. Everyone is intensely motivated and we each have our special skills. Whenever I am stuck on something, there is always someone who can help me find the answer. And occasionally people come to me for help, since I have a lot of expertise in optimization and C++ programming. I learn so many things every day. Just two days ago, my office-mates and I invented a new way to model lunar flybys. We think our new method is going to be more accurate than previous “fast” models and faster than previous “high fidelity” models. It will allow us to do meaningful large scale studies that include a lunar flyby maneuver, something that we could not do before. The lunar flyby is, in rare situations, a chance to get a free speed boost on the way out of the Earth-moon system. Previously we had to either accept a very low fidelity model or spend a very long time on a very high fidelity model. Now we finally have something in the middle that we hope will be very useful. Plus, I am working with two older employees on a proposal that would let us spend the next year working to improve EMTG so that we can use it for more types of missions.

I love Goddard, and I hope and expect that I will never leave. I’ve spent my whole life preparing for this, and it is every bit as good as I dreamed.

Next, home life. I now own a small townhouse in Greenbelt, Maryland. It’s a bit smaller than my old apartment, but it’s very nice and only six minutes from work. I can even run in if I want to without having to cross any major roads. I am paying less for the mortgage, taxes, and other costs than I was for rent in Illinois, so I am quite happy with it. Still, I’ll be happier when I am making money. I am still a student on fellowship until September 10th. Then I become a “co-op” employee, which means I make enough money to get by on but not a lot. Then when I defend my dissertation I will be “converted” to full time and make a bit more. For now, I’m trying to cut costs in a few ways, mostly by learning to eat inexpensively.

Tiffany, my fiancee, is working as an intern at Dogs and Cats Veterinary Referral Center in Bowie, Maryland. She is on a rotating shift schedule and it’s pretty miserable. At least it’s only a year. Clementine on the other hand is having a blast. Clementine is our chinchilla. She was quite upset to make the long car trip from Illinois to Maryland, but she loves her new cage. Her days are spent sleeping, eating, and pooping, and her nights are spent trying to escape her playpen. So far she has succeeded twice, and last night she actually partially dissassembled it before I noticed.


Of course, I am also still heavily involved in Track and Field. I may no longer be the coach at Illinois, but that doesn’t mean that I have left the sport. I am still the meet director for NCTFA, and I am coaching our alumni in the form of Team Illinois Elite. So far, so good. I am also coaching a group of older runners here at Goddard. Some are veterans of many decades of training and racing, and some are brand new to the sport. We’ve already seen a lot of improvement in only two months. There have been several personal bests in the group, and one guy, James Cooper, is poised to take third in the Annapolis Striders summer race series. He’s dropped his mile from 5:51 to 5:36 and his 5k from 19:44 to 19:36 in the last two months. He also happens to be the head mechanical engineer for the sun shield on the James Webb Space Telescope and is raising two kids and two dogs. The lesson here is, you really can be good at everything.

As for myself, I have a new set of goals and a new set of training ideas to try out. I am finally free to focus on my own training and racing, and I hope to get under 17:00 in the 5k and 36:00 in the 10k in the next few years. At this point in my career that would be a significant improvement. I think I need to drop my 1500 from 4:39 to 4:35 in order to do it – and for a 28 year old runner with 14 years of experience, 4 seconds in the 1500 is a very big deal. But it’s an objective that I think I can achieve, and in order to do so I am trying out some training ideas that I have been thinking about for a long time. I did not use them at Illinois for two reasons – first, I didn’t want to risk our success by trying something potentially dangerous, and second, I needed access to hilly terrain that we didn’t have in Illinois. If I and the Illinois Elite runners are successful, then perhaps Coach Hayes will implement some of these concepts at Illinois. If not, at least we continued to push the envelope. One of the central pillars of this new training is hill running. I am doing a lot of long hill strides at 10k effort and once every three weeks I do a long run in the Appalachian Mountains. Today I gained about 1800 ft in 7.5 miles of running (with lots of rocky ups and downs along the way), and then turned around and ran back down again.

I’ve run a couple races, too. Nothing spectacular. I placed 26th in an open mile a couple weeks ago in 5:13, and 113th in an 8k road race in 30:35. Both good times for me at this time of the year but nothing special. These are usually times that I put up about two months out from the important part of the season, and this time I’m doing it four months out. I don’t think burnout is a concern though, I think it just means that the new base training is working and I didn’t lose too much from the track season.

Well, that was a very long article but I’m not quite done yet. I want to leave you with the three most important lessons that I learned at Illinois:

1. The team is more important than any one person. The team makes us who we are as people, so how could we separate ourselves from it? Never do anything important alone. Share the challenge and the reward.

2. NEVER give up. Just because you aren’t already good at something does not mean that you can’t become good at it. And even if you can’t, you may have a chance to help others become good at it (see #1). I’ve spent my whole running career trying to become a mediocre runner instead of a terrible one, but if I had given up there would be no Illinois Track Club, no NCTFA, no six national titles, and we would all be completely different people today.

3. There is no such thing as too much overkill. Or, to quote some member of ITC who I don’t remember (Andy Becker? Mark Hayes? John McCown? One of those three…), “if overkill didn’t work, you didn’t use enough.”

I miss the Illinois Track Club every day. But eventually we all have to move on to new challenges.


That is another post in the book. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I want to extend another thanks to Jake for writing this and for everything he has done for me and the team. Next week, look forward to some more insight from Jackie and Henry and another special contributor.

Quick note: The post will be available Monday as this weekend is Lollapallooza and I will have not access to internet.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision.  The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives.  It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”  ~Andrew Carnegie


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