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The Real Illinois – Entry 9

Aaaaand, we’re back again: The Real Illinois, Entry 8. For those of you who do not attend the University of Illinois, you more than likely have begun school or begin tomorrow. At the University of Illinois, we begin school starting a week from Monday. In this post, Jackie and Henry give their summer wrap-ups, and once again, we have a guest. At the end of the post, everybody’s favorite doctoral student, Chris Valicka will be sharing his past experiences so look forward to that. Anyway for now, as always, Jackie will start out on her last few weeks.


Jackie Newell

I will begin this post by summing up the last couple of weeks of summer. I went to Florida and ran in the heat and humidity every morning. It was really rough especially coming off of Lollapalooza but I managed. Then when I got home it was back to the grind of 65 mile weeks and workouts. I got to run with some of the U of I guys and Rachel on Sunday which was awesome! I love getting to know new people over a nice long run. Turns out Rachel’s team competes in the same track meet as mine so I look forward to seeing her in the spring. I felt like that day I was finally fully recovered from my weekend at Lolla. I now know what the effect that a weekend of partying has on my running and for that reason I do not plan on repeating that experience any time soon.

No more experiences like this for awhile

Overall I am very proud of the summer I put in. I re-read my first blog post and I held true to everything I set out to do. I lost 6 pounds on my diet, ran 5 65-mile weeks, and lifted or did core 3 days every week. I know that I have never worked this hard in my life and I can only hope that it will all pay off.

This past Saturday I had my first 2-mile time trial with my team. I pretended that I was not nervous but honestly I was really shaky. I think I was just freaked out to see how much progress I really made over the summer. My worry was letting myself down or not reaching my expectations. I ended up running a 12:10 and placing 4th overall on my team. My splits were all very consistent and I finished feeling very strong. My attitude going into this season is very positive and I am ready to start doing tough workouts and getting ready for the 6k.

Along with trying to get into really good shape I am also working to be the best captain I can be. It is weird being a Junior this year because for once I feel “older” than the freshmen. This will probably change as I get to know them but for now I am having trouble relating to them as they attempt to balance training and orientation activities. I also already had to make some tough decisions, including topics like dry season and team goals. Furthermore, my coach has decided to make us into a more competitive team and likewise take us to more competitive meets. The travel squad, the top eight, will be heading to Terra Haute in Indiana and Austin in Texas. Also our Conference championships are in Dallas, Texas. I think having a travel squad will be a hard adjustment because we have 20 girls on the team and only 8 will be given the opportunity to go to the competitive meets. At the same time though this will help us reach the most elite level possible and make us more competitive as we look toward the National Championships.

Terre Haute

I have a great group of teammates with me and I cannot say enough how nice it is to have running companions every day. Naturally, I will always miss my long runs with Michael and Zach. I start classes on Wednesdays and I look forward to having a consistent schedule filled with learning and running… Go TUXC!


Henry Wolf

Well, summer’s over now. I finished my internship this past Friday. I had a great time and learned a lot, but I am glad that it is over for now. The days were really exhausting and towards the end there wasn’t a lot of work for me.

Two weeks ago I spent about three days working on the first part of an ESIS report. I can’t remember what ESIS stands for and I couldn’t find it online but I’m pretty sure it was Environmental Site Inventory Survey. This really wasn’t my cup of tea when I first started and I was actually pretty mad that I had to do it. Fortunately, there was an older version of the same report that I relied heavily on as a template. I had no idea what I was doing so I did a lot of research online and asked people in our planning sections a lot of questions. As I got farther into it I began to find aspects that I kind of enjoyed. For example, I had to create a map of all the farmed wetlands along our project corridor. To do this, I used maps from the National Wetland Inventory and ArcMap in GIS (another computer program). I also had to learn how to sort through an Excel file with 280,000 entries to find the data I was looking for which was a fun challenge. In the end, I learned a new program, got a better scope of our project, and was reassured that I do not want to do environmental engineering.

On the whole, my summer at HDR was a very good one. I learned a tremendous amount, met a lot of great people, and continued to narrow down my career interests. I feel like I made a good impression and hope that I can work for HDR next year, this time in structures, in Chicago or one of their other national offices. One thing I learned last week that I’m really excited about is HDR recently hired one of the country’s foremost authorities on suspension and cable-stayed bridges. I would love to work with him next summer and maybe make a career out of it.

With running, I’ve been feeling great the last couple of weeks and have been up in the mid-50’s for mileage. The workouts are getting longer and longer, but fortunately I’ve had Coach Mark and B.D.Ben to run with all summer. Now that I’m back in Mahomet for the week I can get back to running with John Butcher(shown leading the original Wolf Pack), one of my former high school teammates, who will be joining Zach, Andrew and I on the club team. I feel like I’m in good shape and I’m feeling relatively healthy. The first test of the season is the Illini Challenge and I’m really excited to rub elbows (literally) with Zach for a fun 6k.

The original Wolf-Pack

Some changes I’ve made this summer have been in strength and shoes. I started doing push-ups, chin-ups and pull-ups and have worked up to 25, 10 and 10, respectively, at a time. That may not be much for most people, but it has been a significant improvement for me and I have never before consistently done any strength work. I’ve seen improvement in my arms; I still don’t use them as efficiently as I could, but I no longer deserve my high school cross country nickname of Double Dutch. In an attempt to learn to run with better form, I ran in a racing flat all summer. These DS Racers served me well and although they haven’t completely broken my habit of landing on the outside of my forefoot, they lasted for a long time and forced me to move my strike more to the middle and land lighter.

Well, I think I’ve written enough for the time being. I wanted to thank Ben Zeman once more for this summer. He is the reason I worked at HDR, the reason I had a place to stay, and the reason I had a successful summer of training. I couldn’t have asked for a better co-worker, training partner, mentor and friend.


Our next contributor is a special one. Chris Valicka joined our team last year and right away made his own unique impact. He is always there for the people on the team supporting through thick and thin. He is always putting forth an honest effort in every race. But, what stands out most for me is just his passion for running. I cannot remember a race last year where he did not have a smile on his face, whether that was intentional or not. Throughout the course of the season, his times kept dropping and he kept impressing all of us with his commitment and enthusiasm. I cannot say how excited I am to see him carry that over to our upcoming cross-country season. I thought this would be a good opportunity for people to get to know him a little better who don’t already. So, here is his post:

Chris Valicka

PRs:     5k: 16:58, HM: 1:24:36, M: 3:02:52

Hi everyone, my name is Chris Valicka.  This fall I’ll be starting my third year of PhD studies in the Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering Department and running my first cross country season with the Illinois Cross Country club. I had a blast running with the Illinois Track club last spring and meeting all the great guys and girls that worked hard to become both the men and women’s NCTFA champion teams. I’ve gotten into running taking a different path than many of my teammates and friends and I thought I might share a bit of my history, my current life in and outside of running, and my goals for this coming season and beyond.

            A bit about my past. I did both my undergraduate and Master’s degree studies here at the University of Illinois and after graduating in 2008, I left to work in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. My wife Kate and I spent two awesome years there, her teaching math at a middle school and me writing software for a couple of companies, Raytheon and Niitek.  It was there, while between those two jobs in early 2010, that I started running. My father-in-law’s dedication to distance running (~15 marathons over the years), a great set of trails right outside of our apartment door, and several active friends convinced me that running might be something great to get into. I started small, a two-mile run (I use the word run lightly here), and was hooked almost instantly.

            We moved back to Champaign in July of 2010 so that Kate could pursue her Master’s degree and I could start my PhD studies. After a year of running I ran the Illinois Marathon in 2011, shortly after which I joined the Secondwind Running Club where I met Jeff Kelly. It was Jeff that introduced me to coach Jake and the team, and being part of the team this past spring was great. Having so many experienced and devoted runners, and being under the guidance of Jake, really has increased my love and appreciation for running, and of course improved my fitness and ability.

(After three hours in Ann Arbor with my new (and fast) friend Jerry.  I just missed crossing the finish line to the Ghostbuster’s theme song.)

            On to this summer. Over at the Coordinated Science Laboratory, I have been actively researching topics related to the control and coordination of robots/unmanned vehicles. The applications are a lot of fun: programming and playing with car-like robots and quadrotor helicopters.

This summer though, has been only some of that and a majority of reading, technical writing, and writing code in MATLAB to simulate the vehicles. I try to put in eight hour days, five days a week, usually running after work. This summer’s heat has put a crimp in that schedule more than a few times.

I had the pleasure of working with a fellow PhD student from Spain at the beginning of summer. It was great to work with someone interested in the same types of problems and with a distinct and experienced perspective. I’ve also been fortunate to work with several Master’s degree students on implementing some of the simulated algorithms while setting up a laboratory for the robots and helicopters to roam.

            My summer goal has been three-fold.  I broke the 17 minute barrier for a 5k  shortly after track season. My big goal was to run a BQ time, which I was able to do during the third week of June in Ann Arbor, MI. Since taking a short time off after that, my mileage is now up around 65/wk, though I would love to get it a bit higher. I’ve had the privilege of running in a few different states this summer, including Wisconsin, Missouri, and Colorado. Though Ft. Collins wasn’t quite at the altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park, it was cool to learn a little about the challenge of running at altitude.

What a Beaut

            I haven’t done much towards keeping with my goal of increasing my dedication to proper stretching and core work three times a week.  This fall, I hope to do that and continue improving up through Group 5/6. I’m hoping to take full advantage of the hill circuits and to increase my involvement with the club. I hope to do all this while getting my research in a state worth publishing, finding a job for next fall, devoting time to my course(s), turning Kate’s and my new place into more of a home, and finding time to keep up with and upgrade my homebrewing. Looking forward to running with the Illinois Cross Country club this fall!


That wraps up this entry for The Real Illinois. Thanks again to all the contributors, especially Chris. Next week, Andrew and I will be providing our summer wrap-ups. Also, another guest? We will see. Stay tuned…

“We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves…The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.” 
-Sir Roger Bannister


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