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The Real Illinois – Entry 10

Week 10 of The Real Illinois is here. When I came up with the idea for this, I was not sure what people’s interest level would be in this project, but as we have now broken double digits, I’d like to thank everybody for continuing to enjoy the reading. This week Andrew and I will be providing our summer wrap-up. Also, our friend Declan McDonnell will be contributing a post which has some great content that I hope everyone enjoys. For now, on to Andrew:

Andrew Gazdziak

The school year has officially started. I’m so excited to be back on campus and to be running/competing with the club. This will be my last year at U of I, and while it will be very busy I am going to try and enjoy every moment of it. Reflecting back on my summer I had a few goals going into it. Here is my summer report card:

Some summer goals: Run Every Day: A-

o   I think this is the first summer that I have ran every single day. However, towards the end of July / beginning of August I had a few weeks where my running suffered, mostly due to poor planning on my part. Overall I feel like I put in a solid effort and earned an A-.

Core / Mobility 3x a week: B+

o   This was something I really wanted to work on this summer. I started off strong, with doing strength work 3x a week for all of June and most of July, however it tapered off towards the end, right when I had a bunch of really short runs. While I don’t really notice an improvement in strength, I did notice that I can do more pull-ups (I’m up to at least 7 or 8!). Now that we are back at school I’ll be getting back into the routine of doing it with the team every week. Overall, I’d say I earned a B+.

Eat Smart: B+

  • This was the summer of fitness, and that also includes treating my body right. I worked on eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, and I also expanded my food boundaries. I’ve never been one to eat seafood, but I tried new things when I went out to restaurants. I figured if I get seafood in San Diego it’s bound to be good.
  • Learn what it’s like to work at a utility: A

o   This was perhaps the most important goal of my summer. Will my 18 years of schooling be worthwhile? Will I enjoy my field of work? Will I be able to find a full time job in the industry once I graduate?

  • Explore San Diego: A

o   I really learned a lot about the San Diego area. I tried to do something fun / new every week, and I visited a ton of different places. I went to a different beach almost every weekend, I ran on a bunch of different trails, and I ate my way through the different neighborhoods. There are still a lot of things that I didn’t get to do (surfing, parasailing for example), but I never had a dull weekend in San Diego.

  • Have fun! A+

o   I definitely enjoyed myself this summer. Just check out my photo album on Facebook, I documented a lot of what I did (and more importantly what I ate!). I took two road trips that were a blast and I got to see a lot of the country.

As you can see, this was a great summer for me. I feel that this semester will be my most difficult one yet (it feels like I say that every year but it really seems like it this semester). I’m taking 18 hours of all technical classes/labs, and at least 2 of those classes will be very demanding of my time. In addition I’m involve with the XC and Track clubs, the EXPO career fair, and a part time job on campus.  This will certainly be a challenge for me, but I really do enjoy being involved in all of these things, and I wouldn’t change what I have done. When I provide my next update in a month my views might have changed.

More importantly I am beginning my final year of school. I know that I will continue learning for the rest of my life; however it will be in a much different environment.  I’ve got a bucket list of things I want to accomplish before I graduate (original idea, right?). Hopefully I can cross everything off (and hopefully the list keeps growing!)


Zach Boehmke

In the last two weeks, many things have taken place. Most notable, I finished my internship at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. My experience at Takeda was wonderful. There were so many great people that I met and worked with. While I was not constantly busy doing work, I gained valuable insight into the industry and saw different sides to the business. I did not do all the networking that I wanted to do going in, however, I do appreciate the relationships I made with some of the other interns and colleagues.

Another difference in my life is that I am now back on campus at the University of Illinois. Our alma mater statue is not here, but all of my friends and teammates are. Being back among them is a definitely a reward for all the hard work that was put in this summer. In three days back on campus, a lot of things have happened. The first “social gathering” was on Friday night and even a few freshman showed up so it was cool to meet them. Saturday was a lot of cleaning and organizing the home base with my fellow roommates. Today (Sunday) was Quad Day. For those who are unaware, Quad Day is when all of the incoming freshman, or just interested people in general explore the Quad where booths representing all of the RSO’s are set up with information and smiling faces. We had pages and pages of new faces signing up for our cross-country and track clubs. While I am not going to hold my breath on all of them signing up, it will be exciting to see all the people who we have successfully recruited be at our first official team practice tomorrow afternoon.

The third development was the final phase of training for the summer. Andrew came back from San Diego as you know and he and I enjoyed some satisfying runs at Swallow Cliff. On a personal note, I am “redefining” what I have previously been able to do with my volume of running. I was never really a high-mileage guy, but as I mentioned at the beginning, I thought the new direction for me for this upcoming season was to start training at a higher level. It took all summer, but I have built up to 70 mpw and feel great. It was hard to exercise patience at a lot of times (early on when I wanted to do more than 40 minutes of running or hiccups along the way where I do not feel the way I want). I have attached my graph for the last three months of running and as you can see there has been a steady, consistent increase up until now. I still have a few weeks to go to reach my peak, but right now I am very excited with what I have been able to accomplish this summer.

My graph

This summer was very challenging for me. I was busier than I have ever been and working very hard to start paving the way for a hopefully successful future. I am not blinded by the fact that most people go through what I did this summer and don’t have to write a blog for it. However, I think it was a rewarding task to be able to see the evolution that took place this summer. Balancing all the tasks that I did was tough, but I think that will make me that much stronger for this upcoming season.

Anyways, we have our first race this coming Friday (the Illini Challenge). It is a 6k and we have a handful of returning runners participating (including me for the first time!). The following week we run at Eastern Illinois and then a few weeks later we return to Loyola to run on the lakefront. I am very excited to see how the next few weeks go and how the work will pay off.


I am very excited for our special contributor’s post today. What can I say about Declan McDonnell? I met him before coming to school apparently confusing him and his brother (my roommate Brendan) for being the same person. During my freshman year here, Declan (as a Junior) traveled to France which has allowed me to spend more time with his cardboard cutout than him even still. However, when he came back from France, his impact as a leader on our team was immediately felt and his contributions were wide-ranging. Declan (and some other individuals) is also one of the reasons as to why our club has become the cohesive unit it currently represents. I could write a lot more about him, but I think I will let his post do the talking. What I have gathered is that Declan has been very important for our club and his passion for running and the work he puts in is one of the reasons I have decided to put that much more work into my own running. He is a great guy and now that he has left school, I am excited to see what he has been doing and what he will be doing in the real world.

Declan McDonnell

As someone who looks forward to reading this blog every Sunday, I’m honored to be a guest contributor to what I think has been a very insightful and interesting take on running in the “real world”. Whether Zach knows it or not, he has asked me to write this at a very critical junction in my life so far, so I hope this can be as interesting to you all as previous contributors have been to me.

As it stands today, I am one of the recently inducted 2012 Teach for America – St. Louis corps members and I have just completed my second week as a Biology teacher at Riverview Gardens High School. When I began my senior year of college as an architecture major, I had never heard of Teach for America, never been to St. Louis (with the exception of Wash U meets, technically not in the city though so I’m not counting it), and had no intentions of becoming a teacher, high school Biology or otherwise.  Since that time, I decided that I would not be going into architecture following my graduation from U of I, applied and was accepted to TFA, placed in St. Louis, spent five weeks teaching high school Algebra in Chicago Public Schools, rented a house with two girls and a guy from Minnesota, West Virginia, and San Francisco, respectively, met hundreds of new and veteran teachers and at least as many students, and began my teaching (and coaching!) career. Even as someone who usually takes things in stride pretty well, my head is definitely still reeling at the extreme change of direction my life has taken these past 12 months.

Running has been one of the few constants I have carried with me throughout this process, and my state of equilibrium and my sanity sometimes seems to be hanging by that single thread. If I didn’t appreciate how important running was to my mental health before this year started, I definitely do now. I have always been a person who enjoys periods of solitude in my life, and so running alone was never as much of a struggle for me as it has been for some of my friends.

Especially after spending nine months in France and around Europe, I got to experience running as a companion to my almost spiritual experiences of seeing a beautiful Italian hillside at sunrise, or watching a storm roll in off the coast of Ireland, or seeing the Roman Colosseum before the tourists get there. So in that way running alone stopped feeling so alone – it started feeling like sharing my life experiences with a close friend who I already knew so well.

Lately it has taken on a different turn. These sudden changes in my life have had me on a complete rollercoaster ride and I usually feel like I am at the point of being almost-overwhelmed all of the time. My daily run has now become a part of my support system in coping with this. Going through the beginning of the school year process as a first year teacher, it seems like my to-do list is interminably long and never seems get any shorter no matter how hard I work. My daily run is now met with joy and happiness and the reminder for me to stop (not literally) and smell the roses before continuing on with my work.

So I guess that’s my tribute to how important running has been to me, and I’m excited and curious to see what role it will take on next in my life. Coming back down to the ground a little bit, another of my new experiences this year is facing a fall in which I am not part of a typical cross country team. However, I’m lucky enough to be a first year member of Team Illinois Elite, the soon-to-be premier post-graduate running club based out of (Champaign? Illinois? America? Remains to be seen). Fortunately for me, former IXC club coach Jake Englander is also a first-year member, which means is going to be an organized, streamlined, and competition oriented team that will definitely be making some big strides (not funny, sorry) this year.

Part of my vision for this team is to use it as a means to keep in touch with old teammates as life in the real world carries us across the country. Having the knowledge that somewhere out there your teammates are working just as hard as you are for the same upcoming race is a nice comfort to have, and my hope is that as we get older we’ll essentially be planning family vacations and get togethers around the goal races we all decide to race at (I refuse to do the Disney world marathon however).

Our plans for this fall are to tentatively race at the Columbus half-marathon on October 20th, where I’ve set the lofty goal to break 1:13 (about 5:35/mi) (I ran 1:17 in Paris in 2011, without great training). We’re also hoping to compete as a team for the first time ever at the USATF Club XC Championships in Lexington, KY on December 8. I’ll be doing a few other cross country and road races along the way, hopefully at least one in the same race as the Illinois XC Club. Training has been going extremely well especially given the circumstances I’m in, and I have yet to miss my daily run (though my sleep schedule looks the same as architecture studio circa fall 2011). Additionally, I have just started meeting up with a great group of really fast people who run for Big River Running, a local shoe store. All in all, a lot of good things are on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to life settling down a bit and getting to have some really great experiences down here in St. Louis over the next couple of years. Again, big thanks to Zach for inviting me to write this piece, and I apologize for the length. It definitely helped getting that off my shoulders and on paper though, so I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Also if you like big parks, frozen custard, and are interested in visiting the most fun museum on earth, then come visit me in St. Louis sometime!


Well, that is 10 weeks in the books. Because we are all back at school now, The Real Illinois will be on a once-every-two-week basis. Things are going to be heating up in a lot of aspects for all the contributors, so I would like everyone to be able to focus on the real important matters. I want to thank Andrew and especially Declan for posting this week. It was great to be able to put this all together and I hope that everyone enjoyed it. Like I mentioned, look for The Real Illinois two weeks from now.

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine


The Real Illinois – Entry 8

We are back. It is the eighth week of the Real Illinois and one of the last posts before school starts, at least for a few of us. As I mentioned at the beginning, The Real Illinois will be maintained throughout the semester. The only thing that is up in the air is whether posts will be updated every week or every two weeks, with you hearing from a particular contributor according to the schedule now, or once a month.

Anyways, the vibe will be a little bit different to this post. Andrew and Zach will be giving their perspectives from the last two weeks as well as another contributor. Unlike in previous posts where a contributor shares their thoughts on being in the real world and balancing it with running, this individual will be detailing his thoughts on the official move to college the first time. A new face for NIRCA this upcoming season, he is very excited to be “flying the coup” for the first time and getting on with the college experience. But before that, let’s hear from Andrew.


Andrew Gazdziak

Just a lil’ somethin’ somethin.

This week was the final week of my internship. It was busy, with 2 large presentations, but once they were done I realized that summer is basically over. It has really flown by, and I’ve had a fantastic summer in San Dieg

What Andrew really does at work

On the running side of things I haven’t been doing so hot these past few weeks. It seems that I have hit a plateau of around 50 mpw, which is lower than what I would like to be at right now. This past week will be a lot lower – I had my big end of the summer presentation to prepare for, so my priorities changed. I’m looking forward to getting back on track with my training this next week and I’m also really looking forward to running with my friends – I can’t wait to be back at swallow cliff and then on campus.

Before that I have a road trip back to IL! It will just be Brendan and I this time.  I’m looking forward to running in some awesome places and to eating some great food (found with the help of Yelp).  Catch the live Twitter updates at @agaz623!

Remember: @agaz623!!!

This summer has definitely been one to remember. I made a lot of new friends, both interns and other engineers. I will miss living in and exploring San Diego, but I am excited to be back in IL. I’m ready to finish off my last year of school strong, but I also am going to take time to enjoy and appreciate it. I know that I will miss U o f I A LOT, but luckily I have the next 9 moths to enjoy it.

Also, just as a heads up: If I end up living in San Diego I will be trying my hardest to convince you all to move out here and live with me. I’ve got a plan in the works and I’m not going to give up easily, so you might as well accept it and start thinking about it now.

One last view — courtesy of Michael Laccabue


Zach Boehmke

Wow, another two weeks have gone by, which means that there are two weeks to go before school starts. Unlike all the other interns at Takeda, I will still be there, in my cubicle, counting down until school begins. But, before I delve into Takeda, I will discuss the highlights and lowlights of the last two weeks.

First-off, after having my head “shaved” by Henry Wolf back before the Real Illinois even began, I am proud to announce that the flow is back — not quite John Brassea status, but it is looking fine.

One day…

Also, Lollapalooza happened as Jackie pointed out last week. While that weekend did not do wonders for my running, I have to admit that it was a spectacular time. I saw a lot of bands I did and did not want to see, and enjoyed every moment of it (besides early Sunday, but that’s another story…). I got a nice front row seat for the Black Keys to see them put on a much much much better show than when I saw them in the United Center. The whole weekend blew my mind and I am very excited to go back next year. However, outside of the Olympics and seeing all the madness on the track in the last week, that is where the positives really end.

Pretty similar vantage point to my location from the stage.

The last two weeks have probably been the hardest part of the summer for me training-wise. Last week I was so focused on passing Organic Chemistry that running took a step backwards. I took two days off in preparation for the exam (Thursday/Friday) and it still was rough. However, I did pass with a B in the class, which is “above average”, but not “excellent.” I am just happy it is over. Then, I missed my long run on Sunday because my body was, let’s just say, under the weather. However, if I can go back to school saying I only missed four days of running this summer, I will be very happy. Last summer I missed 17 and 30 the summer before, so I think it is definitely apparent that my mentality has shifted in terms of my commitment to consistency.

This week, when I started back up after missing the 3 out of 4 days, I felt truly awful. I am not sure why, but I was struggling to get through a half hour. I thought it was something deeper than just fatigue. It felt like my lower back and my hamstrings were connected by a rubber band and just pulling towards each other. When I was running, I assumed that I looked pretty funny to the outside eye because I personally thought like I was running like either a gorilla or Igor (no trunk rotation, favoring one side, no arm swing, just general mayhem). However, I believed that I could stick it out and the last couple days have been much better. We had a long run today with a good group of people and it was just splendid.

Outside of running, there have been a lot of things happening at work as of late. I should say, just this week because last week I was irate at what I was doing at work. That is, I was doing nothing; I did not even receive an e-mail last week and was so frustrated and full of mixed feelings because I was not sure if I had done something wrong and people were not trusting my work. Although it gave me opportunities to study for Orgo, I knew that that was not what I was supposed to be doing at work. However, that all changed this week.

This past week was the last week of work for the majority of the interns at Takeda. I started late, so I end a few weeks later than everyone. One thing I have not really been able to do was network myself to other supervisors or see what else was out there at Takeda. I was so locked up in my cubicle that talking to even the other interns was not really taking place. But, we had our intern send-off dinner this past Wednesday. It was a lavish affair at Pete Miller’s in Wheeling. We received free food, drinks — even a picture frame!! As the night rolled onwards, many people came and went, but I finally got to talk to some of the higher-uppers. It was interesting hearing some of their perspectives as well as being able to contribute some of my own insight on what it has been like working at Takeda. I learned of other opportunities, one even in San Diego (ANDREW) that I will have to look into in research and development.

Distinguished guests at our swinging mixer at Pete Miller’s.

It was a little sad to see the people leave that I did make friends with over the course of the internship, but I know that in this day and age, talking to other individuals at other schools is just one call away

Reminded of this gem last night


Anyways, this last bit allows me to segue into the next person commentating. As we know, everyone is going back to school again. Jackie and I had to get our goodbyes in which was pretty sad, but at least now we have a plan for staying in touch and an easy way to provide quick updates with the Real Illinois. One other individual that I had to say goodbye to this past weekend was my training partner for the summer. It’s been interesting because we were not able to accomplish what we wanted to do this summer in terms of FSU’ing, instead we accomplished much much more. We both go into our upcoming cross-country season full of confidence that the training we have put in will pay off. Unlike me however, Michael Jordan Brassea will be going to the big show for his first time. The University of Missouri has a lot in store for them as he makes his grand entrance and he talks in this post about what the last few years have been like being at home and what is exciting about the coming semester at school.

Michael Jordan Brassea

I’m BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK, (or so I’d like to say). I am Michael Brassea, many of you may not know me, but I, like many runners have a common goal to be someone who is decent at running, or, as John Brassea would say, “breaking from mediocrity.” I will be leaving home for the first time in my life at the ripe age of twenty to attend the University of Missouri. There, unknown to the Mizzou club cross-country team, I will attempt to do my best to help them improve as a club. Unlike many of the other bloggers, I cannot say I’ve ever worked a forty-hour workweek. But, I did work for the JEWEL-OSCO, for the past four years; something I can say was an enjoyable experience overall. Pushing carts, and bagging groceries isn’t where I’d like to be in twenty years, but for a 16 year-old boy, my first and only job was an easy one.  Why did I work there for so long many may ask? The answer is I didn’t really have an idea of what school or what I wanted to do with my life.

But enough of my work experience, and on to my running endeavors. My running career started my sophomore year of high school, just like our dear Zachary Warren Boehmke. Following in my twin brothers’ footsteps, I thought running would be a great time. The first year was a rough one, as expected, with very little base mileage or effort put into my running. Junior year rolled around and I began to see improvements with my times, mostly because of my summer running efforts. Finally my senior year rolled around, and with a great summer of running with people such as John Brassea, and Zachary Warren Boehmke, the year was a great success, finally breaking the 17:00 minute mark and feeling really good about the season. But some stories don’t always end happy. With a host of injuries, and sickness running rampant through our top seven, we sadly missed state by five points. With that I lost a lot of my drive to run, and didn’t do track my senior year. That was one of my bigger regrets -oh well-  as they say, YOLO.

Fast forward about three years later, a broken ankle, and no running and we are back on the comeback trail. Many thought it was all an elaborate hoax, but a few friends helped me along the way.  The summer started off slow and easy, but now I’ve got my mileage up to about 45-50 miles a week, a big step up from barely running twenty mpw in April. Throw in a few threshold workouts, and I’m feeling at the top of my game again. And that’s all I’ve got (hope this didn’t suck too bad).  A big shout-out to all who helped me along the warpath, such as Zachary Warren Boehmke, Jackie Newell, Andrew Gadz (Remember: @agaz623) for keeping the internet interesting with all of his cool pictures, and last but not least John Brassea for doing his thing in the Chuck. See everybody in HERSHEY, PA. Look our for Mizzou XC, the dark horse.


I just wanted to say really quick that people have a lot of opinions about MJB, but all I know is that I would not have gotten through this summer of training without him. Although he did not have to, he woke up and met me at Swallow Cliff every single day at 6 AM regardless of conditions. I am proud of the work that he has put in this summer and am really happy for the opportunity that he is getting at Mizzou. I am excited to see him at Loyola and at Nationals and look forward to see the summer of YOLO paying off for him, not to mention seeing him leave home. Keep it up, Mike!

That wraps up the 8th entry of The Real Illinois. Stay tuned next week for Jackie’s first entry back from the home base of Trinity U and Henry’s summary and wrap-up of his time at HDR. And hopefully, another guest commentator. Until next time…

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

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

The Real Illinois- Entry 2

We are back. It is week 2 in The Real Illinois. As you will see in this post, things are going to be a little different week to week. You may notice that two of the people I spotlighted last week are not going to be in this post. That is because I decided it would be tedious for people to write up a blurb every week. Instead, what is going to happen is that Andrew and I are going to write something one week and than the following week, Henry and Jackie will write something. This rotation will continue the rest of the training period and outdoor season. This will allow a fresh perspective every week instead of hearing the same voice every single week (although I will be narrating for the majority of the project). With the extra space from having only two people post, I am going to fill the last part of the post with something special every week. This week will be the exception as I am already late on posting, but look forward to that. It will probably be something along the lines of hearing some additional commentary from other people who could provide some really excellent insight into what it is like to really put yourself into running and a full-time work routine at the same time.

Anyways, because this project was started about halfway through the summer, I thought it would be interesting to get a recap of how the other half has gone so far. In the future, it will be a recap of the two weeks leading up to each post. Andrew is going to speak first about how his experience in San Diego thus far has been.

Ron Burgandy will explain to you how San Diego originated.

Andrew Gazdziak:

So far my summer training has been going smoothly. Once I moved in to my apartment in San Diego I spent that first week exploring places to run and I quickly settled into a routine. The first few days took some getting used to – I get up at 5, start work at 6:30 and I am done by 3:30. At 3:30 I stop at a park 5 minutes away along Mission bay. There is a 7 mile out and back concrete path, however I am able to run in the grass for about 90% of that, so I am getting plenty of soft ground. When I start doing longer weekly runs, which will be soon, I can add on a loop around an island in the bay, which would bump the run into the 8-10mi range.

The Get Fit Plan– Outdoor Edition

On MWF I do strides, mobility, and core. The grass here is perfect for barefoot strides – it is soft and flat. There also is an outdoor gym with a pull up bar, so it works out very well for training. In the afternoon people are always out here exercising – it is great to see people being active and taking advantage of the weather.

Strides along the bay; the grass is much greener now

Overall this park has worked out really well for me – it is convenient, has a place to do strides and core, and it is flexible enough for distances that I want to run. Ideally I would have a place like swallow cliff right next to my work, but there are few places that are as nice as swallow cliff to train. 

Running alone every day has been a change for me. I really miss my friends back at home and at school – it is awesome to be able to run with a group of some of my best friends every day. However, I have found that adjusting to solo runs hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. In the past I didn’t really like running alone and I would usually drag in getting out the door. However I’ve found that I really look forward to running almost every day. I think part of it has to do with getting in a routine – I run right after work almost every day and I do core the same days of the week. On weekends the first thing I do when I get up is go for a run. But part of it is definitely because I just plain love running in the summer. It is really awesome running every day after work while the sun is shining and there is a breeze from the ocean to keep the heat down. I could honestly never get tired of running in this weather.

My attitude has definitely changed from “Will I run today?” to “When am I going to run today”.

Zach Boehmke

This summer has taken some getting used to. There were a lot of changes to my daily routine and I will try to outline them all. I started out the summer with a nice little break between the end of school and the start of my internship at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. I really got myself into a routine with some friends where I would run every day. That is what I wanted to make the focal point of my summer: running every single day. Looking back at my past couple summers, I could always pinpoint legitimate amounts of time where I would take days off for no real reason. It was not that my body was sore or anything; I just did not have the motivation. Even when doing Amor Miles last summer (a nonprofit organization where every mile we ran raised a certain amount of money; we ended up raising over $11,000 as a group for various charities) I did not put in the amount of work I wanted to, much less in fact. I thought for such a good cause, I would easily be able to find the motivation. However, I had nothing to keep me busy. I would wake up late and miss the early run with the guys, then it got too hot, so I would end up taking the day off or something to that end. Anyway, I still ended up running well last year. But then I started thinking over the course of the last track season what I could be doing differently. I am a mid-distance runner (800/1500) and I ultimately did not have the energy to run a full 1500 and it showed. I started looking at my training and realized that I was consistently taking a day or two off every week to recovery from the hard workouts. Thinking about that I realized, if I am trying to run faster, than shouldn’t I run every day? Recovery days are there for a reason and I did not take advantage of them to help clear out my legs as well as get the volume that may have helped in my races.

So, I went into this summer believing that to get into the shape that I wanted to be in to be a leader on my team (outside of my position as President) I needed to really commit to running every day; I needed a routine. And that is exactly what happened. When I started my internship, I tried running in the morning. For a week it worked. I felt surprisingly fresh every morning, but then I wanted to start getting more sleep. So, I began running after work. While I have been able to consistently run and steadily increase my mileage, I noticed that I was too tired for the work I was doing. The heat was killing me. I was running at a place called Rollins Savannah where there was no shade and the 90+ degree heat was killing me. But, I kept with it.

No trees in sight

Outside of running, there were other changes to my normal routine. After watching some documentaries (Food Inc, Forks Over Knives, etc), I made the decision to slowly start taking meat out of my diet. It has been surprisingly easy. When I lived in Gray’s Lake, I had to take care of my food (which was a blessing and a curse because I could do what I wanted, including making meals without meat). My desire to eat meat has really vanished (although Mark Talbot’s pulled pork was really calling to me this past weekend). This decision has come with some skepticism though. My parents are worried that I don’t get the protein I need, but by supplementing my diet with more organic granola bars (Lara bars have 7 or 8 grams of protein), more nuts, more spinach, I have been able to get the protein I need. And I have noticed big changes in my running. First off, I feel great. Outside of lack of sleep, I have more energy in general and my body recovers better than it did before (unless I’m in extreme heat). Also, my digestion problems seem to be alright after the initial influx of fiber to my system. In the last few weeks since I switched over, I do not have the problems that have earned me the moniker of “Bumpkey Butt” or as they say at my highschool, “pulling a Boehmke.” So, that has been wonderful.

On a personal level though, living away from home was tough. Living at college was one thing, but this was another level, especially when my aunt and uncle went to Florida. It took an hour to get to work. At work, I am alone in my cubicle for 8 hours+ (including lunch since I have to watch my organic chemistry lecture during break). Then, I would leave work and drive an hour home, go for a run by myself, and come home and make a meal for myself, eat by myself, and you get the picture. It was lonely, even if it was short-lived. My escape was on the weekend when I got to run with some friends and have home cooked meals ready for me.

Last week I made the decision to come home and commute from home. Although I do miss the car rides with my uncle (when he was not in Florida), I am enjoying everything I do now. I get up and run every morning at Swallow Cliff with my friend Michael Jordan Brassea. I go to work and shower and then get in a nice workday. When I come home, dinner is ready and then I have time to work on chemistry instead of cramming everything in. It is exactly what I wanted with my summer. So, now that I am in the routine I will maintain for the rest of my summer, I am looking forward to how things go with my running and with my work.

Paradise, otherwise known as Swallow Cliff

That is it for this week. Two different perspectives from two different people in two different locations. This is what it will be like with an additional section here talking about someone else or another special topic (perhaps something that peaks my interests). It is meant to be interesting and insightful, so if that is not happening for you, please feel free to let me know. This project is meant to be REAL and an inside look into what people are going through as we begin to make the journey into the REAL world. Next week, Henry and Jackie will have their say, and, fingers crossed, some insight from a special guest. Until next time…

“Sometimes the best journeys aren’t necessarily from east to west, or from ground to summit, but from heart to head. Between them we find our voice.”

– Jeremy Collins