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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!)

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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.

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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!

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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

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