Taking Another Trail
Oct. 6, 2009
By Larry Watts
Dan Kremske always had a dream of playing Division I football. But by the end of his senior season at Woodstock High School in the far northwest suburb of Chicago, the 6-foot, 170-pound wide receiver had no Division I offers on the table and was only hearing from Division III coaches.
"I had played football for six years and every summer I was trying to build myself to be the top football player in my area and get myself up to the point I could play Division I," he says. "I wasn't the biggest or fastest guy although my numbers were OK, but I just wasn't enough of a prospect. The Division III coaches were calling, but I wanted to go to a Division I school. I also had this track thing going, so I decided to give it a shot."
The only trouble was Kremske's training for track had only been limited to in-season workouts. A three-year letterman in the 800 and 1600 meters, he had never participated in cross country due to his commitment to football.
"Since I wanted to go to a bigger school, I decided track was going to be my best option," he says. "I had to give this track thing a shot."
Kremske wound up qualifying for the Illinois state meet for the first time as a senior in both the 800 ad 1600. But when it came to the state prelims and after checking all the qualifying times for both events, he decided to drop the 800.
"All through high school my focus had been on the 800, which comes first in the meet," he says. "I had never run a fresh 1600 in my career. I wanted to see what I could do with fresh legs, so I put all my eggs in one basket."
Kremske wound up running a personal-best 4:17.9, good enough for 14th place, but not good enough to qualify for the finals.
"I was happy with my time, but I was on the outside looking in," he says. "It just happened to be one of the fastest years for milers in state history."
His time at the state meet only fueled Kremske's desire to compete at the Division I level. His coach at Woodstock immediately fired off an e-mail to Illinois head cross country and distance coach Wendel McRaven to see if there would be interest in Kremske coming to Illinois as a walk-on.
"The answer was a resounding yes," Kremske says. "I had put all my eggs in one basket and something turned out."
Training for cross country rather than football during that first summer turned out be a whole new world for Kremske.
"The only time I ran over 1600 in high school was when I faced Evan Jager (now running professionally with the Oregon Track Club) in the 3200 during a triangular meet," he says. "It was kind of a cool experience running against a multiple state champion. I kind of sat on him during that first mile, but then he dropped me. He must have finished something like 150 meters ahead of me."
During his first two months of training, Kremske was logging 60 miles of running and 150-200 miles of biking per week. But then his IT band flared up and he had to put his workouts on hold.
Immediately taking a redshirt year, he called his first season at Illinois "a good learning experience and introductory to college running."
"I didn't run any fast times in cross country or track," he says. "The big problem was I hadn't put in the mileage or built up my aerobic base like many of these guys who had been competing for so long."
By his second year, he had built up that aerobic base and cracked the Illini lineup to the point he ran fourth at the Illini Challenge and was the fifth Illinois runner at both the Illinois Intercollegiate Championships and the Pre-Nationals. On the track, he posted a personal best of 4:16.77 in the mile during the indoor season and 4:01.96 in the 1500 during the outdoor campaign.
His success in the cross country season was short-lived however. By mid-October, he started feeling sick and was dropping back further in the pack. At the Big Ten Championships, he dropped out at the 3K mark.
"I knew I was feeling tired going into that meet, but I didn't want it to affect me mentally, so I just shrugged it off," he says. "Once the race started, I got out with the team, but when everyone picked up the pace I went straight to the back. I decided I didn't want to parade around at the end of the pack, so I decided to drop out because that wasn't indicative at all of what I had been doing.
"A few days later, I found out I had been running with mononucleosis, so that knocked me out for the next month."
Kremske's illness was kind of the topper to a season filled with injuries for the Illini. As a result, Illinois placed ninth at the Big Ten Championships.
"That season was a huge disappointment for our team," Kremske says. "We didn't have all our cards in the deck; it was sort of collective. As a team we want to remember how that feels and use it to motivate us for the future, especially this year."
During the past summer, Kremske raised his training regimen to 95 miles per week and biked twice a week for another 35-40 miles. Now he is one of only two Illini runners logging over 100 miles a week.
"It's nice to be out there doing something a lot of other guys can't do," he says. "Sometimes it's kind of a problem crawling out of bed, putting on my shoes and hitting the road, but the reward is to see that entire body of work and know it will pay off. It's been quite an adjustment the last few years."
Now a redshirt sophomore, Kremske has moved up to the second position during the Illini's first two meets. He was second at the Illini Challenge and placed eighth in the Illinois Intercollegiate Championships at Illinois State.
"I'm really confident in my training and had great workouts so far," he says. "I approached this (cross country) as if I was going to do this, I was going to do it to the best of my ability. I am going to put in the hard work, but I have to be smart about it. This proves with a strong mind and hard work, you can accomplish a lot of things."
According to the Woodstock native, the entire Illini team is on the warpath this fall.
"Our goal is November, we all have this November vision so to speak," he says. "It escaped us last year, but this whole team is striving for a big showing at the end of this year.
"No matter what other people may think of us, our goal is to get to Nationals. We know as a team what we can accomplish."