NAME: Josh Ilnicki
RESIDENCE: Front Royal, VA
AGE: 29
FAMILY: Wife Sara, Daughter Estella (age 3)
OCCUPATION: Teacher (Pre-Algebra, Health, and Physical Education)

Intro: I met Josh in 2014 at a race and he told me he had been reading this blog for a while. It was nice to hear that someone actually reads this thing, so we became friends. We also became friendly competitors over the following races including a down to the wire finish at the Apple Blossom 10k. He faithfully has worn the Team Running Dad shirts for all his races and embodies the Running Dad mentality.

In 2014, Josh also found out he had Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and has been dealing with the chemotherapy and treatments for that. While that has slowed his running times down a bit, it has not put a damper on his passion for running and helping the kids he teaches/coaches meet their running goals. He still runs strong times at local races and brings some of his pupils along to get a feel for the competition and camaraderie of racing.

He is tackling the disease head-on with the support of his family and friends and has inspired all he has encountered with his courage. Once he finishes the chemo treatments, I know he will be right back nipping on my heals if not passing me in races again.

How long have you been running?

I first started running when I was in 9th grade. I realized baseball wasn’t my thing and was convinced by a friend to try Track. After high school, I ran occasionally, but became more serious about running 3 years ago.

What are your proudest running accomplishments?

My main accomplishment is running the Richmond Anthem Marathon in 3:27:00. Though nothing stellar, I was happy to get a sub 3:30. I also ran 38:45 in the Apple Blossom 10k – one second behind Jeremy!

What drives you to continue running?

Before, I ran mainly to stay in shape and it was something that I was decent at. Now, I run for my health and the camaraderie of my running friends. And let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be much of a cross country/track coach if I couldn’t run myself.

How often do you run?

At the peak of my training I will run 5-6 times a week, netting anywhere from 20-40 miles per week. Right now, twice a week ranging anywhere from 6-10 miles. My diagnosis and chemotherapy has really taken a toll on my running – both physically and mentally.

What are your future running goals?

I’m still up in the air about this one. I would love to tackle an Ultra; however, I would also like to run a sub-5 mile and break 18:00 for a 5k. Maybe all three?

Does the rest of your family run?

To be fair, my wife is a lot more motivated then I am. She wakes up some mornings at 4:15 in the morning to crank out 6 miles. However, she isn’t one for competition. She just runs to run!

Do you struggle to find time to run and balance family and career?

Yes and no. During the winter it is extremely hard. I teach, then help coach a middle school basketball team, come home to help with dinner, clean up, play with Estella, give her a bath, and next thing I know, it’s already 8:00! During the rest of the year, I coach track and cross country. This makes it much easier to find time. I literally am getting paid to run! Also, during the summer the days are mine since I am out of school.

Any advice for other running dads or moms about balancing running and life?

Make running part of your lifestyle and let others know about it. I’ve been blessed by having a life partner that also likes to run. We understand how hard it is to find time, but we make time for each other to run. Also, get into a routine and make it part of your weekly to-do’s.

What is the biggest challenge of being a runner?

My biggest challenge is taking it easy. I like to push myself on almost every run, even when I know I am not supposed to. Even when injured, I like to test the waters and see what I can do. Have you ever consumed a bunch of food and then go do speed workout? I have, so I can test my limits and run while uncomfortable. That way, in better conditions it doesn’t seem too bad.

I have NO clue if this is effective, and I do not do it often!

What is it like being a running coach? 

Coaching is AWESOME! I love seeing my athletes progress towards their short term and long term goals. Also, I try to instill confidence, ethics, and happiness amongst my runners. We joke that we are not a team, but a family. And it is with these attributes that greatness can be achieved.

What is your goal in helping your students with their running endeavors?

I want them to know that I am here for them and they can always improve. A conference championship would be nice, but seeing a young athlete find joy in running is my top priority.

How has your health impacted your running and life in general? How are you able to overcome the challenges of chemotherapy and what it does to your body?

Being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma was a train wreck at first. I tried like heck to hide my true emotions because I hate seeing other people in a negative mood. That’s where running came in. If I could continue running and keep a smile on my face, maybe I could inspire others. And it seems to have worked… a few friends have  stated what an inspiration I am, and how I was the one that got them into running. Talk about a warm, fuzzy feeling!

The down side to this, of course, is the chemotherapy. There are days where I just feel shattered. I don’t want to socialize or work – let alone go running. I am slowly getting back into things, though. And in a few months, after all of this is over with, watch out! I’m going to take my running to a whole new level!

Any advice for other Running Dads or Running Moms?

Set a goal, keep it in mind, and achieve it. The best thing about reaching a goal is that once it’s achieved, you get to set a new one!

Josh and I battling it out at the Shenandoah Valley Apple Blossom 10k