What do you do when you are having a bad day? What do you do to escape?

Junior cross country team star Jeff Gardina runs.

“When I’m having a bad day, I go out, run hard, and release all my energy. I run to let it all out,” Gardina said.

Gardina is one of UCSB’s top cross country runners and the only men’s team member to qualify for the NCAA Championships. This season, Gardina finished fourth at the Big West Championship and earned All-Conference honors. He also received All-West Region honors for his 11th place finish at regionals.

Gardina has come a long way in the sport since he began as a sophomore in high school. The Santa Rosa native began running on the many trails of his hometown because he enjoys the outdoors and wildlife. He got serious about running during junior year track and stuck with his senior year cross country team even when he was the only member.

“Cross country is the only sport where you control how good or bad you compete,” Gardina said.

The Gaucho chose UCSB for its education, not the cross country program. Gardina joined the team and benefited from what he believes is the best aspect of UCSB cross country: the opportunity for everyone to run.

“At other teams, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to run because I wasn’t the high school star,” Gardina said. “At UCSB, they take average high school runners and develop them into better athletes.”

Gardina also cherishes UCSB’s team for its team camaraderie. Gardina claims part of his success at regionals in Portland was due to the fan club of 11 teammates cheering on the sidelines.

However, Gardina’s victories and improvement this season is the result of hard work and determination, along with the support from friends. Gardina tailored the UCSB training program to fit what was best for him. For six consecutive weeks, Gardina ran 100+ miles each week, maxing at 110 miles one week. Now, he runs an average of 60 miles per week. His total miles exceed those of most college runners, which allows Gardina to run with any competitor.

Gardina feels one factor he could improve on is the coach/athlete relationship.

“[Coach Dolan and I] don’t get along. We’re both stubborn,” Gardina said. “But, stubbornness gets a runner this far. You can’t improve unless you’re stubborn, like doing more miles than you should. Cross country is 20 percent coach and 80 percent you dictating, the individual controlling how they will run.”

In that 80 percent, the runner must set goals for himself. Gardina admits he sets very high goals, some almost impossible to achieve. Even now, after qualifying, the thought of going to nationals is “surreal.”

“Sometimes I think I make unrealistic goals for myself. To actually achieve them, in my condition, how good I feel about myself, I’m in awe. I can’t believe it’s happening,” Gardina said.

Accomplishing these goals has taken a great amount of effort and the support of many, including Gardina’s girlfriend, Lindsay. He credits her with keeping him healthy and influencing his running by making him more conservative.

“Cross country, with any sport, you have to be dedicated, especially to go out there by yourself. It’s your work ethic and that can be translated to the workforce, school, and other things, not just running,” Gardina said.

The techniques learned this season should help Gardina in his other sport, track. While he prefers cross country, Gardina looks forward to track, hoping to improve his times. He also plans an attempt to make the Olympic trials.

“I’d rather take the risk of being great or injured, then not taking one at all and being mediocre,” Gardina said.

So take some advice from Gardina: Shoot high, take a risk, support your friends, and if everything is going wrong in life and all else fails, run. Run and let it all out.