On a blustery morning in early September 2022, Firespringer Zach Hastreiter laced up his running shoes, high-fived his wife and set out to tackle one of the biggest physical challenges of his young adult life: to run 50 miles in one month for Team Jack.

If you’re from Nebraska, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the Team Jack Foundation (TJF). It was named after a little boy, Jack Hoffman, who at an age when most of us are learning how to read, was battling childhood brain cancer. Who, just months after his eighth birthday, fulfilled his biggest wish by taking a handoff at Memorial Stadium and running down the field for a touchdown, to the delight of thousands of teary-eyed Husker fans. The video has since gathered nearly nine million views on YouTube.

TJF was founded by Jack’s father, Andy Hoffman, to raise awareness and funding for research into childhood brain cancer. Tragically, Hoffman himself passed away in 2021 from glioblastoma. Jack, now in high school, continues to fight the good fight. Thanks to treatments that have kept his cancer from spreading, he has been able to live a somewhat normal life and even plays football for his high school team, the West Holt Huskies.

The Miles for Team Jack virtual run challenge, hosted by TJF in collaboration with Fleet Feet Lincoln and Omaha, tests participants like Zach Hastreiter to run, walk or cycle increments of 50 or 100 miles in just 30 days. T-shirt and entry fees go toward supporting TJF and finding treatments and a cure for childhood brain cancer.

Testing the limits

For Zach, completing his running journey would mean testing – then breaking through – his own physical limits.

“For starters, I wasn’t even a runner,” said Zach, who works as the technical team lead for Firespring’s Client Experience Team. “But with a one-year-old at home, I couldn’t imagine anyone going through what Jack and his family have. So I was inspired to start run-walking in July to train up.”

Zach hit the pavement with dedication. By late August, he had already worked up to running a 5k without stopping – a distance of about 3.1 miles. When September arrived with its virtual starting line, he felt ready to go.

“Running had actually started to feel great,” he said. “I was going out mostly in the mornings and discovered it was a fantastic way to start my day. I still run regularly.”

The notion of 50 miles in 30 days doesn’t really hit home until you break it down in chunks.

To run this distance, Zach had to average 11.66 miles per week. That’s 1.66 miles a day. That means to run 50 miles in September, he needed to average nearly two miles a day. Any time he rested or skipped meant more miles to run tomorrow. He would need those days off to stay motivated and injury-free.

“I would run two miles on the weekdays and take Wednesdays off,” he explained. “Then I would take a longer run on Saturday and rest on Sunday.”

As the miles accumulated, Zach says he felt his physical fitness continue to improve. Before long, he could easily knock out five or more miles. There were definitely days, though, when the distance got tough. And on those days, his wife was there to keep him going.

“She was my rock and willed me to the finish line. It was a blast to have her as my motivator. She encouraged me to stretch after every run and kept pushing me day after day.”

As the month flew by, Zach reached the point where many others would have given up – when it was time to buckle down or call it quits. But not Zach. When the runs grew long, every breath burned in his lungs, and the pavement felt brutal and unforgiving under his knees, he could always think of what he was running for. Of that little boy in a Husker helmet on that bright spring day, out-weaving everyone who tried to catch him, sprinting to the end zone on the run of his life.

On the day of Zach’s last run–a day that was cloudy and cool, the type he enjoyed running in most–he didn’t just complete his goal. He crushed it by five miles.

“I definitely plan to run again for Team Jack this year,” he said. “I know it will take a lot of training and motivation. But I’m up to the challenge.”