Switching Sprint Training Philosophies

John Brumund-SmithCoaching Blogs, Illinois HS Cross Country 4 Comments

Most of us base our coaching philosophy on what our coaches had us do in the past. Sometimes our former coaches serve as a positive influence, sometimes a negative influence. When we suddenly find ourselves as coaches, we take a mishmash of how we were coached and put our own twist on it. These norms are hard to break; old habits die hard.

This is my 13th year coaching Track & Field. For the first 12, my sprint crews ran long-to-short, Baylor-style workouts filled with over-distance training early in the season (how about a 600-400-200-400-600 ladder?), extensive tempo, 450m repeats, and very little technical work on acceleration and top speed. However, while my 4x100m groups seemed to progress well and have success (they ran abbreviated versions of the training), I would end each of the last 10 seasons unimpressed with the final results of my quarter-milers. So I went out seeking a change. Rather than trying to find more justification that Clyde Hart was the end-all-be-all for sprint training, I decided to see what other options were out there for me.

I found Tony Holler. The first article I had read of his was 10 Reasons to Join the Track Team, which somebody on my Facebook newsfeed had shared (the article has been shared over 5,300 times) back in November of 2014. I had always recruited football players to run track, but after reading that article I started making more posters to hang up around school. In the fall of 2015, when I started searching for better training, I ran across more articles from Coach Holler.

In the span of about two weeks, I probably read every word Coach Holler had published on his training methods. At first I was intrigued, but incredibly skeptical. “Come on, no 8x200m workout? That’s a staple!” “What do you mean no sub-max?” “How can you give your athletes so many days off?” Then I started reading other articles, at sites like completetrackandfield.com and speedendurance.com, and they were preaching much of the same stuff Coach Holler was promoting.

Track-Football Activation Consortium

Chris Korfist demonstrates Ankle Rocker.

Chris Korfist demonstrates Ankle Rocker at TFC-2.

My intrigue led me to writing to Coach Holler, which led me to attending the Track-Football Activation Consortium with one of my former athletes from Antioch, Brad Fortney. Brad is the Head Girls Track & Field Coach at Kenosha Bradford (WI), and a track nut like I. We were giddy on the way there, and for weeks talked about nothing but that clinic and how this new training was going to improve our athletes. I attended great sessions by Tony Holler, Chad Lakatos, Cal Dietz, Chris Korfist and Alec Holler. In addition to the sprint training methods, Brad and I talked about including the French Contrast, Ankle Rocker, and Activation into our practices.

We both bought in, big time. But being new, I still needed a lot of help. I would ask Coach Holler questions constantly. I would ask his son Alec Holler and former athlete Chad Lakatos a bunch of questions as well. They were all convinced the training could work for us. They were right.

New Training

Lake Forest had a brand new training regimen in 2016. Our kids had a taste of it during some open gym sessions, when all we did was try out our new Freelap timing system (another Holler suggestion) to run the 40 yard dash and measure a 10 meter fly. During the first day of practice, I had to explain to our returning sprinters all the differences we would have in practice this year. Here is what I wrote…

What’s new this year?

  • Warm-up – no jogging, more concentration
  • Acceleration & top speed focus – shorter/faster repeats
  • Lifting – fewer lifts, more pre/post lifts, French Contrast, faster lifts
  • Core work will be 100% planks, no sit-ups, no Russian twists
  • No static stretching, even after practice, all dynamic
  • Lots of meets will be used as workouts
  • Activation

There was more. Workouts were now in spikes. We’d be going to the hill three times (which required getting a bus). We would have straight-up “recovery” days where all we did was roll out and go home.

The workouts would also be shorter. Only twice during the entire season would we run a repeat longer than 200 meters: once during a 40-second time trial as part of our fundraiser, once during a split 400 workout (300m repeat, 1:00 rest, 100m repeat; two sets). Only twice during the year did we do any running that was at less than 95% effort (two intensive tempo workouts in March).

Record, Rank, Publish. Another Hollerism.

Record, Rank, Publish. Another Hollerism.

All our workouts that we were able to time are listed here. The days of us doing 2 x 450m then 3x200m were over (anybody who has read Clyde Hart’s stuff knows that workout). Now we were doing 2 x 200+200, or 2 x 300+100, or hills (5 x 150m at a 10% grade). We did some version of top speed twice a week indoors and once a week outdoors. 10m fly, 20m fly, 30m fly, etc. All recorded, ranked and published. Our dual meets were used as either a top speed day (4x100m and 100m) or a lactate workout (4x100m, 400m, 200m).


Coming into this year, I knew Lake Forest would have a good sprint crew, which is why I wanted to make sure our workouts were on point. Our sprint relays at Sectionals the year before had run 43.39, 1:31.49 and 3:27.06, and the only person we graduated from those relays was the slowest leg of our 4x400m Relay. We also had a returning State finalist in Gavin Hoch, who ran 7.92, 14.73 and 38.02 in the hurdles as a junior.

After less than a month of official practice, it was obvious that our training was working. At the Mustang Relays on March 7th, our athletes were tired from having run several races at an 8.5-hour meet just two days prior. Still, our foursome of Gavin Hoch, Landon Edwards, Chris Meng and Quinn Julian ran 1:34.13 to place 8th of 34 teams, despite being stuck in lane 1. About an hour later, our 4x400m of Hoch, Jonathan DiValerio, Meng and Matthew Mick ran 3:30.10 to place 6th. Both relays qualified for the Illinois Prep Top Times meet (though we did not compete, because almost literally everybody in Lake Forest leaves for Spring Break). In 2015, our best indoor times were 1:36.73 and 3:38.91.

Two other meets before the championship season really showed how much we had improved. One was the first weekend of the outdoor season, when we chose to go up to UW-Madison to run an indoor meet, the Madison West Relays. We ran 43.77 in the 4x100m Relay (yes, an indoor 4×1) with Hoch, DiValerio, Meng and Julian. Our B team of Liam Pooler, DiValerio, Edwards and Brian Sullivan ran 1:34.64 in the 4x200m. Our 4x400m of Hoch, Meng, Julian and Mick ran 3:30.01 despite Mick being sick and off his game with a 53.4 split. Hoch set the meet record in the 55m Hurdles in 7.48 seconds (PR the year before was 7.92). Meng, who ran 7.12 as a junior, ran 6.66 in the 55m Dash.

Gavin Hoch's only relay carry of the outdoor season took him less than 50 seconds.

Gavin Hoch’s only relay carry of the outdoor season took him less than 50 seconds.

Our coming out party as a sprint crew was really the Cougar Relays at Vernon Hills on Saturday, April 16th. We had a lot of things going for us that day. The track was fast (they host Sectionals often), the weather was outstanding (79°), and it was a coed meet, which meant our athletes had the extra motivation of running in front of their female peers. Mick, DiValerio, Meng and Julian won the 4x100m Relay in 42.79. Pooler, Edwards, Meng and Julian won the 4x200m Relay in 1:30.48 (later to be DQed for passing half an inch before the zone). Hoch, DiValerio, Meng and Mick dominated the 4x400m Relay by over nine seconds to win in 3:23.20. We also scored wins in the JV relays with times of 45.10, 1:34.22 and 3:41.17.

Gavin Hoch, running his first hurdle races of the outdoor season, broke our school records with times of 14.53 and 37.96. He then ran a 49.9 lead-off on the 4x400m Relay. Unfortunately, those were his last races as a healthy athlete. He had pulled his hamstring in the summer, and the soreness started creeping up on him the week after the Cougar Relays. He did not practice the rest of the season, only ran a few meets, and would get two daily therapy sessions to try to repair his hamstring. With his fitness waning and his hamstring somehow not getting any better, he would never improve on his times. Regardless, he is still the best athlete I have ever coached.

Championship Season

Our team never really got tired of posing for these pictures.

Our athletes never really got tired of posing for these pictures.

Success in the regular season is great, but ultimately we as coaches have two goals:

  1. Bring our athletes as close to their peak as possible.
  2. Hit that peak at the correct competition.

If your athletes reach their peak in April, you have done something wrong. Our athletes were running faster in April than any other team in our school history ever had. After the Cougar Relays, we won our home invite for the first time in over 30 years, and we set two meet records at the Spartan Relays. But once May hit and the championship season was upon us, how did we perform?

Lake County Championships

  • 4x100m – 42.45 (Mick, DiValerio, Meng, Julian) MEET RECORD
  • 4x200m – 1:29.68 (DiValerio, Matt Begley, Meng, Julian) SCHOOL RECORD
  • 4x400m – 3:22.76 (Meng, DiValerio, Julian, Mick) SCHOOL RECORD

North Suburban Conference Championships

  • 4x100m – 42.47 (Mick, DiValerio, Meng, Julian) MEET RECORD
  • 4x200m – 1:29.31 (DiValerio, Begley, Meng, Julian) SCHOOL RECORD, MEET RECORD
  • 4x400m – 3:22.79 (Meng, DiValerio, Julian, Mick)

Sectional Championships

  • 4x100m – 42.15 (Mick, DiValerio, Meng, Julian)
  • 4x200m – 1:28.11 (Meng, Begley, Mick, Julian) SCHOOL RECORD
  • 4x400m – 3:20.30 (Meng, DiValerio, Julian, Mick) SCHOOL RECORD

Overall during the outdoor season, our sprint relays won 12 invitational titles, set seven meet records and broke three school records. In just the outdoor 4x200m Relay, we had nine different athletes win invitational titles. None of the relays in this paragraph included anybody named Hoch (who hopped in an open 200m for fun at our first outdoor meet and ran 21.9).

The IHSA State Championships also went well. Our 4x100m and 4x200m Relay teams both finished second behind East St. Louis in their prelims and made the finals with times of 42.25 and 1:28.14. Our 4x400m Relay also finished second in their prelim, and our time of 3:21.70 would have just missed out on making the final had we not been disqualified for stepping on the line. Gavin Hoch had to scratch the 110m Hurdles to save his sore hamstring for the 300m Hurdle prelim, where he also made the finals. We ended up with six All-State athletes, all seniors, not one of whom ran track for Lake Forest as a freshman.

Players make Plays

Charles Barkley has said many memorable things in his life. Perhaps my favorite is, “Players make plays. Coaches make substitutions.” Obviously coaches make a difference, but the possibility of putting a team into the State finals doesn’t happen with mediocre athletes. We were blessed with some studs at Lake Forest.

“Player make plays. Coaches make substitutions.” – Charles Barkley

Track & Field needs ATHLETES. None of these four ran track as freshmen (two didn't as sophomores either). In other seasons, they were starters (respectively) in football, basketball, soccer and football.

Track & Field needs ATHLETES. None of these four ran track as freshmen (the two on the left didn’t run as sophomores either). In other seasons, they were starters (respectively) in football, basketball, soccer and football.

Quinn Julian came out as a sophomore after playing lacrosse most of his life. He set our Frosh/Soph record in the 200m Dash (22.7) in his second outdoor race, and anchored our school record 4x200m Relay (1:29.77) that year. He ran 11.23 and 22.42 as a junior, and sacrificed his individual events senior year by only running the relays at the championship meets. This year he took up the 400m and split 50.8. Jonathan DiValerio came out as a sophomore as well, having played baseball as a freshman. His first meet he ran a 24.3 in the 200m Dash. Second meet, he ran a 55.8 400m Dash. We knew we had something special. He had an illness this January that threatened his season and weakened him significantly, but he came back with a vengeance. Both Julian (running back) and DiValerio (safety) were stud football players. Matthew Mick was a stud soccer player, and quit baseball his sophomore year to run track. He broke his wrist sophomore year, sprained his ankle junior year, and finally met his potential senior year. Before he focused on just the relays, he ran a State-auto time of 49.82 in the 400m Dash. He was put on the 4x100m Relay at a dual meet as a fill-in, but ran so well he stayed on it the entire season.

Chris Meng played volleyball his first two springs at Lake Forest. Like Julian and DiValerio, he was a stud football player (running back). Within weeks of coming out for track his junior year, he told me he wanted to be a champion. He wanted to be the best. That first spring he was just a replacement on our sprint relays, a fill-in guy. This year he was irreplaceable. At Sectionals he split a 49.6 on lead-off of the 4x400m Relay, consistently beat everybody on his legs of the 4x100m and 4x200m Relays, and also long jumped 21’2″. Matt Begley joined track as a junior as well. He was the starting point guard on the basketball team this past winter, and joined us in late March. As a junior, he had a JV jersey most of the season. Just over a year later, he ended his career on the medal stand at State.

Junior Liam Pooler was the lead-off man on our 4x100m and 4x200m Relays at Sectionals as a sophomore in 2015. A string of injuries and illnesses kept him from reaching his potential this year. At the end of the football season he had surgeries to repair a torn meniscus and a torn labrum. When we he was finally able to join us after Spring Break, he ran in one meet and then got mono. We expect him to be great next year. He’ll have teammates like Landon Edwards, Brian Sullivan, Daniel Hanson and who knows who else. We expect another trip to State. Success breeds success.

Other Holler Influences

Obviously the training we got from Tony Holler was very successful, but that was not all the wisdom he imparted on us. We started a Twitter page, took more pictures at the meets, timed more workouts, published our workouts, expanded our team webpage, published more race videos, bought a Freelap timing system, changed some of our terminology, went to better invites, added Ankle Rocker, Activation and French Contrast, etc.

There are obviously differences between Coach Holler’s program and ours. We do more warming up and more weight lifting. Our practices are a little bit longer. Next year we’ll add some tweaks and try new things. But Lake Forest has added themselves to the list of teams like Edwardsville, Belleville West, Minooka, Triad, Glenbrook North, Plainfield East, Metea Valley and countless others that have found a recipe for sprint success with Coach Holler’s methods.

Thank you, Coach Holler.


You can follow Lake Forest Track & Field on Twitter at @LFHStrack.

Comments 4

  1. Thanks for sharing….great article! I would not be where I am today without Coach Holler. He’s had the biggest influence on my life! Keep up the great work at Lake Forest coach! Let me know if you want to make a trip down to the Belleville West Invite in early April…

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      We actually have an opening in our schedule that weekend. We’re considering a few meets; I’ll talk to my athletic department. I’d love to go to Edwardsville as well, but it’s the same weekend we host our home invite.

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