The Epiphany

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs 2 Comments

To summarize my first post … track is a tough sell (but it can be done).

Like most coaches, I coached the way I was coached.  I created toughness.  I got kids in shape.  We worked on endurance early and got fast in May.  My guys all suffered from shin splints.  Kids hated practice and that was OK with me.  I bragged to my athletes that no one worked harder than we did.  We never wore spikes in practice.  I repeated the methodology of my high school coach, Roger Wilcox,  who would call us “Dragons” in practice, because he was going to run us “till our ass was dragon”.  To justify this abuse, my coach reminded us of the seven P’s:  “Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”  Tears came to my eyes as I just wrote that.  I really miss the man.  I called him just before he died.  He wanted to get better before I visited him.  He didn’t get better.  I attended his funeral.

OK, back to the story of the epiphany.

Then came 1998, my tipping point.   Harrisburg featured one of the best collections of 400/800 runners in the history of Class A.  We had run 7:53 in the 4×8 and 3:19 in the 4×4.  Antwan Garnett 50.0 & 1:57.3, Patton Segraves 48.3 & 1:54.8 (1999),  Brian Weiss 51.0 & 1:56.7 (1999), and Clint Simpson 48.9 & 1:59.7.  We also had two alternates running the 800 in 2:00.1 and 2:00.5.  Garnett, Weiss, Segraves, & Simpson had run 8:02 in the 4×8 at the state meet as freshmen and sophomores two years earlier (placing 3rd).

The weather was freaky hot for the finals in 1998.  One of my 4×8 guys tried to run through a hip flexor injury.  The unthinkable happened.  We lost the 4×8.  My dejected kids sat in the blazing sun forever before getting their medals.  Later we bombed in the 400, twice in the 800, and failed to win the 4×4.  We accepted the 3rd place trophy with tears in our eyes.  No one spoke to each other on the way home. You don’t get many chances to be a state champion.

My dedication to 400 training had failed.

Brian Weiss and Patton Segraves at 2001 State Meet leading our team to a state title. Patton now coaches at Belleville West, Brian at Triad.

Brian Weiss and Patton Segraves at 1999 State Meet leading our team to a state title one year after failing. Brian now coaches at Triad, Patton at Belleville West.

Epiphany – an enlightening realization allowing a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.

The best way to win championships – sprinters and jumpers.

I attended a clinic in  St. Louis circa 1998-99.  Paul Souza gave me the foundation of my plan.

Paul Souza: track guru and lead singer of the Velveteen Playboys

Paul Souza: track guru and lead singer of the Velveteen Playboys

Paul Souza owned the room.  At the time I saw Paul,  he was head coach for Wheaton College, a Division-3 school out east. He recently stepped down after 17 years in 2011 (article).  He is now the lead singer of the Velveteen Playboys.  I wish I could sing.

I don’t have my notes from that Paul Souza session 15 years ago, but I remember the important parts.

  • Jumping improves sprinting.
  • Sprinting improves jumping.
  • His 48-second 400 runners never run more than 200m in practice.
  • Get fast, then do “Critical Zone” workouts later

Mind blowing.  I drank the Kool-Aid and was forever changed.  I will never forget, he also introduced me to the word “EPIPHANY”.  I love the word.

Paul Souza never failed to answer an email.  I have been “paying it forward” ever since.



Don Beebe had a long and successful NFL career due to his speed.

4.21 in the 40

Don Beebe was a track star at Kaneland (10.8 & 22.1).  He went to Western Illinois, Aurora University, and then graduated from Chadron State University.  He shocked the NFL combine with his speed in 1989 and is still considered one of the fastest players in NFL history.  He played basketball for my father for one year at Aurora University. (1989 article)

With the urging of my father, Don Beebe offered to come to Harrisburg to conduct a speed camp (circa 1998-99).  His price was $10,000 for a two-day event.  I explained that Harrisburg was as poor as Appalachia.  He suggested getting banks to sponsor the event.  I told him our banks were poor too.  I had never received a phone call from an NFL player before.  Cool stuff.

The Don Beebe call got me thinking.  If he can teach speed, why can’t I?  That summer I conducted my first speed camp and charged $20 per kid.  I learned the craft and I continue to study.  The cornerstone of my speed training became the 40 yard dash, in some part due to Don Beebe.

My high school coach, Roger Wilcox, had success with the mantra of “train runners to be quarter-milers”.  His thought process was sound.  Quarter-milers could move up to the 880 and down to the 220.  The fastest of them could run the 100.  All relays would be successfully filled.  The “MILE RELAY” became the be-all, end-all.  The final race of every meet was the crescendo to all that had come before.  The entire team lined the track and cheered for the chosen ones.  Prayers were said (“God give me strength!”).  Each MILE RELAY was a test of faith.  Tired and sore from previous events, sprint as far as you can go … then run faster.

The prevailing thought was that sprinters were born fast and pure speed came from some location on the human genome.  If this was accepted thought, why train speed?  Clydesdales don’t train for the Kentucky Derby.  Thoroughbreds were bred to be fast.  Speed is innate.

After being indoctrinated to coach all sprinters to run the 440, I subtracted 400.  Now I train everyone as a 40 runner.  Five seconds, full speed, accelerating from 0 to 22.4 mph. Our best runners go about 1.00 seconds per 10 meters in the 10m fly.  Converts to 22.4 mph.

These guys were fast in the 100m – 10.7, 10.6, 10.7, 10.8; but they also ran the 4×4- 47.8, 52.4, 53.8, 51.3

To paint the picture, consider this analogy.  We train at 100 mph so 80 mph feels easy.  Some teams train at 40 mph and when they race, 60 mph feels foreign.

“The faster your top-end speed, the faster your sub-max speed.” – Latif  Thomas

The final factor in my conversion from the dark side to the light … my own kids.  In 1999, Adrienne was 15, Alec 13, Troy 9, and Quinn 6.  What type of program would THEY like?  As a parent, would I want them to come home miserable or happy?  Do I want them to love the sport or tolerate it?

And … I wonder how important happiness is?

Do happy & healthy runners compete successfully against injured & miserable runners?

Do bouncy sprinters run faster than broken-down tough guys?

The epiphany was complete.  I would train speed.  I would make track & field a lovable sport.  I would somehow create a track & field universe of my own that would attract talent, not discourage it.

The results were and are encouraging.

15 years of 4×1 times (1998-2012).  Harrisburg (H) is a school of 600+ kids in a depressed coal-mining town.  Franklin (F) is a school 0f 1800 kids just south of Nashville.  Plainfield North (N) is a school of 1800 kids, opened in 2005-06. Three schools, 2 states, one system of training.

  • 1998 (H) 43.4 (State Medalist)
  • 1999 (H) 42.9 (State Champs)
  • 2000 (H) 42.9 (State Champs)
  • 2001 (H) 42.3 (State Champs)   New State Class A Record, 42.54, Caucasian Record?
  • 2002 (H) 43.1 (State Medalist)
  • 2003 (H) 43.1 (State Champs)
  • 2004 (H) 43.0 (State Medalist)
  • 2005 (F) 42.8 (State Medalist)
  • 2006 (F) 42.6 (State Medalist)
  • 2007 (N) 42.5 (State Qualifier)  Before Plainfield North had a senior class.
  • 2008 (N) 42.1 False started at Sectional
  • 2009 (N) 42.5
  • 2010 (N) 42.9
  • 2011 (N) 41.9 (State Medalist) 42.06
  • 2012 (N) 42.0 (Sectional Champs) 42.22

Now for the question I’ve heard 100 times.  How do you train your 400 guys?  Answer:  Same.  Fast guys win the 4×4.

  • 1998 (H) 3:19.9 (State Medalist)
  • 1999 (H) 3:23.1 (State Medalist)
  • 2000 (H) 3:22.6 (State Medalist)
  • 2001 (H) 3:24.6 (State Medalist)
  • 2002 (H) 3:24.6 (State Qualifier)
  • 2003 (H) 3:21.3 (State Medalist)
  • 2004 (H) 3:18.3 (State Champs)
  • 2005 (F) 3:25.6
  • 2006 (F) 3:23.1 (State Medalist)
  • 2007 (N) 3:31.2
  • 2008 (N) 3:24.0 (State Qualifier)
  • 2009 (N) 3:28.5
  • 2010 (N) 3:20.5 (State Medalist)
  • 2011 (N) 3:19.1 (State Medalist)
  • 2012 (N) 3:19.3 (State Medalist)
Nathan Murphy 49.1, Nathan Sumner 49.6, Aaron DeNoon (alt) 52.2, Cole Perkins 49.0, Soph Brett Brachear 50.3

2004 (3:18.3)  Nathan Murphy 49.1, Nathan Sumner 49.6, Aaron DeNoon (alt) 52.2, Cole Perkins 49.0, Sophomore Brett Brachear 50.3

Since creating my alternative universe with help from Paul Souza 15 years ago, several others have left the dark side and made the conversion.  Maybe some of them had it figured out long before me.


I have seen Chris Korfist, sprint coach at Elmhurst York H.S., speak several times.  I’ve spent many mornings in his garage.  I’ve visited a practice at York.  One coach recently told me that Chris and I are like “brothers from a completely different mother”.  I take that as a compliment, same core of thinking coming from different places.  I think Chris is more radical than me, more new-school.  He seems more scientific which is odd because he is a history teacher and I am a science teacher.  He also is a personal trainer, I am not.

I have seen Boo Schexnayder multiple times.  Boo is a speed guy but would differ with Chris Korfist in many ways, weight lifting in particular.  Boo is one of the best.  He also sells lots of DVDs.  I don’t copy Boo but he reinforces my theories.

In 2010 I met Latif Thomas and we talked late into the night.  In 2011 I spent six hours with Latif at the WISTCA Clinic.  Latif is a great presenter and I love his teaching.  Sometimes I think he is too much of an entrepreneur … “you are doing everything wrong, buy my DVD”.

In 2008 I spent three hours with Brian Fitzgerald of Rio Mesa, CA., three hours I will never forget.  He taught me WHY my system works.


Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 6.32.56 AM

Happy kids perform well (2011). Click on picture to enlarge.


I continue to evolve but my kid-centered speed-centered mantra is central.

“I am not as good as I ought to be,
Not what I want to be,
Not what I am going to be,
But I am thankful that
I am better than I used to be.”

                   – John Wooden’s father


I am thankful for my epiphany.

Tony Holler


Next post … “Why It Works”


Follow me on twitter @pntrack and @anthonyholler



Comments 2

  1. Love the posts so far, Tony. I’m a distance coach, but I’ve always felt that the track and cross country need to be fun to be successful. Kids have some pride when they feel like they are working harder than kids in other sports, but working them so hard that they aren’t having fun will drive too many of them out of the sport.

  2. Pingback: Patton Segraves – Born to Compete - ITCCCA

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