Tony's Take: The Arkansas 2.0 Explained

Lane Tech winning the prestigious Prospect Wanner 4x800 relay in a regular season state best 7:49.57 in 2014 
1Lane Tech High School7:49.572
2Lyons Township High School7:52.562
3Hersey High School7:53.722
4Prospect High School7:57.362
5Hinsdale Central High School7:58.152
6Fremd High School8:01.012
7Barrington High School8:02.552
8Hononegah High School8:14.192
9York High School8:15.822
10Naperville Central High School8:17.142
11Libertyville High School8:26.202
12Zion Benton High School8:27.781
13Niles North High School8:36.402
14Downers Grove South High School8:40.651
15Whitney Young High School8:50.751
16Springfield High School9:03.291
17Maine West High School9:30.87

Being successful is being prepared well ahead of time and doing it when no one else is watching or even care. Lane Tech has enjoyed tremendous success in the middle distance arena over the past 15 years. Our bread and butter has been and will be the 4x800m relay. 2013 was supposed to be a great season for us but after running 7:53 and not earning any state title or medals, we were ready for BIG things in 2014. As a coach you must set the tone for your program. We had 3 of 4 legs back and a solid #5 who ran 1:58 and I without flinching said in a team meeting, "the goal is 7:40." There was no yelling or convincing or Jedi mind tricks. We crafted out the plan on paper, but the guys had to go out and trust one another for two months in the off season. We were able to run 7:54 indoors, State Medalists, and New Balance Outdoor National All-Americans.


As another track and field season is set to begin, I start to turn my attention to coaching and the delightful feeling of early dividends being paid out. For two months since the end of the cross country season, the boys have training in earnest on their own. They all know the prescription to success: self accountability, hard work, and dedication day after day. 

It's now January and the official season is set. January 16. 

As usual around this time, I discuss with many coaches about their upcoming seasons. I began to think about my own team. Just like all coaches who dream and have reality perspectives of their season goals so do I. For those who may not know I coach at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. I have been a coach just about 20 years- all in the CPS. In my early years I will be the first to admit that I was coaching strickly from the hip. I thought being a former standout runner was all you needed to produce good athletes and a quality program. Nope. After many trials and errors I was finally able to garner some success.

Pavlo Hutsalyuk, Christian Badillo, Jon Vara, and David Schmieg were like piranhas when they stepped on the track

For many years the honor system did not work for me and I needed something in place as a deterrent to the lost cross country training and winter conditioning laziness. One day back in 2001 I made a call to the legendary University of Arkansas coach John McDonnell. I noticed at the time he had won 30+ national championships in three sports (xc, indoor, outdoor). I asked Coach McDonnell how he maintained his program at such a high level year round. He told me that winter training was the most important season because it was a time where breaks, finals, and down time interfere with direct coaching. "There is a time where I cannot be there and that is usually around the winter holidays," he said. The Razorbacks are on their own on breaks with workout sheets. They are treated like adults and the honor system is in play. So, when the first official day back from break he has a lengthy workout to find out who is in training shape: scholarship and non-scholarship athletes together. The idea is not to punish any kids but rather hold them accountable.

My eyes lit up when Coach McDonnell mailed me his winter shape training program. On the last page was the "shape up" workout and it read: "2k, 1m,1500,1200,1100,1000, 900,800,700,600,500,400,300,200." Yikes! The next year in 2002 I surprised the guys and girls with a moderate form of this. They all ran horribly. The proceeding years, I issued a proclaimation after the xc season: "make sure you get your work and runs in by the first official day of the season." We start at 6:00 mile pace and drop down along with the rest. Nothing revolutionary. It is just as Coach McDonnell stated: accountability. In retrospect, it has to be the best thing we could have instituted. Accountability works. We ran 8:03.5 for the 4x8 in 2004- the first time running under 8:10 during my stint. Over the next 10 years we have broken 8:00 numerous times, 3 state titles (1 relay, 2 individuals), 2x Illinois #1 in 4x8, 2x state relay medalists, 1x All-American medalists (NBON).

We named Coach McDonnell's check system workout in his honor "The Arkansas." We only run it one time a year and it's during the first official week of the track season in January. Every kid that runs track for Lane Tech now that it is coming and yet some refuse to put in the work. They pay for it. Some kids cramp up. Some puke in a can. Some throw up the surrender flag halfway through. But somehow for the vast majority of the kids in the program, when they finish, it's like a victory, a badge of honor if you will. They understand the definition of hard work does not come cheap. At the end of the day I realize they indeed completed their runs, hit the weight room, ate right, and got themselves mentally prepared for the five or six month grind known as track and field.

First boys relay team from Chicago to earn All-American honors in the 4x800 at the 2014 New Balance Outdoor Nationals. They ran the #1 time in the state and #8 in the country w/6th place- 7:39.76. Each one of them can attribute their success to the "Arkansas"