Meet Empire Elite’s Eric Holt: The Dark-Horse Contender For the U.S. 1500m Team

Tuesdays and Fridays at 9 am at The Master’s School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, the only professional track club based out of New York – Empire Elite – meets to do their track sessions.

Empire Elite is coached by John Trautmann and Tom Nohilly. Trautmann was a 2-time NCAA 5,000m champion for Georgetown University and the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000m champion. Nohilly was the 1989 NCAA 3,000m steeple champion for the University of Florida. Nohilly was painfully close to making the Olympics in the steeplechase, finishing one spot out of the Olympics in two U.S. Olympic Trials.

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This week I spent my Tuesday morning at Empire Elite’s track session, their last hard session before USAs. Nine days out from the first round of the 1500m, rising star and dark-horse contender to make the 1500m U.S. team, Eric Holt, ran a workout to remember. First, some context of how Empire Elite started and how Holt, who was 4th at USAs last year in the 1500 and just dominated the USATF NYC Grand Prix’s 1500 in a seasonal best 3:37.07 (his pb is 3:35.80) after a 54.21 last lap, ended up there.

History of Empire Elite

Empire Elite was founded in January 2021, directly after the demise of HOKA NJ/NY Track Club. HOKA pledged to sponsor a team in the NYC area for four years, from 2016 through the 2020 Olympic Trials. The head coach of this club, Frank Gagliano, aka Gags, was 82 years old in 2020 and was at the tail end of his coaching career. Trautmann and Nohilly were assistant coaches under Gags for HOKA NJ/NY TC. When HOKA’s sponsorship of the track club ended in 2020, the team disbanded. This gave rise to Empire Elite, (EE) as Trautmann and Nohilly both wanted to start a team from scratch in the NYC metropolitan area.

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Meeting The Team

Although unsponsored as a team, there are a few runners for EE that have individual contracts with brands. Those include Colby Alexander, who is sponsored by adidas, and Helen Schlachtenhaufen, who is sponsored by Nike. Alexander is injured right now and is set to have Haglund’s deformity surgery. Schlachtenhaufen works with Trautmann and Nohilly, but is not based out of NY, rather Boston. 

While Eric Holt is on the rise, he is unsponsored as well. His coaches both believe that there are many reasons for his lack of sponsorship even after his rise as a prominent American 1500m runner. Firstly, it is now quite common in the U.S. to receive a sponsorship or shoe deal from a company that is supporting a team (Brooks Beasts, On Athletics Club, Bowerman Track Club (Nike), Union Athletics Club (Nike), Under Armour Dark Sky, New Balance Boston, etc.). According to his coaches, Eric wants to stay in New York and work with Empire Elite. This would mean that he would need to receive an independent contract, which are harder to come by. In addition, Eric did not make it big in the NCAA system. Most professional running contracts are handed out to runners who perform well collegiately. That may seem unfair but contracts are often based on someone’s ultimate upside potential which is normally revealed in college. Finally, Eric is 28 years old, and while he does have many good years left to run fast, companies may prioritize younger runners who have even more time and potential than him.

The rest of the team is unsponsored, and a conglomerate of many different type of runners. Some of the notable runners include Egyptian 800m trials champion Hazem Miawad, who attended the University of Maryland. Dani Aragon, a 4-time NCAA All-American out of Notre Dame and originally from Montana, competes for EE. Additionally, Luciano Fiore is a USAs qualifier in the 800m with a PB of 1:46.65. Benjamin Allen is also a USAs qualifier this year, running a 1500m PB of 3:38.61. Steeplechaser Travis Mahoney is part of the squad as well, but is taking the year off from running.

Empire Elite roster (Photo Courtesy of Empire Elite Instagram)

Making It Work Financially

Currently, EE does not have any brand sponsors to help them out financially. The club relies on donations from independent donors to help fund their expenses. These include flights, hotels, and occasionally gear for the athletes. Coach Nohilly told me that “there have been a few big donors that have allowed us to make it work over the last 2-3 years.”

The club works out in Dobbs Ferry, which is in Westchester County, at The Master’s School, a private high school. Two of the current athletes on the team, Ben Allen and Luciano Fiore, are track and field coaches for the school. Their relationship with the school gives EE access to all their facilities, including the track and gym. Additionally, as coaches for the school, Allen and Fiore have access to free meals during the day at the dining hall.

Adding to the team camaraderie, Fiore, Allen, and Miawad all live together in a 3-bedroom house in Dobbs Ferry. The house they live in has been rotated through different members of the team for years now, even before Empire Elite was founded and HOKA NJ/NY TC was the NY-based team.

Ideally, the club would pick up a brand sponsor as soon as possible in order to bolster the team’s financials and help out in almost every way possible. That being said, picking up a sponsor is very difficult for a team like Empire Elite. Nohilly explained that there have been many instances in which EE has developed great runners, but as soon as they have their breakthrough they are approached by another team that already has a team sponsor.

Isaac Updike signs with UA (Photo Courtesy of Updike’s Instagram)

The most recent example is Isaac Updike, who at one point was the world leader in the steeplechase this season while running for EE. Updike worked with EE for many years and was independently signed with Nike, but recently was dropped from his Nike contract. However, his recent success drew him to receive an offer from Under Armour Dark Sky Distance based in Flagstaff, AZ, under coach and agent Stephen Haas.

Another example is Johnny Gregorek, who worked with Empire Elite and NJ/NY TC for years as well. However, due to his independent contract with Asics, Gregorek was unable to appear in team photos for Empire Elite. His success as a runner would and should have brought positive attention to the group, but he never raced in a combined Asics-EE kit or appeared to be a part of their team to anyone who did not know him. Now remotely working to get his law degree, Gregorek works with coach Andy Powell out in Seattle, WA.

The current brands that Empire Elite work with are local companies that help them out in whichever way possible. These include Martin Physical Therapy, founded by team member and 2:15 marathoner Brendan Martin, strength and conditioning coaching by Dylan Brickner, Miler Running which provides the race apparel for the team, and Amy Stephens as their licensed dietician and sports nutritionist.

Despite the challenges, EE is making its impact on the US distance scene, particularly thanks to Eric Holt, the 2022 NACAC 1500m champion and current World No. 26 in the 1500m.

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E Holt The Bolt

Eric grew up in Carmel, NY. He capped off his senior year of high school in style by winning the NY 1600 state title in a 4:07.00 pb. He also ran 9:00.20 for 3200. As a promising young runner, Eric took his talents to SUNY Binghamton to continue his running career.

Eric Holt at Binghamton (Photo Courtesy of Eric Holt’s Instagram)

Holt spent a total of five years at Binghamton, running his fourth year unattached. While Holt was a 6-time America East champion, he never broke 4:00 in the mile, his best being a 4:00.60 during his redshirt year, and never made NCAAs. In fact he only made NCAA regionals one year. Holt told me that he “lost [his] passion for the sport” while in college.

Eric did not pursue running professionally directly after college but still continued to make running a significant part of his life. Rather, Eric worked as a mental health worker at Four Winds in Westchester, a psychiatric ward mainly for adolescents and kids. His job was to make sure the patients followed the orders of the medical professionals in the building.

In terms of running, according to Coach Nohilly, Eric would “bang out 10-mile runs at 5:40 pace every day in the middle of the night.” Working the overnight shifts, Eric needed to get his workouts in before work. Nohilly saw his hard runs and track workouts that he was doing in the middle of the night on Strava, and recruited him to be a part of Empire Elite. The main attraction was when Eric beat some of Nohilly’s athletes in the Monmouth Mile. Eric worked at Four Winds for four years before quitting his job to focus solely on running with Empire Elite.

Currently, Eric does not work at all, going all-in on running in order to land a shoe contract. Although he is not sponsored, Holt makes money through the prize money he accumulates in races and occasionally babysitting. He lives with his parents, which at the age of 28 is a sacrifice. However, living at home allows him to pursue his dream of earning that professional contract, making a World Championship team, and the Olympics as he does not have to pay any rent and much of his other expenses, such as food, are covered by his parents.

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Eric’s Weekly Training Schedule

– M: 2 separate 5-mile runs and speed work (100m, 80m sprints and wickets) 

– T: Hard workout in morning, lift in the afternoon, 5-mile double late night 

– W: Normal run (10-12 miles) or double run and easy lift 

– Th: Normal run and speed work depending on the time of year 

– F: Hard workout in morning, lift in the afternoon, 5-mile double late night 

– Sat: Racing or normal run 

– Sun: Long Run (16-18 miles, but while tapering it’s 12 miles)

– Roughly 70-95 miles a week (he runs highest mileage in the fall) 

The Workout

As I arrived at the track a few minutes after 9 am, I realized the conditions were great considering it was summer for a hard, fast track session. There was a slight drizzle for a few minutes, but it was 70° with 88% humidity, and a very slight wind of <5 mph. 

None of the Empire Elite members know what the workout is before they arrive at the track. Specifically for this workout, however, Trautmann and Nohilly were not telling any of the athletes the full workout. Trautmann told Holt, “run 1200m and then we’ll talk,” as he alternates between sipping on his coffee and his C4 energy drink which he is known for. The coaches’ reasoning for not telling Eric the workout was mulitfaceted. First, it simulates a race where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Second, it acts as a psychological exercise as much as a physical one. Lastly, it forces the athlete to focus on each rep of the workout and not worry about what lies ahead. 

After his 3-mile warmup, Holt immediately got stretched out by Coach Nohilly. Eric then threw on his Nike Dragonfly spikes and did some strides to get loose. Directly before the workout started, Ben Allen and Holt did 2x200m at 30 and 28 seconds each.

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Workout Splits:

2:51.46 (1200m), rest 5 min, 3x400m @ 72 with 1 min rest, rest 5 min, 2:19.41 (1000m), rest 5 min, 3x400m @ 72 with 1 min rest, rest 5 min, 1:18.75 (600m), rest 5 min, 3x400m @ 72s with 1 min rest, rest 5 min, 49.2s (400m). 

The function of the 3x400m in between the hard reps was to “flush” out the legs in between the hard repetitions. The 400m repeats would keep Holt’s heart rate up while he recovered and get rid of the lactic acid that was in his legs.

To break this down into further detail, Eric ran the 1200m rep at 3:34 1500m pace, the 1,000m rep at 3:29 1500m pace, the 600m at 1:45 800m pace, and then finished up with a 49-second 400m. Although there was a lot of rest in between the hard reps, this workout was awfully impressive for a 3:35, 1:47 runner.

After finishing up, Eric looked at me, gave me a fist bump, and said, “You picked the best day of the year to come. This was the best workout of my life.” Eric wasn’t exaggerating in the slightest, as he set PBs in the 1,000m, 600m, and 400m all in this workout which drew the attention of the fans on the messageboard: MB: Eric Holt Big Workout on Strava before USAs.

The best workout of his life, coupled with his dominant NYC 1500 win as well as a 1:47.40 800 pb a week prior, signifies he’s in the best shape of his life, heading into the most important race of his life next week in Eugene. A great performance in Eugene could change his life.

Talk about Eric and his amazing workout on our world-famous messageboard.

MB: Eric Holt Big Workout on Strava before USAs.

Read about Holt’s chances at USAs by reading our men’s 1500 full-race preview: The Men’s 1500 at USAs Is Going To Be Awesome – Full Pre-Race Analysis Rojo says there isn’t a Big 4 of US 1500m running in Cooper Teare, Cole Hocker, Yared Nuguse, and Hobbs Kessler as he adds in a 5th – Nathan Green. Which of these studs will go home devastated?

Video of Holt Finishing the 1000

Video of Holt Finishing the 600

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