The Victory Lap: Eric Holt🏆

Joining The Victory Lap this week is Empire Elite’s Eric Holt — the fastest unsponsored 1500m runner in the country! A graduate of Binghamton University, Holt finished up his collegiate career with a 4:02 mile best and without a single appearance at an NCAA championship. After a brief hiatus away from the sport (that you’ll hear more about) he returned with a vengeance and has improved steadily ever since. He broke out onto the scene after winning four different races at the Trials of Miles series and inspired so many fans that CITIUS MAG then sold enough Holtamania shirts to fund his trip to the Olympic Trials. This year, the upward trend continued when Holt finished 4th at the US Championships, and then followed up that performance with a 3:35.80 PB at the Ed Murphey Classic.

First off congrats on your race last week — you walked away with a new 3:35.80 PB! How was it out there?

It was really fun. I want to prove that my finish at USAs wasn’t a fluke. Because through the grapevine, I heard things like, ‘Eric's really lucky’ and, you know, stuff like that. So I’m just trying to prove some of those naysayers wrong. I feel a lot of pressure to continue my success. And I was really happy with the placement this past weekend and my first PB of the season. I definitely needed that cause I’m still training full-on until NACACs.

Were you dreaming of races and PBs like this while you were running in college?

It's been a very interesting career because I've dealt with a lot of insecurities. I've always asked myself if I'm even talented in the sport. I'm not going to name names. But there've been certain people that told me that my absolute genetic limitation is that I couldn't even break four. So there’s been a lot of self-doubt. 

To be honest, when I was in college, I was on the fence about whether or not I could be really good at the sport. That was tough for me. I'm the type of runner that needs a coach to believe in me as much as I believe in myself. I don't I don't want to blame Binghamton, it wasn’t entirely their fault, but I definitely felt that guys like Jesse Garn and Erik Van Ingen had a little bit of a different experience. They were the sub-four guys, All-Americans. And in some ways, I wasn't 100% committed. I definitely didn't have that magic feeling — that feeling that I could do anything.

So there were a lot of ups and downs. There were some people that put thoughts in my head that I couldn't be great. But now I use that as fuel to be better. I want to show people that, hey, you can do great things if you put your heart and passion into it. Every race I go into, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. I have something to prove. 

But that's a great question. I feel like at Binghamton, I didn't know whether or not I could be good or great. But the one thing I knew for sure was I wasn't tapping my potential.

How’d you get into the sport?

I started in 8th grade. I joined the Carmel Track Team because I didn't make the basketball team in middle school. When I started running, I had little interest in it. And I remember just running with a lot of seniors. I liked a lot of people in the team, but I was like, absolutely nobody. 

But in eighth grade at 14 years old, I ran 4:55 in the 1600 and I remember everyone was shocked. And then the coaches were like, ‘holy crap, how old are you?’ It was the first time they ever paid any attention to me. And so that was really the first time in my life I ever felt like I was really good at something. 

I would work really hard in basketball or soccer or baseball. And there would always be a bunch of other guys that the coaches would view as a lot better than me. I loved basketball. I felt like I was the best basketball player and then I didn't make the team. I got scratched. I remember being so sad. I cried. 

But when I did eighth-grade track, it didn't matter if my coaches even looked at me. No one gave a crap about me, but, you know, I could prove myself because I could bet on myself. And that's what I love about this sport: if you have the willpower, you can prove your worth. It doesn't matter if you think you're not good. And that's the thing. You know, throughout my career, especially out of college, I basically had a 0% chance of ever being in the position I am now. But I can prove my worth on the track. It doesn't matter if people don't believe in me or not.

How’d you navigate that tricky time period just after college?

After graduating college, that was probably the worst time in my life. 

I was applying for a lot of jobs and getting lots of interviews. But I ended up working as a busboy in a restaurant, which was so demoralizing because I had a lot of job insecurity. My parents wanted me to immediately start working. And so I stopped running. 

I was gaining weight and I'll never forget it. My high school coach at Carmel sat down at a table at the restaurant and I was trying to avoid him. The manager asked me what I was doing, and I’m like, ‘I can’t be seen by my coach.’ I was hiding out in the kitchen, trying to be busy, and I saw his kid from the kitchen, and he saw me in the kitchen and started talking to me, and I felt like shit. I literally felt like the biggest loser in the world. 

Even though I was a college graduate, I just couldn't get a steady job. A few months afterward, I was feeling kind of hopeless. And I remember this guy started talking about running and you know, at the time I had a PB of 4:00 and he was saying like, ‘oh yeah, sub-four is pretty hard.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, I definitely could've done it, you know, given the right circumstance.’ 

He looked at me, and at the time I probably weighed about 200 pounds, and he was like, ‘oh, you could never break four for the mile.’ And I remember I didn't say a single word. I woke up at five the next morning, put my running gear on, and ran five miles as hard as I could — it took me 29 minutes and 58 seconds. I probably had a heart rate of 200 as I was laying down after. 

But from then on, every single day I was running five miles at sub-six pace. I was just so motivated. It was ridiculous. At first I was like, ‘I'm breaking five.’ So I called a high school buddy of mine, he's one of my best friends. And he's like, ‘let's do it together.’ I did a mile time trial and spikes as hard as I could and I ran like 4:31 — not fast. And I was dying. And then two weeks later, I ran 4:16. Then two weeks after that, I ran my first track race back. There's actually a video of it somewhere. I ran 4:09, but it was just about the happiest I’d ever been after a race. I knew I’d be able to break four after that. Especially because I had been doing just the dumbest training to that point, literally only running those five to seven-mile runs at sub-six pace.

And not only that, but I was also working a tough job at the time. I got a job in a psych ward where I worked for a couple of years. I actually recently quit there — I was a mental health worker, so I worked 40 hours a week. I would just run every single day at sub-six-minute pace. And then once a week I would do a 400 workout at sub-60. It was about as unsophisticated as it could get. So I started training again in late 2018 and by the summer of 2019, I went to the Monmouth Mile and after like ten attempts at it, I broke four, running 3:58.

How impactful are Nohilly and Trautman?

I was actually on the verge of quitting again. And I was thinking about ending my career around the Trials in 2020, which were canceled because of COVID. I was running but I had no aim. And at the time I was working the night shift and I was doing 40 hours a week in three, 13-hour shifts. 

And I remember I had just gotten on Strava and ironically enough, Nohilly saw my Strava, and commented like, ‘Hey, why don't you come train with us?’ At first I didn’t know if I wanted another coach or these coaches, because every coach I'd had since high school never believed in me the way that I did. I’d always feel so embarrassed after telling them what my goals were. They’d look at me and decide that they’d rather not have that. 

And so the first thing I asked Trautman and Nohilly was ‘what do you guys think I could run?” And Trautman was like ‘I don’t know, 3:52?’ And that's all I needed. That was a major turning point and I dove right in.

I was so happy after that first block of training with the team. And I just want to take full advantage of this situation. I know I have no excuses now. Tommy and John have my back — I don't feel embarrassed to talk about my goals. 

It's very disheartening when you talk about your goals and you can tell by their reactions that people think you’re crazy.  But Tommy and John, believe I can make a world team and make the Olympics. And that's the greatest feeling in the world. When you're like, ‘I want to make the Olympics’ and they’re like, ‘all right, let's go for it.’ 

How validating was that 4th place finish at USAs? I know the goal was top three, but that’s your best finish at a US outdoor champs. 

It was incredibly validating. There was a lot of self-doubt in my life and I wanted to prove to everyone and myself that, hey, I am special. I work really hard. If I put everything together like that, I can compete with anyone in this country. I truly believe it. 

I finally felt like I had some momentum and I was finally doing some things that I said I could do. I want to continue to prove that I belong because I feel like I have to. I like being the underdog. 

But it was incredibly validating, and it makes me so happy. A friend from college, Jacob, called me after and he was just so happy. And to see his reaction — and the reactions of the guys who've been with me through my darkest moments and always believed in me — it means a lot. And it makes me want to continue this momentum and continue to get better.

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I think you love racing more than anyone else in the world. Is that right?

Absolutely. I love it. I love competing. There’s just something about the pressure. I see guys like Cooper and Cole and I don't really get intimidated. I'm like, ‘let's go.’ It's really fun. I want to beat em! 

There is something exhilarating about going up, one-on-one, against guys who are really good at their craft. That drives me. I think about it all the time. 

It's funny. There are a lot of aspects of training I don't like or I've never liked, but it makes me better. If it gives me a competitive edge to beat these guys. I'm going to do it. 

Of course, I get nervous like everyone else, but I embrace it and I just… I fucking love it, man. I'm doing exactly what I love to do, you know?

Thank you to Eric for sitting down with us to share his story! If you’d like to continue following his career, then check him out on Instagram, Twitter, and Strava. And apologies to our readers for the few-week hiatus surrounding the World Championships, but we are back in action!