One Race Changed My Life

Learn to Love Your Speed Training Program and Make Your Weakness Your Strength

Dan O'Brien
Olympic Gold Medalist-World's Greatest Athlete
Track & Feild
May 7, 2020

Learn to Love Your Speed Training Program and Make Your Weakness Your Strength

Growing up, I wasn't a very good student. I didn't enjoy math, and I certainly wasn't a very good reader. I joined Little League baseball in the third grade. I wasn't very good at that either. I didn't have a lot of confidence and didn't have a lot of friends. Then I found sprinting. I remember the first race I ever ran, and it was held during a high school football game. I believe it was a home coming game. Before the game started, they had a one mile “fun run” for kids and I entered in my age group. I remember being out there with the other kids, loaded with nervous energy and ready to run. No formal structure, just a race. The gun went off and I took off like a shot and won the race. I ran it in a full sprint from start to finish - ahead the whole race. When I crossed the finish line,they gave me a blue ribbon. I'll tell you, I was flying high for the rest of the day. I couldn't wait to do it again. That one race changed everything for me. It made me enjoy sports and it gave me the confidence - not only in sports,but in life - and started my speed training journey.

From Long Distance Running to Speed Training - I Found My Track & Field Event by Accident

And as I got a little bit older, I had different goals for myself in the sport of running. I wanted to be the fastest runner in school. I remember that my dad and I used to joke about it. He would say, "You're gonna be the fastest kid in school," and I would to laugh myself to sleep every night,but I dreamed that I'd be the fastest kid in my school. When I got into junior high, I was.

I did a lot of long-distance races back then because my friends did it, and I hadn't tried any training for sprinting events yet. One day, I came home from a long distance run - a five mile or six miler - and I sprinted full speed to the finish line. My track & field coach came up to me and said, "You know, you're pretty fast. Tomorrow, you might want to try running with the sprinters." So, the next day I came out and ran with the sprinters and I was very, very good at it.With that, I never ran cross country, or distance racing again.

It was a real changing point for me in the sport of track and field. As I got a little bit older, and I learned more about speed training and how to run faster. I took it much more seriously. I set a goal for myself and said to myself, “I'm going to increase running speed so much that I will earn a college scholarship.” In order to do that, I needed a serious speed training program.So, I took track and field very, very seriously. I knew sprint interval training was my key to running faster and attaining my goal.


Know What You Want and Go Get It

I think these days for kids to perform at their highest level they need to know what they want to achieve, and they need to be willing to make some sacrifices. “Sacrifice” is a key word that a lot of people don't really talk about until you reach the highest levels of athletics. As you're trying to get there, it's competitive in high school, and it's that much more competitive to get those college athletic scholarships. You need to be willing to give something up, and come at it from a different mental attitude. The world is competitive, and the world of sports is even more so. Athletes need to recognize and understand they live in a competitive field. As an athlete, you need to do everything you can to participate at the highest level. For instance, in track, speed development, speed training and sprinting technique are essential.Just being fast isn't good enough.

Expand Your Speed Training and Challenge Yourself

Another thing that young athletes can do to be their absolute best is to take on challenges. Challenge themselves to train speed each and every day. Champions are the people that continue to find ways to get better and you can do more than just speed and agility training. You hear about guys like NBA icon Steve Nash late in his career. He was doing yoga and several other “outside-the-box”drills, learning how to move efficiently. Even now, LeBron James has gone to this amazing proprioceptive training program, starting up to two hours before he plays in games. You also see Steph Curry do ball handling and shooting drills like a madman. He's not doing those basketball drills in some sort of competition. Those drills make him a better basketball player. On top of speed training those are the other skills they need to perform in the game.Those are the type of habits you need if you want to reach the elite level.


How to Increase Running Speed?

It wasn't until I qualified for the 1988 Olympic trials that things really changed for me. Learning about sprinting and speed development became fascinating to me. I went from being a good or outstanding sprinter to becoming an Olympic-level sprinter. Seems like a minor distinction I know, but in a sport where medals are measured in thousandths of a second it makes a big difference. I got a chance to see perhaps the greatest female sprinter of all-time, Florence Griffith Joyner, or “Flo Jo”, as we know her. She broke the world record in 1988 in the women's 100 meters. She ran a 10.46! That was pure speed! I was a senior in college then and I had never ran that fast! I studied what she did. I watched her running style and mechanics. I diagnosed every move, and what I realized was she was running different than anything I had ever seen. She wasn't just running fast. She wasn't just sprinting.Every stride was a bounding stride. Her strength was incredible. When I went home from this track meet, the Olympic trials that year, I said, “I'm going to run like Flo Jo.”

My speed training program completely changed. I patterned my stride after her. I started do a lot more plyometrics and a lot more bounding. I began to master the art of speed development. I also realized that if was going to compete in the decathlon at a world class level I needed to be able to run faster than the fastest woman in the world. I needed world-class speed. Watching Flo Jo, dreaming about being fast, understanding speed training and sprint training. This focused me on testing my abilities and challenged me to improve my sprinting skills and my running speed.

Increase Your Speed Through Speed Training


Run Your Race - Don't Get Caught in the Social Media Trap

Back then we didn't have social media, it was TV or print news, and that was it. I'll admit I don't understand social media as well as kids coming up, but I do know that social media can provide an opportunity for young athletes. You can promote yourself and market yourself. It certainly gives you the ability to touch a lot more people out there. I think, it can also be a negative though. When social media distracts you from the job at hand. When social media puts you in a negative light, it's certainly going to work against you. Just like any other tool, social media can help or hurt you. One of the biggest drawbacks is kids are able to see what everybody else is doing. They are not watching their own performance. What we're trying to do here is now…in this gym, and out there on the field. Be present. Be in the moment. Too often, we're trying to see what this guy did across town or what my rival did the other day when we should just be focusing on our own performance and our own speed training program.

What Is Speed Training?

In the sport of track & field,we say, "You get what you give, so give it all you got." Sports is about personal sacrifice. At the end of the season, whether you've been successful or not, I'm going to ask a student-athlete, “what did you give up to get here? What did you give up to be successful?” If you can't name anything, and you haven't sacrificed anything, there is no glory. There is no win or championship without some kind of a sacrifice.

For me, achieving my first goal caused me to dream about my next goal. In 1988, I went to the Olympic trials. That was a huge step for me. I got to see Flo Jo run. That changed the way I thought about running. I understood what it was going to take to compete at that level. Now I needed to really sacrifice for what I wanted.

Some Sacrifice Got Me to the Olympics

A “Reset” is Good Every Now and Then

When I returned home to my speed exercises, I emulated Flo Jo's style, and I became a better sprinter. 10.40 now was within my grasp. When I ran 10.40, I wanted to run to 10.30, and when I ran 10.30, I wanted to run 10.20. Well, in 1992, after not making the US Olympic team,not going to Barcelona to compete for a gold medal,I took the next big opportunity I could get. I had a rocky summer, but I it all culminated at the end of 1992 when I was able to go to France and break the decathlon world record. And I did that because five of the 10 decathlon events include speed. The 100 meters, the 400 meters, the 110 meter hurdles, the long jump and the pole vault. Those are events that really centered around what I was good at - and that was speed.

I continued my new style of speed training and continued learning about how to get faster at sprinting. As a result, I continued to get better between 1992 and 1996. I became a much better 400 meter runner, which was, I think, a little bit harder than all the other sprinting races, (100 meters, 110 meter hurdles). I became a master of speed training drills. I would watch other guys like Michael Johnson, Butch Reynolds, Frankie Frederick's and Colin Jackson run. These are athletes who won Olympic gold medals in their respective events. I would emulate them, look at the technique,look at their form, and by watching them I was able to better speed workouts. I was able to master the drills and when I mastered the speed training, I was able to be an excellent world class sprinter.


Digital Speed Training Programs for Any Athlete

Finding the right speed training coach (or coaches) is going to be key for any athlete. Adding the right training programs, attending the right college, being in the right program in school can push you to another level. I found the right coach and he was able to challenge me. We've developed a program here at that will really be a challenge to any athlete out there who's interested in how to increase speed –provided they’re coachable. We're going to give you the direction. is a great tool. Especially for people that don't live in our community who can't be personally coached by us. They can find us online, and we can coach them all over the country. For more information go here, Faster 40 Program.

Digital Speed Training

Learn How to Balance

One of the keys to success in sports performance is time management and giving of yourself. How much should I give to my sports training and my personal life? How do I create a balance within all of these different things, especially if you're a student athlete, or a college student, or even a young athlete that's involved in a lot of different sports? Where do you put all your time and effort?

Time management is a real key. It needs to be a strength. So often, young athletes don't have the life experience to figure all that stuff out. We need a little bit of help with that. That's where a great coach comes in. That's where a very responsible parent or adult or mentor can come in and help you navigate those decisions. As athletes we can't do everything. I think one of the biggest problems that we have in today's society is we think we can do everything. Stay up as late as we want and stare at our phone till two or three in the morning, and then show up next day for a football game and get it done? I'll be the first to tell you, we can't.Everything is related. Your rest and recovery are every bit as important as your training program.Your food and what you put in your body certainly is every bit as important as the hours that you spend on the track, in the gym or on the field. So, time management is key. Don't let the world pull you in too many different directions.

Here's a Thought!

Great athletes think less. Professional athletes even think less than that. What does that mean? It's not an implication about intelligence. It means that athletes are able to focus their thought processes.The average person has about 6000 thoughts a day, the average athlete has about 3000 thoughts a day, think less and do more.

“Focus” is an interesting word. Your ability to focus is directly related to execution. As an elite level athlete, you talk about it a lot. "I knew I was in the zone when Icould just be focused,” or, "I was unable to do this because I was too focused.” The funny part was that when I was young and people asked, "what does that really mean - being focused?” I didn't know what it was for a longtime. It wasn't until early on in my world-class career that I realized that focus is thinking about nothing but the task at hand. I would be on a track at Washington State University and there would be cars going by, people honking,and students on the sidewalk. I learned that I could block all of that out, and just think about running my turn in the high jump. To not think about anything but the next 30 seconds of my life... the next 20 seconds of my life... one step, the next step, the next step. Doing it right, doing it right, doing it right. That's focus. With focus comes execution. With execution comes speed...We take out winning... We take out losing...We execute, and we're in the moment.

When we can execute, everything's going to be fine. We'll do it to the absolute best of our ability. But when we think about, “well, this is what I'm going to get if I win, this is what I'm going to get when I cross that line, here's my celebration dance,” we've lost focus. Whether in the decathlon,on the football field, playing beach volleyball, or competing in any other sport - when we lose focus we can't perform at our peak.

Be the Best Version of You

We say, “it's not what you get from it, it's what you become through it.” Through our speed training program at, we want you to also become a better person. Certainly, we want you to become a better athlete, but when you finish our workouts, you're going to be responsible for yourself. You're going to be responsible for your wins and losses and your successes and failures and that's what it means to become a better person.

Best the Best Version of You