Sean Torpy Takes Us Behind The Scenes At No. 1 Sandburg

Sean Torpy is one of the top runners for No. 1 ranked Sandburg High School of Illinois (Photo by Colin Boyle). Just how good is the Sandburg squad? They swept the top seven spots on their conference meet, the Southwest Suburban Blue Conference Championships, with a 27-second spread and 15:51 5k average! Torpy has emerged as a team leader this fall - a duty he shares with his twin brother, Chris, a 4:15 miler himself. Sandburg has never won an Illinois state cross country title, but they did win NXR-Midwest last year before placing 15th at NXN. This year's team is experienced and hungry - with a bit of history on their side. You might recognize the name Sandburg as the school of one of the all-time greats in alumnus Lukas Verzbicas, the two-time Foot Locker champion and sub-four high school miler. Sean shares what it's like to train under Coach John O'Malley, his college decision-making and who is the most stylish Eagle.

Sean Torpy By the Numbers:

PRs: 1:56 800m
4:09 1600m
9:19 3200m
15:43 5k
14:27 3 mile (Detweiller Park)

Congratulations on the season so far. How does it feel for your team to be ranked No. 1 at this point in the season?

Being ranked No. 1 in the nation is truly amazing. Getting to this point certainly did not happen overnight. It took years of hard work and dedication to this sport from guys all across the team as well as from our coaches. Being ranked this high has also brought a lot of attention to our program, which can also bring a bit of pressure to perform, but we love that pressure and we welcome it. It can only make us more accountable for what we are doing on a daily basis and help us perform at an even more elite level.

As great as it seems though, we have not accomplished any of our goals yet. We are just heading into the championship season now and we have not won any of those big races. We are focused and determined to succeed. Although it is exciting to be number one, it is still just a ranking. Nothing is official until it is all over.

Sandburg talks to Tony Jones of IL MileSplit after winning the Richard Spring Invitational in September. Sean (bib no. 219) placed third in that meet with a PR of 14:27 at Detweiller Park.

You lowered your personal best from 14:53 to 14:27 at Detweiller Park this year. You now rank No. 3 All-Time in school history behind only Tom Graves (1977) and Lukas Verzbicas (2010), both of whom went sub-14 minutes at Detweiller.

How did that PR feel and what is the historical significance of that course to Illinois cross country?

Getting a new PR felt absolutely amazing, especially by that large of a margin. It was only a starting point this season and I am looking for another PR at the state meet. The more time that I drop, the more it helps the team score and that is definitely important to me.

In regards to Detweiller Park, it is a huge part of Illinois cross country running. The course is rich with history and there have been several Olympians who have run it. There is always such an awesome atmosphere every time we go to race there. You can't help but feel this sense of pride every time that you get to step up to the starting line. You know you have the ability to add to an already amazing history. It is one of my favorite places on Earth.

You are gearing up for the post-season now. What is the team's mentality like?

The big focus currently is just to get better every day. We have put in a lot of work to get to where we are right now and we want that to show up in our races. With that being said, we always go to the line expecting to win. I certainly do not mean that in a cocky way. We train hard and we are prepared when we step up to that line. We respect our competition, but we race with no fear.

How do you feel about your fitness right now?

I am very confident in how fit I currently am. We have put in a lot of work up to this point to have gotten where we are, and as the season progresses we will be getting even better. We have been building the foundation for this season since mid-June. I've been pretty healthy thus far and that pays huge dividends in regards to training benefits.

Torpy leads No. 8 ranked Jon Davis and No. 24 ranked Irwin Loud at the Richard Spring Invitational. Davis would set the nation's fastest three mile time (14:10.9) at the meet. (Photo by Colin Boyle)

Can you describe a typical week of training?

Our program runs on a 12-14 day training cycle, so a weekly schedule may not always look the same. This is just roughly what we can usually expect during the week:

Monday: Long run of 100min or recovery double day with a 30min morning run and a 45min afternoon run
Tuesday: Usually the main workout of the week with 800/1000/1200/mile repeats at race or goal race pace and 30min morning run
Wednesday: 30-35min morning run and 45min afternoon run or afternoon supplemental threshold or anaerobic workout and post run drills like plyometrics, medicine balls, ladders, hurdles, weights
Thursday: Secondary long run of about 70min. or double day with a 30min morning run and 45min/60min run in the afternoon depending on feel
Friday: Pre-meet routine of about 30-45min and dynamic stretches or about 60min if there is no race on Saturday
Saturday: Race with post race workout usually consisting of 300-500m repeats at mile pace and 200m repeats at 800 pace or race pace workout if there is no race
Sunday: Long run of about 100min, 30min shakeout run, or day off depending on the week

What is the hardest workout you've done so far this season?

Toward the championship season, our coach introduces goal race pace workouts to us to help bring our bodies to the next level and help us PR come the state meet. The toughest workout we have done so far has probably been a 500m opening at roughly mile pace to simulate the hard opening of the beginning of the race (especially on Detweiller Park). Then, a mile at goal race pace, followed up by three 1,200m repeats at the same pace as the mile, with a closing 500m all out to simulate the finish. All of these have about 3:00 rest in between each interval.

What made it hard?

This workout really requires us to dig deep and run fast and efficiently on tired legs. There needs to be a constant renewal of positive self-talk, as well as having to teach your body how to correctly run that goal pace without slowing down. It will eventually pay off when we have to dig deep for those PR's because it will require a similar and familiar effort in the race like the one in the workout.

Sandburg is known for having a tight pack of five runners, with a 10-second or even sub-10 second top five spread in some races! How does your team develop such a strong pack?

Pack running has never really been emphasized on our team. The reason that we have such a tight spread is because we are all competitors and we all want to beat each other. Nobody wants to let anybody go. If we tried running in a pack, that would mean that somebody is holding back and we would never want that. We do feed off of each other's presence though. It is nice to have somebody familiar to race with when things begin to get tough. It only makes us better.

Your coach, John O'Malley, coached two-time Foot Locker Nationals champion and sub-four minute high school miler Lukas Verzbicas (pictured below). What legacy has Verzbicas left at your school?

Lukas is a legend to say the least. He has brought the definition of greatness to a whole different level. Non-runners are aware of Lukas and his legendary status. It just shows how much one person can impact a community based on their passion and dedication for something.

What kind of confidence does it give you that a talent like that went through the same program that you train in currently?

It makes me feel confident in what I am doing. We have the best coaching staff in the United States and it is comforting to know that we are valued as much as Lukas for all of the hard work that we have put in. I feel like I can accomplish any of my goals because of the overwhelming support here at Sandburg. I could not ask for a better group of people than the ones that I am surrounded by in this program.

Do you know Lukas? Is he a mentor or inspirational figure?

I have only spoken with him a couple of times. He had come to a few of our practices when he was in town, so I have had the chance to run with him. It is really awesome having the ability to pick his brain. He was able to share training tips and we use that information to help us become better. He is absolutely somebody to look up to and learn from. It is rare to come across a talent like him. He's a great inspiration.

Last year, your team finished second at the state meet to Hinsdale Central, then won NXR-Midwest and placed 15th at NXN. What was the reaction to each of both performances?

The emotions that we felt after each race were on completely opposite sides of the spectrum. After we placed second at the state meet, we were devastated. We knew that we were capable of winning that race. We just had to tip our caps to Hinsdale Central because they ran very well that day. For the next week, we just had to shake it off and keep training with the goal of qualifying for nationals. There was nothing that we could do about state but move forward. Coming back a week later and winning the regional was nuts. I don't think that I've ever been that excited in my whole life. It was the first time that Sandburg had ever qualified for NXN. It was a great feeling to know that we helped take the program to the next level. Going on to place 15th at nationals was pretty disappointing, but we took it as a learning experience and we will be back for more this year.

Sandburg after winning the Nike Cross Midwest regional last year. (Photo by Colin Boyle)

What is your athletic background and how did you get into track and field and XC?

I played on a few recreational baseball and basketball teams when I was younger, but I was never very good. I got into running in sixth grade when my friend, Vince Capuano, grabbed me on the hook of my backpack as I was about to walk out of the school at the end of the day. He dragged me down to the main office and made me call my mom to tell her that I was going to cross country practice because he didn't want to go alone. I fell in love with the sport instantly and the rest is history. Thanks Vince!

You have a twin, Chris, who is also a top runner for Sandburg with PRs of 1:52/4:15/14:42 (3 miles). Do you have twin powers?

Unfortunately, we do not have any significant twin powers. We do think very similar thoughts, though, and at times can finish each other's sentences. There was a time or two that we actually had the same dream at night. It's things like that that seem a little bizarre.

Chris (yellow) and Sean (blue) race the mile at the Magnificent Mile meet this summer. (Photo by Colin Boyles)

Can you describe your relationship? How has having a twin push both of you to an elite level of running?

We have a very healthy, friendly-competitive relationship with one another. We are always making bets on races and who can beat who. It is all fun and games and we both strive for success. Having a brother on the same team has helped tremendously because it forces you to be held accountable for your actions. It is also great because it forces you to run and strive to be the faster twin. I won't let him beat me easily and vise versa. It's like a chain reaction where we both just keep getting faster.

What is your favorite event on the track? How come you never race the 3200?

I love the mile when it comes to track. It is like the perfect distance where it's not quite a sprint, but there isn't a whole ton of pacing going on like a longer distance race. In regards to the 3200, I haven't really raced it because I enjoy the middle distance races the most. We run longer distance races during cross country and I like to have that nice mix of long distance half of the year and faster middle distance races during the other half. I couldn't do long distance all year long. However, I hope to be taking a few more shots at it this upcoming track season to see if I can drop my time a bit more.

Do you plan to run in college? What schools are you considering?

I do plan to pursue running collegiality. I am currently looking at the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, Marquette University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Penn State University.

What was your childhood dream?

When I was about four or five years old, I remember aspiring to be an architect. I loved the idea of building and creating things using my imagination. My brothers and I would build these amazing forts in our basement and it was always just fascinating to me.

What is one thing that most people probably don't know about you?

I have a pretty large extended family. My parents both come from families of eight kids and I currently have 25 first cousins who I am very close with.

Describe a perfect day in the life of Sean Torpy.

I don't live a very complicated life. I am usually up somewhere around 5:45 AM-6:45 AM depending on if I have a morning run or not. I take exactly 35 minutes to get ready in the morning. I have it down to a system now (as ridiculous as it seems). I get to school around 7:45 AM and start classes at 8:00. I am a student all the way up until 3:00 in the afternoon. After that, I get changed and ready for practice and am at school until about 6:15 PM. I get home around 6:30 and I shower and eat dinner with my family. We always eat together as a family. I follow that up with about an hour or two of homework a night. I do as much as I can at school during study hall and my lunch hour so that I'm not as pressed for time at home. After that, I sit around for about an hour and let my mind decompress. Then, I hop in bed to get at least eight hours of sleep, and then I'm back at it again the next day.

Now, what is the Sandburg team really like?

The Sandburg team is made up of a bunch of blue-collar, hardworking people that know when to be serious, yet know when it's time to unwind and have some fun. It is an amazing atmosphere filled with kind and exciting people. They are my brothers.

Who can run the fastest 100 meters? And what is their time?

It's pretty close, but I would have to say that Tom Brennan has the fastest 100m speed. He can run a low-mid 11 second 100. It goes back and forth between all of us, but the most consistent is definitely Tom.

Are there any pranksters on the squad? What is the best prank that someone has ever pulled?

There aren't too many pranksters on the team, but there have been some pretty funny pranks pulled. We run at a local forest preserve and Tom Brennan found a dead snake on the trail during the summer. He picked it up and brought it back to camp and placed it partially underneath the seat of the porta potty. When one of our teammates opened the door to use the bathroom he freaked out. That was probably one of my favorite pranks.

Which teammate is most likely to come back and be an assistant coach?

We actually have talked about this several times on our team and I guess I was voted most likely to come back and be an assistant coach.

Who is your favorite freshman and why?

I can't say that I really have a favorite freshman. I really like them all. They are all hard working and have very unique personalities. They're my little brothers.

Who has the best style? This question is open to interpretation :)

Style on our team is probably based primarily on hair style. I would have to say that David Gleinser and Peter Bukiri have the most style in this case. Max Lehnhardt (pictured to the right) is self-proclaimed as the most stylish person on our team though. I just think that he needs a haircut.

Who has stepped up and surprised everyone by being a bigger contributor than expected?

On the varsity level, Dylan Jacobs has been a huge contributor this season. Although he is only a sophomore, he has stepped up enormously and is running like an elite senior. He will be one of our top scorers in the rest of our meets.

On the frosh/soph level, Xander Furmanek has been a huge contributor as well. He dropped over five minutes from last season and is now one of the top scorers in the sophomore races. It was totally unexpected, but he is running great and he has helped the team out tremendously.

Who is the most likely to be late and left behind for the team bus to the meet? (Has this ever happened before)?

There is always that one guy that shows up late to school the morning of a race but still somehow manages to sneak on the bus as it is pulling out of the parking lot. We haven't had too many issues with people not showing up though. We have a pretty strict policy on missing the bus. If you miss the bus, you can't race even if you are driven to the meet. Everybody is pretty good about making it on time.

What's your favorite team tradition?

My favorite team tradition is by far our pasta parties the night before our races. Somebody will host a party at their house with pans full of pasta, plates of bread, tons of watermelon and coolers full of water. There is usually frisbee games or some type of Nintendo game being played to keep people occupied. It is really nice to get together with the team before a tough effort and just relax. Great food and even better friends.