by Drew Davis, photo courtesy of Jay Prasuhn

Ed. Note: the first Wattie Ink. team camp of 2020 is complete! The Hit Squad wrapped up six days of training in the desert oasis of Tucson, Arizona, where Heather Jackson (and many others in the professional ranks) makes her half-year home. We used HJ's favorite training grounds, such as Mt. Lemmon and Pistol Hill, while bringing forty teammates closer together the way only a training camp can. Camp counselor (and Elite Team member) Drew Davis recaps the camp for us. This editor would like to extend a particular thanks to Hit Squad members Erik Delagarza and Joshua Lisk, who helped keep everything running smoothly—never an easy task.

Ah, training camp. The yearly ritual of any athlete, whether in March, July, September, or November, depending on your sport. But who doesn't remember that thrill of leaving your family behind for a few days when you'd eat, drink, and sleep your sport of choice, focusing only on the ironic effort of spending yourself in order to improve? These days, in the mayhem of adulthood, a training camp feels more like relief than work, a chance to focus (for once) on one thing and one thing only.

Day One

We kicked off the inaugural Hit Squad Team Experience last Thursday, with a short run intended to get the travel out of our legs and to meet friends new and old. Campers put their normal lives away with a 45-minute jog and a few short pickups to freshen things up and see what running in a t-shirt feels like again. Our local campers pointed out landmarks, and soon we arrived back at the hotel for a briefing on the schedule, and sent our campers off to bed, urging them to get a good night's sleep.

Day Two

After arriving and getting to know each other, the campers were eager to get their bodies moving for their first fill day of camp. We headed to Oro Valley Aquatic Center to log some yards. For many, this was a rare opportunity to practice sharing lanes, circle swimming, and drafting outside of a race environment. The campers did an excellent job of self-sorting based on their ability, and we immediately got to work! The main set was 40x50, broken as follows: for the first 16 reps, swim each 4th rep FAST. For the following 12, swim each 3rd rep FAST. Then for the next 8 reps, swim every other rep FAST. And for the final four, swim each of them as hard as you can. It was great to see everyone continue to push themselves throughout the set, and some campers really impressed us with their speed in the last four 50s.

After some lunch and recovery, we headed out for a big, easy group spin. We divided the camp into three groups (Saguaro, Ocotillo, and Cholla, giving homage to the local flora of Tucson), and set out to the bike path. It was a great chance for everyone to shake out the last bit of rust from travel before getting ready (spoiler) to climb Mt. Lemmon the following day. One group may or may not have gotten a bit lost, but spirits remained high and everyone enjoyed superlative weather and the first traces of sunset.

To end the day, we were all treated to an amazing pro panel including Heather Jackson, Ben Hoffman, and newest Wattie Ink. athlete, Sam Long.  They were joined by Ryan Bolton, who coaches all three of the athletes. The conversation focused on the coach/athlete relationship, but ranged all over, from taking a break from drinking alcohol to deciding when it is the right moment to change coaches. After a Q&A period, campers again headed to bed, knowing they had the most daunting ride of camp on tap for Saturday.

Day Three

Due to adverse weather reports, we switched up the training plan and decided to conquer Mt. Lemmon today instead of Monday.  Mt. Lemmon is a local, and national, legend, providing more than twenty miles of straight climbing along with some of the best natural vistas in the lower 48. Everyone geared up and stuffed their warm gear into the vans before rolling out bright and early.

We, as coaches, could not have asked for more from our group. They were resilient. They were positive. They supported each other. An ENORMOUS contingent of campers made it all the way to the Cookie Cabin, the fabled stop at the very top of the mountain.  And virtually every single camper made it past their aspired level of the climb. Everyone enjoyed the breathtaking descent, in which speeds average between 30-40 mph, providing those same breathtaking views at warp speed!

The cherry on top was another star-studded pro panel, featuring Lindsay Corbin, Eric Lagerstrom, and Paula Findlay.  Mixing it up from the night before, the talk covered topics such as nutrition, racing strategies, and legacy in the sport. Once again, the pros were incredibly generous with their time, their knowledge, and their perspective. Everyone turned in early after the big climb, still with two big training days to follow.

Day Four

Everyone was craving a break from the saddle, so we started the day with longer runs, ranging from 60-120 minutes depending on the needs of each athlete. One of the best parts about these camps is the ability for the athletes to participate in all of the workouts but still honor the training plans created by their coaches and teams at home. It’s really a win-win. We did the run on the bike path, with coaches patrolling on bikes to provide fuel and moral support along the way.

This afternoon, we honored the amount of work amassed over the previous 36 hours, and led everyone in a 2,000 yard technique swim. We crafted a progression of drills, focusing on several key aspects of good freestyle, and ended with a few strong 100s so that each camper could apply their technique with some effort in the water.  

The average dinner time for campers was 5:30 PM, and everyone turned in nice and early to rack up a good night of sleep and allow the body to absorb all of the work from the day’s prior.

Day Five

Our last full day! The weather had originally been predicted as rainy and gray all day, but we were greeted with bright and vast sunny skies. The temps were a bit lower, creeping up toward 60 degrees, but the sunshine and the breeze made for excellent riding conditions. We had another early roll out so that we could tackle repeats of Pistol Hill, one of Heather Jackson’s absolute favorite rides. The campers were given the option to do one, two, or three loops, totalling 40, 50, or 60 miles. The 15 miles from the hotel to the beginning of the loop was another easy spin, providing the campers more time to chat and relax before the work began in earnest.

Again, much like Lemmon, campers were enthusiastic, motivated, and positive throughout the ride.  Many campers did an additional loop beyond their original plan, even though they had a run off the bike waiting for them on the other side.  The campers coalesced into small groups and challenged themselves to blast through the loop as fast as possible, stopping for a quick refuel between each lap.  

To top it off, each camper did a quick costume change into running shoes, and then tackled 20-30 minute runs off the bike, acclimating their bodies to the sensations of T2 for the upcoming season.  Most campers, it seemed, were pleasantly surprised by the way their bodies responded given the amount of work they had done in the previous days.

For our last night together, we headed to local favorite Zona 78 for a big, family dinner together with Wattie and Heather. I am always amazed by how close and real the bonds formed at camp seem to be. Sentiments and hugs are genuine, and there are already outstanding invitations for people to visit Chicago, North Carolina, California, Arizona, and Michigan. As much we love the training, and the weather, it’s really the people and the relationships that make these weeks so rewarding. This is a family, and we’re so grateful to be part of it.

Thursday February 27th

Fartlek Run Meet and Greet on Tucson River Trail
Evening Orientation

Friday, February 28th

Swim at Oro Valley Aquatic Center
Afternoon ride Tucson Bike Path Rambler
Pro Panel #1: Coach Ryan Bolton, Heather Jackson, Ben Hoffman, and Sam Long

Saturday, February 29th

Morning departure for Mt. Lemmon Ride!
Optional runs off afterward OYO when you arrive back at hotel
Pro Panel #2: Linsey Corbin, Eric Lagerstrom, Paula Findlay

Sunday, March 1

Morning Long Run on Tucson River Trail
Afternoon swim at Oro Valley Aquatic Center

Monday, March 2

Morning ride to Pistol Hill Circuit
Run off @ Broadway Trailhead, then ride back to hotel

Tuesday, March 3

Morning Swim at Oro Valley Aquatic Center
Fartlek Run pre-departure for whoever remains!