"This is my favorite part of camp, but it isn't the easiest." I mumbled under my breath just before I set out for a four mile progression run surrounded by pro triathletes, (former, present, and future), and under the gaze of my coach and peers ready to prove to myself why exactly I was running in the middle of the day, in the middle of the Arizona desert, again.
The first official workout of TeamHPB Desert Smash Camp began at 1PM Thursday afternoon, a 100x100’s, 10,000 yard swim workout at the University of Arizona Recreation Center pool. However, I had already completed two workouts before changing into my swimsuit that afternoon; I completed an hour-plus bike ride up and over Gates Pass, a short, steep climb leading out to Old Tucson, and a forty-minute TRX strength session made possible by a large oak tree I found just outside of the Starr Pass pool area. It is a safe assumption that I felt warmed up by the time I jumped into the pool. I didn’t feel tired, at least I didn't think I was tired, but I was.
I really was.
I suppose the hard effort I gave racing at Oceanside, (that previous Saturday), coupled with a few late nights working with Marion on a project, (Monday and Tuesday), and the eight plus hour drive from LA to Tucson the day before, (Wednesday), did not provide the "fresh" arms and legs helpful for starting a five day stretch of extremely challenging triathlon training.
It was probably one of my worst swims to date. My form was sloppy, it was definitely the toughest 10,000 yard workout I have ever faced, and even though I knew I would cry at some point during camp, I didn't plan on doing it the first day, but I did, a little. Then after nearly three hours, I was done. We all were. The other campers, (all women), and I had just conquered our first day of camp, an accomplishment worthy of multiple high-fives and a bounty of chips and salsa.
The next stop on our Crazy, Awesome Women caravan was a group dinner at one of Tucson’s best restaurants, La Cocina. Thankfully, any sort of grief or disappointment I felt about the swim I left behind at the pool. There were still many more workouts to tackle and enjoy over the next four days. Plus, as my friend, teammate, and Casita 15 roommate, Kat reminded me while we were kicking down our shared lane near the end of the swim workout, “How many people can actually do this?” So true, Kat, so true.
Friday’s festivities started early riding the 135+ mile Arivaca loop starting at the Starr Pass parking lot, (outside of our front door), and out the nearly straight line toward the tiny town a few miles shy of the border. Before we rolled out, while most of the campers were pumping up tires and refilling water bottles, Hillary walked over to me and checked in about the swim. I was relieved to learn that she was not surprised that I swam how I did, and then gave me directions on how to approach the upcoming ride. It is moments like this that I believe having a coach is priceless. It is so easy for athletes, or anyone hyper driven to spin out and lose themselves in minor failures, but a coach sees the bigger picture, and if the trust is there, they can pick us up out of the self-pity muck we feel stuck in, and send us on our way.
I rode well that whole ride.
It was about an eight hour ride, broken up with a few refueling stops, and a thirty-one plus tempo thrown in for me and Kat. I loved every second of it. Especially the last thirty-five miles when I rode up front with my friend and Casita 15 roommate, Alysha, Hillary’s husband, and former pro and ever-present cycling machine, Maik, and the incredibly strong and fast pro, Holly Benner. I was spent from the tempo effort, but still found a way to stay up front with them, and had a blast the entire time. It was tough, but fantastic. Just before we made the final turn off the main road into the neighborhoods leading up to Starr Pass, I saw a flash of pink behind me, it was my friend, Jess, she hustled over those last few miles to catch us. I was both proud and amazed by her effort, a clear example of the burning tenacity she has for triathlon.
The ride was amazing, but the highlight of the day was after we rolled back in to the Starr Pass parking lot, Hillary said, “T, I can swim with you if you we hurry.”
“Yeah, okay, cool, I’ll be right back!” I replied with more energy than a person who just rode over 135 miles, hard, should have, and dashed off to Casita 15 for a quick wardrobe change.
We did not have an “official” swim workout on the schedule, but I was in the midst of my own “Swim streak” that I imposed a week or so prior, which was to swim every single day until Ironman Boulder on June 9th. I did respect rest days, but on any day that I did not have a proper swim workout, I wanted to swim a minimum of 1,500 yards. Therefore, I was planning to swim after the ride anyway, either on my own, or with any other campers who wanted to join me, but I never expected Hillary to jump in with me, a fun bonus to top off an amazing day.
Mercifully, she did not harp on my swim form at all because she knew I was just loosening up, but she did promise that she and one of the other coaches, former pro, and expert swimmer, Emily Cocks had plenty of notes for me during our upcoming technique workouts. Awesome, something to look forward to.:)
In the meantime, I simply tried to hang on to every ounce of energy I had to survive the swim, and not completely crumple in front of her and my roommates who were relaxing in the nearby hot tub. I was fine, the swim went well, and after a quick soak in the hot tub myself, it was time to eat, stretch, and sleep.
Next up was a long, warm morning trouncing along the Arizona Trail.
I enjoy trail running. That said, I do not run on very technical trails. In fact, I would say the trail running terrain I usually partake in near my ‘hood in Los Angeles more closely resembles dusty sidewalks, rather than the sharp, rock-coated landscape of the Arizona Trail. Still, I was excited about the eighteen mile trail run on Saturday morning.
I was placed in the “Speedster” group, which after about nine steps seemed like an error in judgment. I pranced/stumbled along the trail as well as I could, but my running went from embarrassing to downright upsetting between miles fourteen to seventeen. I wanted to stop in the middle of the craggy trail in a weepy heap, but I didn’t, I kept running.
Suddenly, I snapped out of it, and was relieved that my super-slick Roka shades covered up my anguish with style.
Finally, we crossed a heavenly stretch of road over a bridge to reach the finish. I have never felt more exposed, yet certain about my place in this sport, my legs and large bod belong on roads.
The next workout was back at the pool. We had a few hours to kill after the run, but not enough to justify a shower at Casita 15 over a smoothie and nap at the U of A Rec. center lobby, so all of my roomies, Kat, Eleanor, Alysha, plus our adopted roommate, Holly, migrated from the trailhead to the pool in sweaty, yet euphoric fashion that seemed perfectly reasonable in our state of sunbaked delirium.
Then the former Ironman World Champion, Sebastian Kienle, walked thought the door and perked us all up.
The best word to describe how I felt during the swim workout was alert.
I wasn’t proud of my run performance, but I didn’t hide from it either. It was a valuable part of the camp experience which brought some tough thoughts to the surface, and humbled me big time. But just like the slippery mistress triathlon is, she slid the rug out from under me on the run, and then held out her hand by offering up a snappy swim.
Now, I am sure I did not transform into Lucy Charles by shear will, but I felt like I could have swam another 10,000 yards, (we didn’t have to, thank goodness), but during that entire workout I felt invincible.
It’s a good thing my confidence was back, because at the end of the workout Hillary had me “race” my friend and teammate Bri, who is a MUCH stronger swimmer than I am, (so even calling it a race was false advertising), but I was willing play along, and give it everything I had no matter how ridiculous I looked in the process. She crushed me, but it was still fun.
That’s right, I didn’t care in the slightest if I was creamed in front of my peers and heroes, I was just happy that my body and mind were awake, and truly in this experience, because I had faith regardless of how I achieved each workout, rocking a ride, stumbling on a run, or sloshing through a swim, every second would make me a better triathlete.
What I was not expecting, (even though I did see a peek of it during my run), is that being open to all of it, would also make me a better person.
We had a chance to sleep in on Sunday morning.
This was the third occasion I rode up Mt. Lemmon, and it was by far my favorite. The air was warm with a twinge of cool that would make Goldilocks smile. I pushed respectable watts the entire ride and watched the green mile markers click by at a steady rhythm, and soon enough I reached mile 14, Windy Point, the SAG stop, but I had plenty of fuel and just waved at Hillary, Alyssa, and the expert camera crew I wrangled for the day, Lauren and Brent as I pedaled passed them.
“Wait, I am supposed to ride with you!!” Alyssa yelled out, as she scrambled to hop on her bike.
“Come on, champ!” I yelled over my shoulder trying not to lose any watts, because if anyone could easily catch up to me, it was the Vermont Long Trail women’s record-holder, accomplished ultra-runner, and professional triathlete, Alyssa Godesky. We were riding side by side within seconds.
The final miles up to the summit past Windy Point are stunning. The sweeping views of the valley below are gorgeous, and the company was fantastic.
The last few miles are a bit of up and down, and then we reached the Cookie Cabin, where other campers were already sitting on the patio nibbling on cookies the size of planets while relaxing in the shade. I did not partake in any cookie deliciousness due to my plant-based lifestyle, but I did celebrate the successful climb by gobbling up my favorite vegan treat, a Bobo’s lemon bar, a flavor I thought was fitting for the occasion.:)
We all chatted and relaxed for another thirty to forty minutes, and then after Hillary and Alyssa gave a thorough descending skills lesson, we started pedaling down the mountain. An hour so later I was back on flat land ready to run.
This particular run workout has historical significance. The first time I ran it at my first year at camp in 2013, Hillary ran with me, and pushed me to reach speeds I was not familiar with, which freaked me out at the time, but unlocked my potential to reach those speeds consistently from that day forward. The next time I ran it was in January of 2018, when I ran alongside pro triathlete, and wonderful human-being, Molly Supple. This year I ran with a larger group, and even though I attempted to stay near the front, (Holly lead the way), I sat more snuggly in the middle of the pack. I felt okay over the first two miles, the second actually hurt a bit, there is an annoying sharp uphill right before the turn-a-round, but during the third I started to pick up my pace, and by the forth I spent every last ounce of effort, and ran as fast as I could until turning left into the shopping center/finish line.
A few minutes later Hillary asked to see my splits, and I was pleasantly surprised to see for myself that I ran the last mile in 6:40, a decent time for any run, but especially considering what my body had been through earlier that day, and the three days prior. It is moments like this when I appreciate the simple, yet amazing feeling of achieving extraordinary fitness. It was similar to how I felt after finishing my first marathon, “If I can do that, what else can I do?”
That question has been on a loop in my mind for nearly twenty years.
I couldn’t relax for too long after the run, because I needed to sneak in another 1,500 yard swim before devouring the delicious Vegan feast Hillary hosted for us later that night.
The vibe at the group dinner was lively and fun, but we were still holding our breath, because even though we had completed the bulk of the hard workouts, we weren’t quite finished. We still had one more workout waiting for us at Pima Community College on Monday morning.
I had been looking forward to that track workout for over a year. It is the reason I signed up for Hillary’s Spring camp. I absolutely love track workouts. They are always painful, but it is a pain I crave and appreciate. However, the workout was not exactly a track workout. It was an “everything” workout. We ran on trails, up and down hills, and on the track. I think the word cruel is slightly overdramatic, but I do give Hillary and Alyssa big points for creativity. It was a very challenging workout.
It was also a total life changer.
“T, I have some notes about your run form that we’ll go over after the swim session.” Hillary told me while we trotted back to the track after the hill repeats.
“Oh, okay.” I replied in a tone coated with surprise, disappointment, and fatigue. I could understand critiquing my swim form; sure, I am down with that, but my run form? Really?
“Don’t worry about it now while you’re running the intervals, we’ll talk about it later.”
It was a sunny morning, but I felt a cloud roll over my head after that conversation.
The absolute finale workout at camp was a one-on-one swim technique session that was broken up into shifts, and since my swim needed a ton of work, I was in the last shift at 11:30A. In the meantime, I set up equipment for the project Marion and I had been working on earlier in the week, something I am very excited about, but not quite ready to announce to the world.
When the clock hit 11:20A, I walked over the pool, and finally learned how to swim.
Both Emily and Hillary were on deck giving me drills, and assessing my swim form as I swam back and forth with a kick board in my hands, and hope in my heart that I might swim at least one lap correctly. Then a miracle happened, “Taryn, I love it!” Emily exclaimed when I pulled my head up after my final lap. I couldn’t believe it. Now I just need to swim like that every single day.
Next up, Hillary explained how I was running, and how I could improve, which I agreed with, but it didn’t really hit me how inefficient my form was until I saw it with my own eyes. She showed me a video Maik shot during the track workout, I was practically sitting down while making the turn, and my torso was stick straight, I was stunned. Suddenly, that dark cloud had a silver-lining, because if I could maintain my speed, but alter my body to gain more efficiency, the potential for my running future seemed boundless.
I felt reborn.
I also felt amazed that after one of the most exhausting weeks of my life, I was more energized than ever at the end of it.
During my time at Team HPB Desert Smash Camp I made new friendships, indulged in and then conquered self-doubt, sunk deeply into the reasons why I pursue self-improvement above all else, and laughed a lot. What a week.
If you want even more camp fun, I made a movie you can watch here:
And, if you want to want to listen to my new favorite song by Imagine Dragons, "Bad Liar" here: