The team at Tinman Elite – coached by Joan Hunter – rely on WHOOP data to help them train effectively. For the coach and athletes, the insights WHOOP provides every day around sleep, strain and recovery are one of the keys to their success.
As William Shakespeare famously wrote: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The same could easily be said for the route to success in running. Something that Drew Hunter knows only too well. Drew’s running story includes extreme highs and lows that few runners will ever experience. But the reasons he is now making a success of the sport aren’t unique to elite athletes. For a start, he has turned to someone in whom he has absolute trust – his mum – to keep him healthy and get him to the start line in the best possible shape.
And Drew also has WHOOP on his side. Thanks to the sleep, recovery and strain insights that WHOOP provides, Drew and his team mates at Tinman Elite can manage their training loads, avoid injury, focus on recovery and hit peak form for race day. And this is something available to all runners, no matter their level of experience.
Running has always been at the heart of the Hunter household. His dad represented the USA in cross-country. His mum, Joan, ran track at West Virginia University. However despite having role models at home, Drew did not pick up running very early: “I actually didn’t run competitively at all until my freshman year in high school,” Drew explains. “And then I had a really good experience. I won the middle school mile. And I thought: ‘OK, I’m good at this. And I’ve never trained for it.’ So I was kind of curious to see how good could I be if I actually trained.”
After high school, Drew’s success in running really took off. He signed a professional contract and moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he and a group of local athletes formed a team – Tinman Elite. Frustratingly, Drew started getting injured. In mid-2019 Drew was hoping to qualify for Team USA at the World Championships but he suffered a torn plantar fascia and stress fractures, which eventually resulted in him pulling out of the US Olympic Trials for the Tokyo Games. At the same time, controversy surrounding Tinman Elite’s coach leaving resulted in extensive media coverage, much of which was focused on Drew as the de facto leader of the group.
It would be understandable, then, if Drew had felt crushed by all the pressure. But Drew is not one for buckling. He knows he has the potential. He just needs the right factors around him. The first move for Drew was to fix his foot injury. He travelled home where his mum got him the specialist help he needed. After effective treatment, Drew returned to Boulder and picked up training with the group.
The next move was to find a new coach. Drew’s mother, Joan, had been successfully coaching a high school team for many years. So Drew knew exactly where to turn for advice from time to time. As Drew explains it, initially he simply asked him Mum for advice to help him through his injury and back to running. But when he talked to the team about Joan becoming the coach, they were all on board.
In the world of elite track and field, female coaches are a rarity – especially for a men’s team such as Tinman Elite. When asked about being a female coach in a male dominated world, Joan does not see it as an issue:
“I really had not thought much about it, to be honest, when I agreed to take over coaching the team – probably because I have always coached both sexes at the youth and high school level. I was surprised to find that coaching elites really isn’t that different from coaching motivated athletes at lower levels – they just run more and faster! Finding the line between staying healthy and overtraining can be a challenge. Thankfully my athletes are happy again, healthy again, running well and we are moving in the right direction.”
WHOOP became a partner of Tinman Elite in June 2020 although Drew and other teammates such as Sam Parsons had been using WHOOP before that. It was this combination of new coaching and the data that WHOOP provided which saw Drew and the team start to improve again.
For Joan, one of the benefits of WHOOP is detailed and nuanced overviews of how each member of the team is recovering day by day. As Drew points out, the job of a coach is not really coming up with unique sessions: “When you’re in the professional running world long enough, you learn that everyone trains the same way. For example, everyone does tempo runs. Everyone is doing hill repeats. Everyone does race pace work. It’s not that complex.”
Perhaps what is more complex than the training is getting the recovery right. Joan is a big fan of the data that WHOOP gives about the athletes she is training. As Joan explains:
“I love being able to look at the team’s WHOOP scores and modify their training as necessary. I see WHOOP as one more tool to help assess their readiness to train hard or whether we should take an extra easy day, or even a day off. WHOOP is most useful for looking at each individual’s patterns, because there are huge differences in resting heart rate, heart rate variability and so on between similar athletes of a similar age and level. I also like the way I can see each athlete’s WHOOP scores using thee Teams feature. This helps everyone check in with each other on how they are doing, and it even gets a little bit competitive about who has the highest average recovery, week by week.”
That means Drew knows when to push ahead with, or dial back on, his training: “Joan will check all the athletes’ data and then come to practice and we’ll have conversations about it. The other thing
Joan does is look at the previous months as a whole. And so there are big trends that we focus on as
much as the day-to-day stuff.”
“It’s not necessarily that I will know I’m a little run down. But suddenly you have these data points that may back up why I feel cruddy in a workout” – Drew Hunter
On 6 November 2021, a cold, clear day in New York, Drew toed the start line of the US 5km Championships. Alongside him were Olympic medallists Paul Chelimo and Matthew Centrowitz. But Drew was not fazed. He was feeling fit and confident. In the days leading up to the race, Drew’s sleep scores on WHOOP had been high – in the 90% range (fig 3) – and his recovery on the day of the race was comfortably in the green at 79% (fig 2). This demonstrated he’d balanced significant strain (fig 1) with sufficient sleep and recovery: he was ready to race. In the end, Drew executed a perfect race to take the win.
What have been the defining factors in Drew returning to form? The first was learning to do less. Drew is a self-confessed workaholic when it comes to training. With Joan setting individualised training sessions and WHOOP providing detailed data, Drew was able to see that doing less was, in fact, achieving more. The atmosphere in the team was better than ever. And because of all this Drew was able to work smarter, and not just harder.
Drew is excited about the future. He is clearly relaxed and confident. His results suggest he is in great form, with more to come. All thanks to a few crucial factors: family, team, hard work and data.