CoachCast: Patience & Power with Julie Dibens

CoachCast: Patience & Power with Julie Dibens

Listen to Julie and Dirk review her career achievements and explore the present-day training challenges presented by COVID-19.

In the world of triathlon, Julie Dibens has pretty much done it all. From going top three in Kona, qualifying for the Olympics, winning a 70.3 and bagging many Xterra trophies, the laser-focused athlete is now a Boulder-based coach. She is dedicated to her local and remote athletes and fuels the squad with patience, empathy and cookies.

Listen to Julie and Dirk review her career achievements and explore the present-day training challenges presented by COVID-19.

Stand-out Quotes

  • “I kinda just got lucky in that the Maui course… I think it just suited my kind of style. Like, yeah, there were definitely some technical parts like descending down the plunge. But as far as the climbs go, they were long power climbs. That first year I just rode my bike in total fear. And I knew that I just had to ride every section as hard as possible.”
  • “The biggest way for me to grow confidence was just in my training. And staying healthy. But if you go back and look at my career, I probably spent 50% of my time out, injured. I had good belief in my own ability, if I stayed healthy and if I could get the training done. But that wasn’t always possible. So I would get confidence as I say, just from being consistent in my training.”
  • “Getting to work with some of the pros that I do, it’s super important that they do enjoy their training and not take it…like we all take it seriously. Don’t get me wrong, but don’t take it so seriously that you can’t enjoy it. So creating like that squad environment here where it’s much more like nothing is ever mandatory. People can drop into sessions as and when they want within the group.”
  • “If they came out and said that there’s going to be no races this year, would that change what you do today and tomorrow? …And for most people it doesn’t change a thing like because they love the process, they love the training and it just means we’ll get them ready for next year, but it allows us to just be a little bit more organic with the training and build-up. But there were a couple of people that were like, yeah, no I wouldn’t, I want to take two weeks off. I’m like, well that’s what we should do then.”

Resources

Julie Dibens’s Instagram

Julie Dibens’s Squad Instagram

Julie Dibens’s Twitter

Julie Dibens’s Website

Episode Transcript

Dirk Friel: 

Julie Dibens, is a world champion triathlete with over 15 years of experience racing as a professional. Her career highlights include being the 70.3 World Champion, a three-time XTERRA World Champion, and a third-place finisher in the IRONMAN World Championships. She retired from professional racing in 2014 and turned her attention towards coaching full time.

Dirk Friel:

All right, Julie, thank you so much for joining us today on the coach cast.

Julie Dibens:

Thank you for having me.

Dirk Friel: 

There are so many cool things I want to dig in with you today. First of all, two-time Olympian. I mean, just amazing. You know, I don’t know too many multi-time Olympians and you represented Great Britain. Tell us how you got from Great Britain to, where did you first land in the States or what brought you over?

Speaker 3: 

I came over when I was 18 to go to college and swim in college and I ended up going down to Louisiana state. Go tigers! 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah!

Julie Dibens:

It was kind of crazy. I think I’d been to the US once before I’ve been, so Fort Lauderdale for like a swim camp. And then just decided that summer beforehand that I wanted to give it a try. And one of the swim coaches down at LSU, was British and he’d been to the same high school as me, so they did a fair amount of recruiting out of that high school. And I figured I could give it a try for a year and if I didn’t like it then I’d just go home at Christmas and never come back.

But after I kinda got used to the huge culture shock of being in the deep South, I made some good friends, like I loved it and I had a blast and never looked back. 

Dirk Friel: Super. So then a triathlon, you jumped from swimming right into triathlon or what was the seed to get you into triathlon? 

Julie Dibens:

Yeah, like I think I knew that I was done swimming my senior year, done at LSU and one of my closest friends in college Becky Lavelle – she had started doing triathlons in the summer just to do something different I think and do a little bit of cross-training and we always used to run together. And we were about the same in the pool and she was having pretty good success early and she kind of encouraged me to get into it. Like I knew I wanted to keep doing something competitive and figured triathlon would just be a good fun way to do that. I had no idea of what level I was going to do that, but it was just a great transition from swimming all my life to doing something else. 

Dirk Friel: And you just borrowed a bike or…

Julie Dibens: Yeah, I ended up buying her bike off of her, it was like a black Cannondale. I used that and then pretty early, like I think it was, I don’t know, like my second or third race I did down in Shreveport, Louisiana and my husband, was my boyfriend at the time, ended up just standing next to this guy, Scott Warren, who used to be heavily involved with Javelin Bicycles. And anyway, they got chatting and I did well at the race. So I ended up getting a sponsorship deal with them pretty early and I had some success pretty early. So the transition was pretty easy for me. I think my aerobic engine was so big from all the swimming. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. I mean, you killed it on the bike. I mean, you were just scary, anywhere from Hawaii, to the Xterras. Did that just all of a sudden come natural to you? 

Julie Dibens: 

Yeah, like I don’t really know why. Like the only thing I can relate it to, like as a swimmer, I had like a crazy strong kick. You know, and so maybe some of the leg strength carried over. But I definitely enjoyed riding really quickly and learned that I was decently strong at it just from riding with some of the local guys in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and just, you know, from doing some of the first year of racing, as an age-grouper and was doing pretty competitively on the bike there. So I knew that that was coming pretty naturally to me. It was always the running that was a little bit of an Achilles heel for me. 

Dirk Friel: 

So now how do you make a jump from local triathlons and Louisiana to ITU and the whole international scene, how to have that…how do you get the, the coaches in Britain to see you in Great Britain to get you on some teams. 

Julie Dibens: 

Yeah, it all kind of happened crazy fast and looking back, I had no idea what I was doing. You know, I raced the first year I went, I started racing, I went to Lausanne, Switzerland and raced the world champs. I raced there as an age-grouper and I think that’s where, like I won the age group overall. And that’s where I think I caught the attention of one of the coaches, the British coaches at the time, Chris Jones. And we kind of started communicating a little bit and I decided to start racing pro the next year. And it was that year that actually ended up qualifying for Sydney. So it all happened like crazy fast. 

And we were living in Houston at the time. So yeah, I qualified for Sydney, but unfortunately, I didn’t get to race cause I got injured. Right before I flew down to the Gold Coast. So two-time Olympian with the asterisk. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. Well still, I mean to qualify and I think, would only three members go? 

Julie Dibens: 

Yeah.

Dirk Friel: 

And that was the first Olympics that had it?

Julie Dibens: 

Yeah. It was super exciting. So decided to move on and dabbled in some Xterra and some 70.3’s.

Dirk Friel: 

Well dabble is you know, doesn’t give it justice. I mean ITU 2006 and then World Champion Xterra, is that correct? In 2007, eight and nine. 

Julie Dibens: 

Yeah. That sounds right. 

Dirk Friel: 

Did you not have a learning curve to that portion of it? 

Julie Dibens: 

I did. I definitely did. And I think I just, I kinda just got lucky in that the Maui course at the time when we raced over in McKenna, I think it just suited my kind of style. Like, yeah, there were definitely some technical parts like descending down the plunge. But as far as the climbs go, they were long power climbs. And that first year I just rode my bike in total fear. And I knew that I just had to ride every section as hard as possible.

Dirk Friel: 

In order to get a gap for the run?

Julie Dibens: 

Well, more to get a gap for the descent and then also for the run. Yeah, I ended up having a good run there that first year. So I think that just gave me the confidence. But like the thing with Xterra is that it’s so course dependent because the courses can be so different that it really can suit certain athletes. So to say, like I really think I was lucky in that that course definitely suited my style of athlete. 

Dirk Friel: 

Wow. So then you double up, you’re double World Champion in 2009, 70.3 World Champ and Xterra World Champ. You know, and I saw a quote from you that said “When I got confident I was hard to beat,” like in ‘09, “But it was hard for me to gain confidence.” You know, when you’re training eight months out from a world championship and you’re trying to either defend or create a new world, become a new world champion, what are the, how do you gain that confidence for yourself? 

Julie Dibens: 

I think for me, the biggest way for me to grow confidence was just in my training. And staying healthy. But if you go back and look at my career, I probably spent 50% of my time out, injured. I had good belief in my own ability, if I stayed healthy and if I could get the training done. But that wasn’t always possible. So I would get confidence as I say, just from being consistent in my training. And I knew that if I could get the training done and put myself on the start line, I had a good chance of being competitive. 

But there were years when I didn’t race like two years at a time, where I didn’t race, cause I would battle with surgeries and this, that and the other. And obviously it would take me some time to build back from those. But like I really did get lucky in the timing of my injuries because they like, when I qualified for Athens, like I barely raced them between Sydney and Athens, but I got healthy in 2000 end of 2003. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. And those injuries, definitely as you said, you missed several years. What kind of advice do you have for athletes to get through an injury? You know, how does that mentally play out? And you definitely had a lot of experience doing that. There’s a bit of that going on right now where people are, they may not have injuries but they don’t know when their next race is, you know, similar to an injury. So what kind of tips are you giving your athletes now? 

Julie Dibens:

Yeah, for sure there are a lot of similarities between I think having an injury and what we’re going on with, you know, right now with COVID-19 and stuff. The biggest thing and you hear people, other people say it, is just to really focus on doing what you can do and doing it really well and not allowing yourself to think about what you can’t do. So for me, a lot of the time I wasn’t able to run for six or nine months and it would be really easy to get down and depressed and sad about the fact that I couldn’t run. I love to run and I wanted to continue to progress at it. But it did me, and I learned over time like, it did me no good to think about that and just really focus on me waking up every day and being the best athlete that I could be. Swimming, biking, doing my strength, doing my rehab, recovering, like just checking all the boxes that I could and just not allow myself to think about the things that I couldn’t do. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah, I think about that now. Where so many people are goal-oriented, it’s all about the race, the race day. And now without having that there isn’t that certainty. So tell me more about that transition from racing into coaching. And was that something that you always wanted to do? You could have done anything after racing. You know what really got you thrilled about getting into coaching.

Julie Dibens: 

My education at LSU, like I got a degree in kinesiology and then a Master’s in exercise physiology and I’d always had that interest in sports science and understanding just why things work and some things don’t work in this sporting arena. If you’d asked me 15, 20 years ago if I would be doing what I was doing now, I don’t think I would have said that. I think I would have been more, you know, working in a lab and testing athletes and doing that kind of stuff. I did start doing some coaching to help pay the bills, during some of those times when I was out injured. And I definitely always enjoyed it. I stepped away from it when I stepped up to racing IRONMAN purely because I didn’t have the energy or the time to put into coaching. 

But then when I was somewhat forced into retirement due to another injury it was like definitely the natural progression. And what I wanted to create was just in my mind, like an optimal environment for people to be able to do what they need to do to be the best athletes they could be. And that kind of arose from me moving to Boulder 10 years ago. And realizing this is obviously a great place to train, it’s not for everybody. But I loved it. 

Getting to work with some of the pros that I do, it’s super important that they do enjoy their training and not take it…like we all take it seriously. Don’t get me wrong, but don’t take it so seriously that you can’t enjoy it. So creating like that squad environment here, where it’s much more like nothing is ever mandatory. People can drop into sessions as and when they want within the group, but it also allows people, that I work remotely with that don’t get to live in Boulder or don’t choose to live in Boulder that they can come to Boulder and drop in and they know that they’ll have people to train with the same time. So people like Matt Hanson, he’ll come two or three times a year.

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. You know, it kind of reminds me of the Kenyan runners, who kind of have these camps they can always go back to and go back to their roots, if you will. And to have that stability and have your athletes be able to come back into this squad and rely on that and build that trust. You know, you talked about time and energy for coaching and certainly that’s, that takes a lot of time and energy. What does the typical week look like? 

Julie Dibens: 

Typically we’ll have… I like face-to-face interaction with my athletes, like I enjoy it. But also, you know, like all coaches will know it’s a lot. You just learn so much more seeing them before the workout, talking to them and then obviously seeing them move and execute the workout. To me that’s the fun part of coaching. Like sitting down and writing the program is a little bit more monotonous. It needs to get done. 

So like a typical week we’ll have three-to-four swim sessions that I encourage most people to be at. We swim over at Rally Sport. Yeah, like Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and then in the summer we try to get in a lake on a Wednesday afternoon, which is super fun. 

And then we’ll have a couple of group run sessions a week. Typically it’s only two. And then just because I still love to ride my bike, I try to get out with most people as much as possible on the bike. Not only do I, I still love to ride my bike, but I also think again, like riding with people, you get to learn I think a lot more from just, seeing how they pedal the bike. What happens when they start to get tired and, yeah, I find it fascinating riding alongside and trying to hang with some of the guys. Like I think they secretly like it when they can drop me.

Dirk Friel: 

Well, that’s hard to do. I’m going to…a little offshoot of this is, were you not second at the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race in 2018?

Julie Dibens:

I was.

Dirk Friel: 

Second overall female, against the young ones! We won’t say your age, but you know that is, I mean truly you’re still an elite athlete there with that type of result. So obviously you still love the bike. Any kind of lessons learned from what, was that an eight hour day? 

Julie Dibens: Yeah. I wanted to go sub-eight but I didn’t quite make it. I had forgotten that it’s actually what, like 103 miles? The whole time I’m calculating, I think, I got this and then I realized, there’s no way! I can’t even see the town yet. 

Dirk Friel:

That’s almost IRONMAN timewise. Any lessons learned from that type of long mountain bike race that you bring back to the squad?

Julie Dibens:

If you talk to people that knew me when I was racing and I raced against, like I was historically bad with nutrition and hydration and so like I knew going into Leadville. And the first year I did it, unfortunately I got sick the night before, but I knew that I had to take care of myself like on the hydration and nutrition front, especially up 10-12,000 feet. And I think I probably still fell a little bit short, but I did pretty darn good for me. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. So what was your biggest, maybe hurdle nutrition-wise in your career or what was the thing that kind of held you back on the nutrition side? 

Julie Dibens:

I just didn’t eat enough. Like I could get away with it for obviously ITU Xterra and 70.3, like I had a couple of special bond bonkages at 70.3, but for the most part I could get away with it. Like I only actually did three IROMAN, twice in Kona at once in Coeur d’Alene which I think sometimes shocks people. But in Coeur d’Alene, like I was literally just having such a blast on the bike that I just got really complacent and forgot to eat, which sounds so silly. But I got really behind on my calories and it was, I don’t know about mile 13 or 14 on the run that things got pretty ugly and I realized, I just literally needed to eat some food. I ate a Powerbar, it took me about three miles to get that in and then I managed to get right back on pace.

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah  you cannot hide from calorie restrictions in an IRONMAN. No matter where you live, we have different rules around COVID-19, but for the most part we don’t have racing. And it’s kind of putting a damper on some aspects of training, like swimming. How are you guys making up for that?

Julie Dibens: 

Yeah. Like the percentage of people that have the endless pools is pretty small. A couple of athletes do. Most athletes were doing some stretch cord work. It might be 20 to 30 minutes, four or five times a week, but for the most part we’ve kind of just accepted swimming is not happening for a little while. And just again, coming back to focusing on doing what we can, I’m working a lot more specifically on the bike than anything. Like trying to identify those areas of weakness in their physiology. I’m working on those, whether that’s on the trainer or outdoors. Keep the volume down to try and keep them healthy. But yeah, like I said, identify any areas of weakness that we can work on that we might not normally have the energy or the time to do. 

And I think I’m starting to see, especially in the last two weeks, that extra energy that they have from not swimming. I think I underestimated how big that is and how it’s really coming out now in like better power files, which is kind of cool to see.

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah, definitely. I mean, what kind of athletes will come out of this? What are the different profiles of athletes? And you can certainly see some that, certainly there can be some depression, going through this. Obviously people have lost jobs— family is number one. So certainly we know triathlon is on the last thing of some people’s minds. 

But other than that, if you are training, you’re advising, maybe give up some fitness? Give up some volume and maybe specialize a little bit more on the weakness? What do those types of workouts look like that you’re talking about? 

Julie Dibens: 

It’s very individual. Initially that was the first thought is like, okay, we don’t know when the races are, a lot of them. It came at a time where a lot of athletes were getting ready for Galveston or Oceanside St. George, so a lot of athletes were actually pretty freaking fit. 

It came at the worst time, because it was such a bummer cause we never got to see how fit they really were. So it was a unique position, I think for coaches. Most of the time when you want somebody to lose fitness or form, they kind of just take a break, take some time off. Whereas the last six weeks, yeah, we knew we wanted them to lose some fitness and some form, but not so much in case they came out and said, Oh, we might be racing and however many weeks. But also to help keep them motivated. So it’s an interesting challenge to actually want them to lose fitness. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah, exactly. That’s, yeah, not always the case.

Julie Dibens: Yeah. Like I’ve never really had to do it like that. So it’s definitely challenging and I struggled with it for awhile. And then I think once we just sat and really identified these areas that we wanted to work on, it gave me real focus in the training that I was setting, but also the athlete. If they came out and said that there’s going to be no races this year, would that change what you do today and tomorrow? 

Dirk Friel: 

Good question! 

Julie Dibens:

And for most people it doesn’t change a thing like because they love the process, they love the training and it just means we’ll get them ready for next year, but it allows us to just be a little bit more organic with the training and build-up. But there were a couple of people that were like, yeah, no I wouldn’t, I want to take two weeks off. I’m like, well that’s what we should do then. 

Dirk Friel: 

Right. Yeah. 

Julie Dibens: If you’re that stressed out, which people obviously are like, then it’s being counterproductive to keep pushing, pushing, pushing. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, that is a great question. Everybody should ask themselves. And if you come to that conclusion that yes, I would take a couple of weeks off.  That can give you a better sense of purpose. You can now readjust and live with it and be comfortable with yourself and you come out of it stronger. What about extra strength work? Are you seeing athletes that could benefit from, just naturally they could use some more strength? Maybe not max power, but muscular endurance or just are you adding in extra strength training to anyone’s programming? 

Julie Dibens: Like strength on the bike or strength? 

Dirk Friel: Well, I think it could be either, it can be total functional bike strength or it could be in the gym or just with bands or just in general. Are there some athletes that could benefit from just some more strength work?

Julie Dibens: 

Yeah, like a hundred percent. I think the hard part with that is, the logistics of it and whether people have the right equipment needed. And also, a lot of guys here in Boulder and actually remote work with some of the strength coaches here in Boulder. So Aaron Carson and Kevin Purvis. So they were not going to have access to them or as much access. So it made it challenging. 

I think more than strength, I’ve been trying to drill into people like yeah, you have an extra six-to-eight hours a week where you’re not swimming. Like use that time to work on mobility. We’re stretching or just stability stuff, like things that you don’t normally have the time or energy to do because we’re so focused on getting ready for this race or that race. Like my athletes I think are pretty diligent and disciplined at doing all their strength work anyway, that hasn’t really changed much. But the stuff outside of that, as I say, mobility, stability, just taking care of your body, that stuff I’ve been trying to encourage people to do. So that might be, you know, like just balance while standing on one leg and, or making sure you can point your big toe down. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. You’re describing me. I have discovered more courses online, Instagram, live workouts, mobility workouts that I never did before. We even have a yoga session for TrainingPeaks employees and it’s now virtual on Wednesdays at noon. And I never attended those in-person, but now I do on Zoom.

Julie Dibens:

 You’d rather go do something else, but now you have the time.

Dirk Friel:

Exactly. Yeah. So that’s definitely helped me out and it’s definitely good words of advice. What about the whole virtual-world racing and IRONMAN VR. How has that affected your athletes? Are some of them loving it, others don’t do it at all? What about that?

Julie Dibens: 

I’d say for the most part it’s been really good. Like, yeah, we don’t even really need to go down the road of the fairness of it because that’s not the point of it to me. And I remind my athletes of that. It’s such a great tool motivationally for them right now. And I don’t know how many athletes I’ve had, probably 15 athletes have done either the VR IRONMAN or the Zwift Races that they’ve been having. And every time it’s like, “Oh my God, best power file ever!” 

And it’s a great tool to motivate them and it brings out the best athlete in them on the day, just because of the competitive fire in them. But like just reminding them that we can’t compare to other people because there’s still so many uncontrollables in the virtual racing world. That it’s really easy to get frustrated with. Or I think it can inflate your ego a little bit more, so maybe you’re winning some of these races and then when we do finally get to race you think you’re biking really well because you’ve been kicking ass and these Zwift races and then all of a sudden you get your ass beat. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. You know, the Zwift world for right now is not accounting for headwind.

Julie Dibens: Right. 

Dirk Friel: 

You know, and you can hold the power, up in the hoods and really standing up or whatever it might be, but you can’t stand up in a headwind or be up on the hoods and, what can you throw down when you’re in an a aero position. And a lot of turns and skills involved obviously in real world racing, which is certainly an aspect I always loved, was that skill side of things.

Julie Dibens:

I think it’s a great way to motivate people right now and for the people specifically working on biking or bike power, it’s been great. But it, yeah, it comes with its own issues.

Dirk Friel: Yeah, well Julie, we’ve got to wrap things up a bit here, but how can you gotta tell me one thing, when we go to your website and it says you can just offer me cookies and I’ll give you some advice. What is the deal with cookies? 

Julie Dibens: I don’t know, like ever since I started training for IRONMAN. That’s when my cookie issue arose. I think. 

Dirk Friel:

You didn’t have enough, you needed more cookies in the race! You needed to eat more cookies. 

Julie Dibens: But actually, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. They sell them at Whole Foods—Carol’s Cookies. And they have, I think it’s 800 or 900 calories per cookie.

Dirk Friel: Woah! Is that a brick?

Julie Dibens: But it’s amazing! And actually around the time I was racing Kona, my manager Franco actually reached out to Carol about a sponsorship deal and it was amazing because she sent me, I dunno, 80 or a hundred cookies, these Carol’s cookies that I put in my freezer. But at that point, like training for IRONMAN, I knew that I was not the best eater in the world and I just literally need to get the calories in, as best I could. So if that was me going out and riding with a Carol’s Cookie in my pocket, then you know, I was onto a winner. So I think it kind of started from there. But yeah, I don’t know. Something about a good cookie. 

So the best cookies in Boulder right now, in my opinion, are the crumble cookies.

Dirk Friel: Where?

Julie Dibens:

 I’m not sure if they’re still, I hope, Crumble Cookie is in the 29th Street Mall. 

Dirk Friel: 

Oh, okay. Hard for people to get to if they’re not in Colorado. Well we usually don’t do ads in the CoachCast, but there are a couple cookie ads for you and we should be doing this over cookies and milk. But we’ll, we’ll catch up on that another day. How can people contact you or follow you?

Julie Dibens: 

I have a Twitter account, it’s Julie Dibens, Instagram is @dibbo4 or we have a JD crew account on there. And then my coaching website is just Juliedibbenscoaching.com. 

Dirk Friel:

Awesome. Thank you so much Julie. Hopefully the world gets back to normal here soon enough. We can have some racing rest of the year or the later part of the summer. So thank you so much for spending some time with me. 

Julie Dibens. Awesome. Thanks Dirk, it was fun.

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