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Chris Lieto & Julie Dibens: The Uber Bikers

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Chris Lieto: So this will be your second Hawaii Ironman—your third total. Were there things you learned at [the 2011 Ironman] Coeur d’Alene that’s going to help you in Kona? I noticed you stopped a few times on the run—was that just as a learning process as far as to test yourself with your fitness and your running?

Julie Dibens: That definitely wasn’t planned. But I definitely learned a lot. I think if anything it just really highlighted to me how important my nutrition is and how I need to keep working on that. Sometimes we get complacent at things and on the bike, like I definitely lost track of where I was supposed to be on the nutrition front, and it only being my second Ironman, it was good for me to go there and do it and just be reminded of how important that is.

CL: Yeah, and you set a course record on the bike there as well, correct?

JD: Yes.

CL: And are you shooting to set a course record in Kona? Is that a thought process that you have, or are you just looking at the overall picture? Or how do you address going in against Chrissie, who’s a solid cyclist but also a fast runner, and then Rinny, getting some space?

JD: I’m definitely not looking at getting a course record on the bike at all. I mean, if it happens, it happens, but that’s not what’s going to win me the race. So I’m just looking at the whole race and how I think I can get faster. I know what time I did last year, I know what it’s taken to win the last couple of years and if I want to win that race I know I need to find 15 minutes, maybe more. And I’ve looked at where I think I can get that time, and if I was to have the perfect day, I could do it. But it’s not as simple as just biking 15 minutes faster—I know that’s not gonna happen—but I think there’s room for improvement on the bike for sure.

CL: I hear a lot of [people say,] “Hey, if you’d only back off a little bit on the bike, you’d run a little bit faster.” My view is you have to get from point A to point B in the fastest time. Do you see yourself backing off on the bike at all, or will you just race your plan and bike to your ability?

JD: I think I just have to race my plan. A lot of people said to me after Coeur d’Alene that I biked way too hard. But actually after looking at the numbers and how I felt, I probably didn’t. I just got the nutrition wrong. For me to win Kona, I know I have to bike at a high level because I’m not gonna run with Chrissie, because she’s a phenomenal runner, as is Rinny, as is Catriona [Morrison]. So I have to use my bike strength to my advantage—same as you—but leave enough energy in there to do a good run. A lot of people say we’re both bad runners. I don’t think either of us are. I mean, you showed in many 70.3s and you know it yourself that you’re not a bad runner. But maybe compared to some of the awesome runners we are bad, but we’re not bad. We’re just not as fast as some of the other people. And same thing when people look at Rinny and her bike. She’s not a bad biker, but compared to someone like Chrissie, sure she’s slower, but I think sometimes it all just gets blown out of proportion. And people build up this perception of who’s good at what, and who’s bad. Yeah, sometimes it’s a little harsh I think.

CL: Yeah, it’s annoying sometimes. I look at my past run times, and what people think I can run and what I think I can run, and yeah, I can be a much faster runner. My approach to the race is different than yours in that the men’s race is a little tighter, there’s more of game-playing, tactical aspects to it on the bike. And so there’s guys that’ll conserve on the bike to have a good run, and I know that if I conserve my bike and sat in in that group or just paced myself with that group, I would have a faster run.

JD: But would it be fast enough to win the race?

CL: Exactly! And that’s the point: You have to get from start to end in the fastest time possible that’s going to win you that race. So I’m gonna use my strengths to my abilities. So if I go out and ride hard, which is in my ability, I’m gonna use that advantage to gap myself from the guys that can run really well. You look at Crowie in ’09. He beat me by two minutes, and I had a three-hour marathon. Can I run faster than that? I can run a lot faster than that. But if I get off the bike with Crowie, I’m gonna lose by 10 minutes. So if I have a 10-minute lead, can I hold a run that’s gonna manage that? And part of that is to make sure you get the fluids in and the calories in to give you that ability to run well the last five, 10 miles. And that I think [7:00] is the biggest challenge—the core temperature, the nutrition that you take and getting it in, and dosing your effort but finishing strong.

JD: OK, I think one of the biggest things, and I think we’re the same in this, we’re both going into that race really wanting to win it. Like we don’t care about coming in second, third, fourth. And for both of us to win that race, we have to go in and bike hard but not ridiculously hard, because we know that if we come off the bike with them, sure we might run faster, but we’re still not going to run faster. We’re taking a risk, but in our mind, it’s a risk that we have to take if you want to win it. If you’re happy to come in second, third, fourth, fifth, then sure we’d be more conservative on the bike.

CL: Yeah, I absolutely agree. We’re not going for second or third.

JD: And it almost paid off for you two years ago. You got pretty close. I know you look back on that and often wonder.

CL: I think about it once in a while, yeah. But it’s the whole thing like in the Tour—Andy went all in on that one stage. And he went for it. And he was going to risk a phenomenal day and climb and win and gap himself and get time, or he was going to blow up and go out in the back and lose his chances. And that’s kind of my approach the last three or four years has been I’m gonna go all in.

JD: Yeah, you have to.

CL: I have to go all in. I’m not there as far as to get second, third or fourth. I want to win. And the only way I’m going to know what my body’s capable of, what I can accomplish, is to stress it as much as I can and finding that dosage and going forward. So I’m going to attack the swim the best I can, I’m going to attack the bike the best I can, and I’m going to attack the run. And with my strengths, I can’t play that tactical game like guys that are on a strong run that say, “Hey, I want to conserve,” or “OK, I can let a five-minute gap happen and I’ll pace myself accordingly and have the best run I can.” Yeah, we just gotta approach it differently and go for the win. [9:10]

JD: Do you have like a figure in your mind of what kind of gap you think is enough, or do you just go on how fast you think you can ride and not really worry about what’s going on behind?

CL: Yeah, I mean, I can’t get caught up in the “minute gap” situation because then I’m going to go potentially out of my element in how hard to go on the bike. So if I’m at mile 80, and I don’t have a big enough gap from what I think, then I’m gonna ride that last 20, 30 miles too hard as far as potentially, and then I’m gonna pay for it. So again the overall result is to get straight through in the fastest amount of time. So I’m going to have to pace myself—I’m going to have to race my race, and there’s a little bit of luck involved in there as well. So I’m going to race my race and if things come out the way I see them coming out, I will have enough gap to win. Some of those things have to play in—there’s gonna have to be some wind, as far as potentially. We’ve had no wind in Hawaii for the last four, five, six years. So to have some substantial wind that’s gonna cause the group or the peloton in the back to get blown around a little bit and work on their own effort, and I just need them to use more energy so they can’t run as well. I mean, you look at Texas, the half-Ironman, the U.S. National Championships and on that course …

JD: Which you won.

CL: Which I won [laughing], yeah—the crosswind was so strong, and it was a really hard day—it was a flat course, but because the wind was so strong, everybody rode on their own element, on their own effort. And the guys that are normally running a 1:10, or have run faster than that, were running a 1:14, and I think I ran a 1:15 I believe. I’m not sure. But I was within that range. I ran well according to everybody else’s run, and that’s because everybody else rode in their same effort. And that’s what I do every race. And if it’s a race that in Hawaii, I think I have a very good chance to win and bring it home.

JD: Do you think the dynamics will be different this year with the 50 men, 30 women, smaller numbers? Or do you think it’s gonna be pretty much the same?

CL: I think it’s gonna change a little bit. There’s going to be less of a group riding together. But it’s new, so we don’t know what that’s going to bring. Every time there’s a new element, everything can change. Being, I think we’re 15 minutes earlier last year than the year before. So this year’s the same so we’ll learn a little bit from last year. But the conditions are different every year, but the winds, we were out on the bike a half hour earlier than five years ago, so there’s less wind early on on the bike. And this year, that plays a part, but also the field for sure. There’s less guys to swim with, less women to swim with, or I guess less guys for you to swim with as well.

JD: Have you looked at who’s qualified and thought about how other people might influence your race if they’re there or not there?

CL: I’m starting to look at it. I don’t think the full list is out yet, so I haven’t really had a chance to look through and [ask], “OK, who are the strong cyclists? Who are the strong runners?” I still look at the guys that I see as being a threat that have proven themselves there. Crowie—he’s won twice, phenomenal athlete, he’s always—he’ll suffer till he gets it, you know? And Andreas also, so close every year, and he has the talent. Those two guys are the main guys; Macca not being there eliminates one. But then there’s still a handful of guys that have not had a consistent Hawaii race that could mix it up and have a chance to win. There’s always probably 10 guys, if not more, that have a chance to win. So it depends on their day, too. It’s a one-day race, and a lot of elements apply.

JD: Do you think there’s any guys in there that’ll try to stay with you—and be able to—on the bike?

CL: I hope so, yeah.

JD: Like, you’ve never had that before, or the last couple years.

CL: Faris was riding well in ’09, so we were together for half of it. So that was really good. Last year he wasn’t riding as well and ended up riding in the front of the group behind. So this year, from his race that he had in Frankfurt—he had a phenomenal race, he ran really well, swam really well again, like his form was when he last won the world championships, so he’s definitely one that I see as marking and knowing where he is and potentially working with him. As far as Twelsiek, he rode well last year in Hawaii, also in Coeur d’Alene, so he’s shown his strength. T.J. Tollakson has been riding really well—had a phenomenal race in Lake Placid. Luke McKenzie is always a strong rider and can always put it out there as well. So there’s guys out there that can ride really well and run well as well, but not as well as Crowie or Andreas. So even those guys have got to look at the tactical pieces and go, “We need to not ride for these runners, and if the runners are in that group, don’t do the effort for them, but ride your own race, as long as you’re separating yourself from them. But if you’re not separating yourself from the runners, make them do the work. Let the bigger gaps happen. Or challenge yourself and go all in as well. The more guys we have going all in, the more chances I have to win, but the more chances they have to win, as long as they’re going for the win as well and not going for fifth place or fourth place or third, which is a phenomenal result as well.

JD: So if you came 10, 20 miles from the finish of the bike and you’re with three or four guys, are you gonna start thinking about how good of a runner they are?

CL: I would love that. It would be a great as far as position to be in. Yeah, I’d think about it. I’d definitely assess where they are.

JD: Because you’ve got to think—some of those guys have got to think how awesome it would be to come off in your position with you.

CL: And a lot of those guys I mentioned—I think we all have similar run times, and we all have the ability to run faster than we have in the past. So it would be a great race for all of us—all four or five or six of us would say, “Hey, this would be a great position to be in.” And even getting off at the same time on the bike would be a great position to be in, and say, “Hey, let’s run the first half and see how we all go.” And it’s a risk that we take, but it’s better than going solo the whole way. You look at past years, and the guys that sit in the peloton definitely have an easier time. So we’ll see. I’d look forward to some companionship. Whereas you, it’s your solo effort, so it makes it easy in how you go forward, right? I mean, the choices you make tactical-wise, like you said, you have to swim a certain time, bike a certain time and run a time, and if you do that, your overall time’s going to be X, and you figure that’s going to be enough to win. And that’s potentially an easier way to win.

JD: The women’s race is so different from the men’s in that there’s never—maybe this year will be different—but there are hardly ever big packs. So there’s so much less tactics that go on. It is very about just how you swim, bike and run. It’s just different.

Triathlete: So Chris, do you think the way you approach the ride has to be different than what Julie does because it’s much more of an individual effort for her, whereas with you have to be concerned about what Maik Twelsiek’s doing, what’s Crowie doing back in the back 10 minutes behind you? How does that change the way you approach it?

CL: Yeah, I have to approach the race the first part of the bike. I can’t just—if I just go my effort and my pace the whole day, I potentially will be dragging a group along. And the objective is to not give anybody free rides. But also, there has to be a variation in effort, and there has to be—I don’t know. Because of the groups you have to approach it differently. It’s not necessarily approaching it differently. I guess it’s more how you think about it. And you do have to stretch yourself a little bit more outside your element. And it’s mainly because I look more at run times. Whereas Julie can look at the overall finish time, I have to look at run times and go, “OK, what’s the best run that Crowie can have? What’s the best run Andreas can have—if they’re sitting in a group?” And if they’re sitting in that group, then they’ll have the freshness to be able to execute that. But if I can challenge them a little better, challenge the group a little bit where they have to use more energy, then every ounce of energy they use more, they’re gonna have a minute less in that run time. And so it’s finding that balance. And I don’t know what the answer is. Every year you try it slightly different—a little more one year on the bike, a little less one year on the bike. But it all comes down to: Do you race your own race? You have to have your right nutrition and calorie intake—that’s probably the biggest challenge, is to get that in. And get the training in. Training’s going well, and efforts are showing well, the numbers are showing well, running’s been improving.

JD: And the hunger’s still there.

CL: And the hunger’s still there. Absolutely.

Triathlete: So, Julie, how do you know what the proper effort is to apply on the bike ride, because you do have a more holistic view of the race than Chris gets to have, so how do you decide how hard is the right way to ride?

JD: That’s a good question. I was chatting with Rinny about it. I think you almost have an in-built ability to ride hard or as hard as you can, but deep down you know you’ve still gotta run X amount of miles afterward. And even though you’re not thinking about it at the time, you know that it’s there. And you’re just riding at a level that you think is—you know, you might be looking at the numbers, if you look at the numbers, you can’t use that as a limiter, I don’t think, because you never know what you can do on race day. It’s a really fine line. But just through training, I think you learn what you can do and what you can’t do. And you take it from there.

CL: Yeah, you have to go a little bit by feel as well. When you said that, I realized that I’ve thought that a lot. When you’re out on the bike and you’re racing, you know where you can ride and roughly where your limit is, but you go by feel. But you don’t think about the marathon. You think about what you’re doing and the effort that you’re giving. Because there’s pain in riding the bike; there’s pain in the effort that you give out. And you don’t think about that marathon until you get off your bike and start running. And you try to not to think about that marathon, and you try not to think about mile 8 to 10 when you’re at mile 1. And you don’t think about mile 26 or 25. You think about the mile that’s right in front of you; you think about the half mile that’s right in front of you, or the next aid station.

JD: I think even on the bike, because I’ve only ridden that far a couple of times, and I still look at that, and it’s still daunting—riding 112 miles. And I still break it down. I just get through the first 30 minutes, just thinking about that, or whatever. You have to break it down. And even though deep down you know all the rest is coming, you try not to think about it.

CL: And you know according to the training that you’ve done and the testing that you’ve done that you need to have a certain amount of calories, a certain amount of fluid, and you can ride a certain effort and a certain wattage, and whatnot. But, yeah, you just think about the moment. If you think about the whole thing, it’s too much of a challenge, so you just think about that moment and—that’s just part of racing. And that’s what I think makes a good athlete—is you separate yourself from the whole process and the whole distance that you have to go. And you’re really just focused on the moment. And you have to be reminded sometimes within that moment to eat or to drink, and that’s the challenge, to stay on track.

Triathlete: Is it a conscious effort to keep the attention on the now rather than on the entire race, or does it come naturally?

CL: I think through racing it becomes natural. I don’t have to constantly think of, “OK, you just have to focus on this next step.” I mean, once in a while, your mind does go, and your mind goes, “Oh my gosh, I’m at mile 2 on the run and my legs really hurt and I’m really hot and this doesn’t feel very good.” So you start to think about “How in the world am I going to run 23 more miles?” Then you have to bring yourself back, and you say, “OK, bring it back. Let’s look at this next aid station and try to recoup,” however I’m feeling and get that back. Yeah and just focus on that one step.

JD: Yeah, I definitely think just through racing you know that you’re gonna have thoughts like that, but you learn how to block them out. You might have mental cues or something just to keep you distracted and not finish about the finish line until you can see it at least. [laughing] Otherwise you might never see it.

CL: Yeah, and even then, I remember in ’09, when I was coming down that last tree and going through the banyan tree, and many times going through that banyan tree, which is only 200 meters I think to the finish, even at that point, you’re still so focused on one step at a time and focused on, “OK, don’t collapse, don’t fall over, don’t fade, who’s behind?” And even when someone says, “Hey, there’s a huge gap. I don’t see anyone,” you still look to make sure because you don’t know what can even happen in that last few feet—anything is possible. For me, I don’t let go until I run through the area where it’s fenced off and there are signs and flowers and you can see that finish line. At that point, you feel like it’s over.

JD: I know last year I didn’t get to enjoy running down the finish chute at all, and I can’t remember anything about it simply because it seemed so far away sometimes. Like until you cross that line it’s not over.

CL: And that’s why so many people—how many times have you seen a picture of somebody or a video of an athlete that’s running across the finish line. They look fine, they look great, and as soon as they cross that finish line, they just collapse and fall over. Their body just gives up because of the mental energy it takes to keep yourself up and upright and moving forward. It’s gonna be a good year.

Triathlete: Do you find it more mentally difficult to race alone out in front of everybody else rather than having other people to key off of?

CL: For me, I think it’s much easier to have people to key off of for sure. I mean there’s that sense of being out front and you have that energy and that push of saying, “Hey I’m in the lead” and you have your own rhythm and you have that momentum, I think. But in an Ironman it’s different. In a half-Ironman, I enjoy being off the front, or in an Olympic distance, you have that sense of “OK, I’m where I need to be. There’s no catch-up here that I have to make.” But an Ironman is such a long day, and every ounce of energy that you can conserve mentally being next to somebody, as long as it’s somebody that you like being next to, you know? If I’m at mile 90 on the bike and I’m next to Crowie, that’s not a good place to be.

JD: I think for me, with some of the girls that are coming from behind, some of the super-fast runners, even though I’m out in front, that doesn’t mean anything because I know that they’re gonna start chasing me down at some point. And I don’t know whether—I mean, even in Coeur d’Alene, when I had 37-, 38- whatever minute lead, you don’t know if that’s enough until you cross the finish line. So I really try not to think about at all—just race my own race and really block out what’s going on behind me.

CL: Yeah, and a lot of challenges that a lot of people don’t really realize is that, when you’re out in the front the majority of the day, when you’re on the bike, the first part of the run, the whole run, or whatever, you’re not getting time splits.

JD: You get no splits at all.

CL: You get no splits, and the splits, the rare splits you do get in Hawaii—by a board or someone on the side of the road or whatever—they’re splits that are a half-hour gone. It’s a half hour behind or an hour behind, so that split means nothing in reality, where everybody behind you knows exactly to the T: “All right, now I’m a minute behind, now I’m 45 seconds behind.” And so they can calculate really easily the dent that they’re gaining, you know? So you being in the front at the start of the marathon, and Chrissie is getting off and running, she’ll say, “OK, I have this amount of time gap.” And within the first mile she can say, “OK, I’m running the pace I need to run.” As well as Rinny. And it makes it a challenge—a harder challenge—for us going from the front. And it’s kind of the unknown. A lot of times you get that split when it’s too late.

JD: Absolutely. I think that’s why I’ve learned—or I’ve made myself not even worry about splits and just get out there and focus on what I’m doing and almost not even look at people for splits because you just get frustrated because half the time you know they’re not right.

CL: I remember, in ’09 again, on the run, we had a motorcycle that would come up with a whiteboard with splits on the bike, and then on the run they’d do the same thing—you know, your time and then how far back second, third, fourth and fifth. And on the third mile, he came up and he said, “Hey here’s the time splits.” And I said, “I don’t want to see you again on the run. I don’t want one split.” Because it does mess with you. Because when you get to the run, you have to run your own effort, you have to run your own pace, what you know you can do. And the pace that someone else is doing behind you—they may be going too fast, but you don’t want that to mess with your mind: “Oh I need to pick it up.”

JD: Yeah, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing.

CL: You just do the best you can and go forward and hope that that time gap and that distance that you have or the plan you laid out in front of you gets you to that result and that time that you’re shooting for that would hopefully get you the win. And your approach of saying “I need to finish at this time,” what that’s gonna do is, the only way you’re gonna get beat is if they have a phenomenal race. And if they have a phenomenal race and beat you, you have that respect for them, saying, “You had an amazing race,” and as well as yourself had an amazing race. You met your goal and you reached that time, and you thought that that was enough to win but potentially it may not be. But you can’t change anything about that, you can’t do anything about that but go out and have the best race that you can. And hopefully they have the race that they’re capable of but that it’s the time you think it is.

Triathlete: What are some of the other challenges that you’re faced with by being up front of everybody and having that burden to establish the lead that you’re going to need to win the race in the middle of the race?

CL: Well for you, it’s not really establishing a gap on the bike. I mean, do you even care what the gap is at the bike? Or do you—you’re looking at the overall time that you’re shooting for, so it’s your own timeframe?

JD: For the most part, I’m just really trying to focus on what I’m doing. Like in Kona, I have a goal of what I think I want to do, and if I do that, I’ve got a good chance of winning. So I really—I can’t really look at what’s going on behind me too much. And if somebody’s having a phenomenal day behind me, or you know, Rinny’s riding up the road in front of me, then I can’t control that. I’m only gonna go as fast as I can. I can’t focus on what they’re doing. It takes too much energy.

CL: Absolutely. I know for me, I don’t have a goal time on the bike. I know effort-wise what I need to go, but the conditions can be huge or easy or whatever, but I know what I’m capable of running after having a hard bike effort, or that bike effort that I’m planning on having. And so my goal is to make sure that I plan ahead of time, make sure I have my nutrition and my calories and my fluids in so I can execute that run. I haven’t had a chance yet to have the run that I’m capable of having in Hawaii. And so for me, it’s I need a gap, there’s a piece there, but my main focus is gonna be, “OK, I gotta get off and have the best marathon run I can possibly have.” And the day has to unfold for each athlete that’s gonna win. It has to unfold with a little bit of luck, and it has to line up on your day that this is your day to perform. And to get off and to have the legs that you know you can have, you hope that that’s the day and that it works out.

JD: Yeah, I think you absolutely have to just focus on that and not worry so much about whether guys are getting a free ride or not because you can still only focus on riding what you can and then running what you think you’re capable of.

Triathlete: So you’ve both had some fantastic run splits in shorter distance races, like for example you and Crowie raced each other side by side in Boise two years ago. And athletes like he and Rinny seem to be able to transfer that a little more effectively so far to Ironman distance. What do you need to translate the great runs you guys have had on short-course races to Ironman?

JD: I think it’s very different because, well I speak for myself, I don’t think I am a natural runner. And I think it’s easier for natural, awesome runners to be able to run well off the bike, especially the longer it gets. I’ve been working on my run for forever—since I stopped swimming—and it’s gradually improving. It’s just patience—that’s a big part of it—and having the belief. Seeing how the training’s going, and just believing you can do what you think you’re capable of. It’s a little bit harder, I think, because the strength is our bike, and we have to use that if we want to win the race, whereas they’re always playing the waiting game and they’ve got their ace card to play at the last minute, which is their strength. So it’s just a little different.

CL: I agree. I didn’t grow up running or being a runner, so it’s learning a new technique, it’s learning a new sport and a new effort. And likewise on the bike—I wasn’t a biker as a kid, but I’ve just adapted it much easier and it’s worked well for me, so yeah, the running is a yearly advantage. Every year I improve. This year I’m better than I was last year, last year I was better than I was the year before. But sometimes in the races it doesn’t lay out that way, so you challenge yourself and you test yourself to see what’s the plan that’s gonna work out the best. And a half-Ironman’s a little bit different—you can work a little bit more on fumes, the bike ride is a little bit less, as far as distance, so you’re not exerting that amount of energy for that long a period of time. And a lot of the runners are lighter runners. We’re a little bit taller, a little bit bigger—you’re not bigger, you’re just taller. Rinny’s a smaller girl that runs light on her feet, Crowie’s a small guy that runs light on his feet, so yeah and Andreas is light. So they have running builds and we have more cyclists’ builds. [33:28] So, again, we use our strengths and work on our weaknesses. And I don’t even consider our run, or my run, a weakness. I look at it as a great run, but just trying to put them all together. Triathlon’s a three-sport race; it’s not a one-sport race. You gotta figure it out, and it’s still evolving.

Triathlete: So what are the training specifics that you guys employ to transfer your run over to the Ironman distance. Like Julie, are there any particular workouts that you and Mat are hoping to hit along the way, or are you just trying to improve yourself as a runner overall?

JD: I don’t think it’s—I don’t think I really work on anything specifically different to other people to work on that, because they’re still working on that. Crowie and Rinny are still working on making sure the back half of their marathon is strong. So I don’t think I’m doing anything specific. Like probably more for confidence level am going to be doing some long brick sessions, where I just go out and ride at what I think is my race pace and then do a decent run off of it. I’m sure you do the same. A lot of people do that. It’s hard just because the time where you’re weakest is that last what? Hour? 30 minutes in the marathon? And you can never really practice that in training, especially with the nutrition. It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s a challenge for everybody.

CL: Yeah, everyone’s in the same boat, and everyone has to get that last hour of running down. So you try to do running efforts or distance running to toughen up the legs to be prepared for that—to strengthen them up. You have to have the strength to get through the bike, but then you have to have the strength to get through the whole marathon. And it’s always that last six to 10 miles where it’s not those who run really well—it’s the amount of times those who fade in the end. You gotta be able to keep your pace going. So, yeah, just practicing for that, getting in some long runs, running a little bit more of a distance in some of my long runs than I have in previous years just to get the legs a little bit tougher. Potentially getting—doing some stuff where I’m doing a long ride, then the day after the long ride is a little bit easier day, then doing a long run following that. So making sure I’m getting the most out of my longest run. But then also taking advantage of doing bricks, where you get a long run in after a long bike ride—not too many of those but enough to get your body used to it. Because once you challenge yourself and push yourself to a certain distance or time in training, your body’s going to absorb that and next time it’s gonna be that much easier. So just putting yourself in a situation to be prepared for an eight-hour, eight-and-a-half-hour day, and make sure my legs and my body can perform that last hour of that time. You don’t have to have a whole race to do that, but putting in that amount of time and training, and making sure you can execute.

JD: I think the biggest challenge for me, just with the running—I know you’ve had a few injury issues in the past—you know, it’s not—I can’t just out and run as long as I would like. I’ve had a lot of foot issues in the past, so it’s a case of me always managing that, pushing it as far as I think I can without pushing it too far. I have my own limitations—I know what those are. And like you had your foot run over a few years back, and you gotta deal with that, and I think sometimes it would be a lot easier if we didn’t have any of those—well I know it would be a lot easier—if we didn’t have any of those issues. But everybody has their own limitations, and it’s trying to get the best out of you while keeping those under control.

CL: Yeah, absolutely. It’s about getting those target training sessions in and being able to finish them.

JD: Yeah, and being able to do something the next day and the day after.

CL: Yeah, I agree.

Triathlete: Julie, Chris has been racing Ironman for some time longer than you have. Do you have any questions about how he has evolved as an Ironman athlete, what he’s learned over the years, anything you think you could learn from his experience?

CL: No. She knows everything already.

JD: Off the top of my head…

CL: Maybe some training tips? No you’re pretty good on your training. You know, we’ve talked a little bit in the past about some of the training that you’re doing and why you’re doing some of that training. And it makes sense. I mean, you have a good knowledge of the sport, you have a good knowledge of what you need to do and how to simulate being prepared for an Ironman. I’m a little bit different where I’ve had, you know, 11, 12 years of doing an Ironman, and I don’t know how many Ironmans I’ve done, but that’s been absorbed as well. So I don’t have to do as many long sessions because those Ironmans were long sessions—granted, they were years before, but they’re still in my body, they’re still in my muscles. I’m familiar with it because I’ve been there. You’re not as familiar with it because you’ve only done it twice. So it does get a little bit easier. So every one is a new experience and a little bit easier experiences. And you’ve made some great choices in your training and in how to simulate that without tearing down your body. And I think it’s more just encouragement.

JD: “Great job!”

CL: “Good work, way to go!”

JD: Well I guess just on the nutrition side of things, obviously that’s been—I struggled a little bit in Kona with cramping issues and then in Coeur d’Alene, obviously got my calorie intake totally wrong. I’ve been doing some long brick sessions to try and work on that. Have you got any tips on how you got to dial in your nutrition plan?

CL: I think for me, I just got something that worked one time, and I just keep doing it and it keeps working.

JD: And that was in a race?

CL: Yeah. I mean, it’s always hard to execute in training. I mean, you can do it, so you can know your body can absorb it, but it’s hard to simulate things—the anxiety, or the stress or the conditions of that day. The heat of Kona is different than your own home training area, so you may absorb it differently, you may need a little bit more electrolytes or salts or whatever.

JD: Is that why you moved out to Kona for the winter?

CL: Yeah to get more consistency. Also just some good family time and it was a great place to be, and I enjoyed it. And also rejuvenating the mind and the energy going forward in training and racing and stuff. I had a full family and kids. It was a fun time as well. But, yeah, you gotta put yourself in that situation. For me, I raced there a bunch, so I know from it being an extremely windy day to it being an extremely hot and humid day to not so bad. And I would prefer it to not be windy and hot and humid, but those are the conditions that will probably suit me best. And everyone’s gotta suffer. And I think from my experience from past times racing there, hopefully I can execute it the best by getting that nutrition in and all that stuff.

Triathlete: So are there other ways that you two have been able to maintain the hunger that you mentioned earlier when we were talking? Because you’ve both been at it for some time.

JD: I think for me, just—I’ve had a gradual evolution through the disciplines, and Ironman is still so new to me. I never really had that dream of doing Ironman, but it kind of fell into my lap after winning Clearwater last year, or two years ago, whenever it was. It seems like yesterday. You know, so I went out to Kona last year, not really knowing what to expect and totally got the Ironman bug. So it’s all still exciting and new to me, and I feel like I’m still progressing, and I’m sure you, you still do otherwise you might not do it. Like you still believe you can be out there winning.

CL: Yeah, I mean if I didn’t see myself every year improving and I was gonna be status quo or the same or a little bit less every year, there wouldn’t be a reason to go back and race. Because everyone is increasing their game every year. Every year it gets harder and harder. Every year the times get faster, or the effort gets faster. The times may not dictate it, but that’s because of the conditions, but the effort out there is always getting pushed. And so I have to keep improving, so if I’m not improving that’s probably where it’s going to be like, “All right, maybe I need to step back from this event.” But, to me, yeah, I definitely feel like I still have a chance to win, and like I said before, part of the reason of going to Hawaii was just to not think triathlon even though it was in Kona and there at the Ironman. But just to be in the community, to get to know what that island is like without the Ironman around it, so then I can draw from that race day—that there’s times that I’m on that bike course when no one’s around, or running on Ali’i Drive or running out toward the airport or the Energy Lab, I was doing it when no one was around. And the peace and the feeling that I get during that time when I was there—it was a very enjoyable time. For me going back, I want it to be refreshing times of running and not thinking about the times that I’ve had difficulties or being sick last year on the run, and having those thoughts be in my mind when I’m running past areas—I want the memories to be when I’m running past certain areas of those training days that I had in the springtime and go back to those. That’s what keeps me going. Because it’s going to be new this year, it’s going to be exciting because I’m going to view it in a totally different way, in a totally different light.

Triathlete: Is it the goal to progress every year that keeps you motivated as well?

JD: Absolutely. I think that’s always the goal, and there’s always new challenges ahead. For three or four years, I really want to try and win the 70.3 world champs, and I was fortunate to do that eventually. It’s very rare that things come straight to you, so to keep progressing and keep moving forward is always the goal. It’s exciting.

Triathlete: What’s it feel like to win a world championship?

JD: That was definitely one of the best feelings I’ve had—winning Clearwater, especially after leading the race for so long the two years before and coming up short, you have so many doubts as to whether you can actually do it, but deep down you hope that you can. So to actually do that is the best feeling that you can get.

CL: I’m looking forward to seeing that hopefully for myself this year in Hawaii. I’ve been in Hawaii I don’t know how many times, raced there since ’98 was my first year there as an amateur. So I’ve put my time in for sure. The last four or five years, I’ve been close a lot in different ways, obviously finishing second, finishing sixth. The last four or five years, being in the lead off the bike or very close, and being within the mix. And it’s all about having that day click and having that perfect marathon. Again, it’s going back to “I need to have that marathon I know I’m capable of having.” And hopefully that will come this year and I don’t have to keep trying every year to reach that. But I know it’s there. And if I was to win this year, that feeling would be amazing, of knowing how close I was a few years ago, the challenges and the sickness I had last year and years prior to that, to be able say, “OK, finally it came through,” that would be a huge deal. It’d be exciting. Very satisfying for sure.

Triathlete: Do you allow yourself to imagine what that day would be like, actually crossing the line in first?

CL: Never thought about it [laughing]. I think about it all time—are you kidding?

JD: You have to think about it. That’s what we’re striving for, that’s why we do it—to achieve that feeling of what it is like to cross the finish line in first and achieve that goal you’ve had for 12 years or 14 years or whatever it is.

CL: I set that goal that long ago, when I first got involved in the sport. The first year I did the Ironman, I said, “One year, I want to win this.” And ever year, yeah, you think about that. And you think about that sometimes when you’re actually racing. And you have to say, “OK, I can’t think about that right now.” You have to just think about the effort that you’re giving because you haven’t won yet.

JD: You can think about how sweet it’s going to be.

CL: Yeah, but you have to keep that fire going, that drive to push through while you’re in the race. I think about it a lot. But what I’ve also noticed in the last few years is realizing where’s the true joy come from for me? And yeah winning a race gives you that joy and that excitement, and that satisfaction. But a lot of times that joy from winning doesn’t last very long—it’s short-lived, as far as that whole excitement piece. So I’ve learned in the last few years of just going, “You know what, it’s more than just that win and crossing that line and getting that trophy. What else is that gonna do for me? What else is that gonna do for my family? Or what else can I use that victory to do good for?” And that’s why last year I started More Than Sport, and in that charity we want to give back to the community. My goal is to do something more with my victory, and I think a lot of people that is true. And some people realize it and some people don’t. But it’s to be put in a position to have victory but to give back and do good is really where the true joy comes from. So, yeah, I think about that trophy. I think about crossing that line and holding that tape and giving that victory speech and all that. But I also think about the year past that, and what good and what impact I can make or help make by inspiring people to do more, to get up, to be healthy, to be active, to give something back to their community, to their area or their town or to their local charity or whatever. But if we all become a society of giving back, that’s where the joy comes from. So if I finish second or third this year, or 10th, or have a bad day and finish way back, that joy will still be there because I want to execute in giving back something that day. And that’s what I’m going to be doing with More Than Sport. So for me it’s a win-win. But it’ll be a bigger win if I cross the line in first. [laughing]
JD: [laughing] It would be huge.

Triathlete: So what would that allow you to do, if either of you cross the line in first? So Julie, let’s say you won this year, how would that change the way you approach not so much your career within triathlon but outside of the sport?

JD: You know, I haven’t really thought about that.

CL: That’s because you’re still young.

JD: Even though I’ve thought about winning or the possibility of winning and visualized running down the finish chute, it still seems so far away and not a reality because it obviously hasn’t happened. And I think I don’t like to think too far in the future or think too much about things that haven’t happened. So I’m still thinking of the process of how I’m going to do that rather than what’s going to happen after that.

CL: And for me, I definitely have a balance of the two. I mean, I always have to be planning ahead—I always have to make sure that my main goal and my main focus is pointing me towards that victory and that line and making sure that I get there. But so I don’t get too consumed in that, because you don’t want it to be your—you want it to be a lot that you think about, but you also have to find that balance. And for me it’s the balance with my family and my kids, but also about utilizing that victory as far as to give back. So what that means for me if I win—and even if I don’t win—is the impact on the community, the area in Kona through the YMCA and through Path and through the hospital and doing kids’ clinics and camps and stuff like that. We’re gonna give back, but I know that if I have the platform of having the victory, I can have more of a global or national impact and just encouraging those around to get involved as well and do more. So I don’t know. You think about it, but you also go, “OK, that may be two years down the road, but I’m still doing something along the way. I’m still making an impact along the way.” So definitely my career is not coming to an end this year by any means, but I’m definitely planning to try to do what I can.

Triathlete: What caused your approach to—or did you always have this holistic, community-based approach for what you can give back as an athlete? Or was there a time when you changed from just results-oriented to more than that?

CL: I think for me, when I first got involved in the sport, it was definitely personal goal, personal achievement, wanting to accomplish something, wanting to have a goal out there, seeing myself work towards that goal and fulfill it, and seeing a victory. So it was personal gain and personal emotion and feeling. But, yeah, that’s changed over the years a little bit, just realizing that yeah, I’ve won a lot of races and I’ve competed for many years and I do get that joy from the victory. But I also realize that the bigger fulfillment, the bigger joy I have is when I’m around my family, when I’m around my kids, and when I get to have them experience the things that I’ve experienced and that I find joy in. And so the more time I spend with them is great, but also just learning that when you give back, you get back so much more joy and feeling of accomplishment. So yeah it’s changed throughout time. It doesn’t mean I have to give up shooting for a victory. That doesn’t mean I have to say, “Oh I don’t need to win this one” or “I’m gonna go easy” or “I’m not gonna train as hard.” It’s just trying to find that balance of enjoying life and getting the most out of life, and just realizing that getting a victory isn’t the end-all. The victory is still important—we still shoot for it and it’s still our job and it’s a passion and we love it and I’ll always do it—but it’s just finding that balance.

Triathlete: How have your goals and your views about what you want to do with your career changed over the past 10 years or so?

JD: My goals have changed dramatically. When I got into this sport, ’98 was my first year …

CL: Mine too.

JD: … yeah, and then pretty quickly qualified for Sydney, so it was all about Olympics for the first six to eight years. And I was pretty—that was all I wanted to was go to the Olympics and try to get a medal there. And shortly after I competed in Athens, I just realized that I couldn’t run fast enough, being realistic, and just wanted to try something new. I think I kind of lost the love of the sport a little bit and got into Xterra and had, you know, a great time doing that. And started doing some non-drafting races, and things have just really developed from there. I think I’m pretty selfish and I have my goals of what I want to do, and I’m pretty stubborn. And that’s what I focus on. But I also like to have a great time doing it, and you talk about balance with your family and doing things for the community, and I think “balance” is a great word. I know that when my life is balanced and I’m happy, I race well. If I become too consumed with the goal and what I want to do, the performance starts dipping off a little bit. So being able to have a good time and having fun with friends and family, and then see the happiness that they’re having is huge in the success that I have.

Triathlete: So how did your enjoyment of the sport change when you went from the ITU style of racing over to Xterra? How did that refresh you?

JD: The ITU style of racing—did you ever race ITU?

CL: I’ve done a couple races, yeah.

JD: It was just so intense. We were always fighting out for Olympic spots, for funding. Federations were directing which races you could do, and I never really got to do races that suited my strengths. So when I stepped away from that and stared doing some Xterra and some 70.3, not only did I start having more success, but I just enjoyed it so much more. I was doing things for me and getting the success for me rather than doing things for the team or trying to get on a team or get funding. It was much more fulfilling.

CL: And now you find yourself on a team again.

JD: I do. It’s a technicality.

Triathlete: So does the experience of chasing this Kona win change because you two almost get to experience it with a little bit more connection than you otherwise would if weren’t part of the team?

CL: No. [laughing] I’m just kidding. No, it’s always fun. It’s great to have a team. I think it’s fun just to spend these last two days here at Trek and seeing everything that’s going on, and chatting about where we want to see the team grow and be and expand and all that kind of stuff, so there’s excitement in that. And to have a victory if one of us wins—it’s gonna be huge, it’s gonna be a huge celebration. And I know I’ll be ecstatic if you win, it’ll be a huge victory. I’d love to see it. So it’d be different if Julie won than if somebody that’s not on the team won that I know. I would be excited for them as well. But having it be part of the team, there’s definitely a feeling of family and connection.