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Coaching and fundraising with Rob Dibden

Rob stands to the left on a hill in an orange tshirt at the edge of a forest with a crowd of athletes in wetsuits behind him.

We connected with Rob Dibden to talk about adapting to COVID-19, the Triathlon of Compassion, and staying motivated. Rob has been involved in triathlon since 1997, coaching since 2002, and coaching with Human Powered Racing since 2012. There is still time to register for The Tri of Compassion.

What has adapting to COVID-19 meant for your coaching and for Human Powered Racing?

Well obviously it has been pretty dramatic. When the province announced the restrictions we knew we were going to have to completely rethink things. We run events that could simply not happen under the provincial health guidelines. It has required us to look for alternatives for helping and training our athletes.

We started with traditional online coaching — providing workouts that people could follow — but that meant we couldn’t be there to watch and advise on things like form. We set up bi-weekly workouts that happen over video conferencing platforms with our team. 

The other element was our events. We were initially faced with a lot of indecision about how that would look this year. 

How have you adapted to go ahead with the Triathlon of Compassion specifically? 

That was a difficult one because triathlon events, especially pool swims, are really hard to adapt. Running events had already adapted to virtual events because people could easily submit times through electronic media. But triathlons — because of the three disciplines — are harder. We’ve cancelled most of our triathlon events this year, but because the Triathlon of Compassion is a fundraiser for VSAC (Victoria Sexual Assault Centre) we were determined to find a way. We spoke with Carissa from VSAC about possibilities for adaptation, and then really we just put our heads together. 

We knew we wanted to keep the event as grass-roots as possible with the focus on fundraising. There’s not going to be a lot of technology involved in it because we are being very flexible about how people provide their results. They still need to record and send times so that we can publish them, but it’s really up to the participants how they want to do that. It can be as simple as someone keeping track with a watch, or someone could submit GPS files. We are also giving people a week to complete the three disciplines to remove some barriers. This is a time when we’ve all needed to slow down and be flexible — we know lots of people are under strain being home from work, having kids out of school, needing to isolate, and trying to avoid groups. We wanted to be mindful of all of the realities being faced by our athletes.

Registration has been slower than in previous years but there are still a couple of weeks left for people to register.  Of course we are not paying the normal expenses demanded of hosting in-person events so we will be donating what we save from not having those expenses back to VSAC this year in the hopes of balancing the lower registration caused by COVID-19. 

Rob wears an orange t-shirt and smiles widely with two young athletes on either side of him and a forest in the background.

Wonderful! And overall have you found the triathlon community to be ready and keen to take on these adaptations and new challenges?

It’s been challenging, for sure. It’s not what any of us are used to, and many people in our community who have been doing triathlon for a long time have been struggling to adapt, but everyone is making the effort. For the most part people have been able to carry on. Maybe not in the same fashion, but still keeping on with their training. 

We’ve created a series of challenges to keep people accountable to staying active, and those have been really well received. People are just looking for something to give them a reason, and we’re hoping the Triathlon of Compassion will do that as well. This year part of the challenge is getting the word out which is harder when our community isn’t connected in the same way. 

Have there been other times when you’ve needed to adapt your coaching and events?

In a general sense, we are always adapting and changing. We always want to be making improvements. That said, I’m an original member of Human Powered Racing, and I can’t think of a time when the need to adapt has ever been this dramatic. Luckily, one of the advantages of being a small organizing company is that we can adapt pretty readily. 

Speaking of adapting to COVID, actually, we are hoping that we are going to be able to host SwimRun this year. We’ve done a huge amount of work to adapt the event to meet the current health guidelines, and have provisional approval from CRD and Island Health. We will be keeping it pretty local to mitigate the potential for people to bringing COVID with them, and we will be drastically restricting numbers as well. Still it would be amazing — having a physical event on the Island this season.

Is there advice you would give to athletes working to maintain their training? 

My advice is to stay the course. I think that — although greatly impacted by social factors — you can look at this as being a problem or an opportunity in terms of your training. It can be a great time to work on weaknesses, to get healthy and strong, and to improve your base fitness so that you can attack and succeed when races are able to return.

Rob runs up steep metal stairs in a wetsuit and swim cap with a black and white boarder collie beside him. The photo is in black and white.