Tuesday, February 2, 2016

In Our Corner: Slater Fletcher

by Nick Mathers

Slater Fletcher broke out big this year, qualifying for Kona at his first iron-distance race at the inaugural St. George Ironman. Since then, he’s qualified for Xterra Worlds for the second year in a row. Because that wasn’t enough World Championship events for him, Slater was accepted to compete in this year’s Ultraman.

For those keeping count, that’s three huge events in two months: Ironman World Championships in Kona this weekend, Xterra World Championships in Maui at the end of October and Ultraman World Championships back on the Big Island at the end of November.

He recently took some time to answer a few questions about his great year, give some insight into his training and explain why he wanted to go for the Aloha Triple.


Endurance Corner: Let’s lead off with the big question: why go after the trifecta of Ironman, Xterra and Ultraman Worlds?
Slater Fletcher: I knew I was going to Kona after my race at St. George and I wanted to get back to Xterra Worlds. I was thinking about doing Ultraman Canada in 2011 and Monique, my wife, said, “Well, you’ve already done all this training this year and you don’t know what it will take to build everything back up again. It doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to go for it this year.”

And I don’t know if anyone has ever done the triple with Kona, Maui and Ultraman, so that alone seemed like a cool reason to try. We didn’t know for a long time if I would be accepted into Ultraman, but it finally came through.

EC: So now that you’ve got all three races on the schedule, what are your objectives?
SF: I think the order that they’re in is perfect. I don’t have any goal times, but I want to do the best of the three at Kona. Since it’s first, that works out well.

Last year, I went to Xterra Worlds but crashed out on the bike so just going back and finishing is my goal there.

The distances of Ultraman are enough to just make me focus on finishing. Completing it will be my longest swim, longest bike and longest run ever. In fact, I have never run that distance in a week of training before. That excites me more than anything and I think the speed work from the first two races will be a help to keep me quick at the distance.

EC: You don’t have a very deep triathlon background, correct?
SF: Right. A lot of my friends are mountain bikers, so I always rode with them and that started about four years ago. I got into triathlon through Xterra and the mountain bike connection. From there I was into adventure races and paddling but have focused more on swim, bike, run more in the last 10 months.

EC: Going back a little farther, what was your sporting background when you were growing up? How did you get into triathlon?
SF: I swam in high school my freshman and sophomore year and wrestled my senior year, but that was about it from a structured competitive sense. I surfed and snowboarded a bunch, but that was really for fun.

After college things gradually kept sliding downwards. I travelled a bunch for work and had the company AMEX and would order appetizers, dessert, you name it. I ended up around 215 pounds, which is really big for my height.

One day we went on a hike with our church and halfway up the mountain I thought I was going to die. I had never experienced exhaustion like that and it kind of hit home. I remembered how much I loved the outdoors but I was so unhealthy that I could not even enjoy it. That got me to buy a mountain bike and get outside and do more stuff. I got into sport for general fitness -- I entered all sorts of random stuff just to have fun with it: Xterra, adventure races, whatever.

With Xterra, last year was the first year I was really serious about it. I had done a few here and there over the years, but 2009 was when I really wanted to get to Worlds. So I travelled around the country doing the series.

EC: St. George was your first ironman. What made you want to make the transition from offroad races?
SF: This was my first year training for full ironman. In ‘09 I did a half. This is my third year doing road tris -- starting with sprints. While I didn’t have a real program at the time, I realized I had more fun training longer, so I thought I might do better at the longer stuff.

I went to the Endurance Corner St. George camp last year before ever signing up for ironman to see if I’d like the training and it turns out I really like the training. I don’t feel I’m particularly fast, but it seems like the longer I go, my speed stays about the same. That's also what interests me about Ultraman -- it’s not so much racing, it’s about discovery.

EC: You finished third in your age group and 24th overall at St. George and qualified for Kona. Was that a surprise for you?
SF: It really was to be honest. I didn’t think I was going to qualify for Kona at all and I did not have any goals for time or placing, I just wanted to finish. Doing adventure races and Xterra really helped me with the mental side. In those sports -- especially adventure racing -- no one really cares about the clock time. The races are all different distances and depending on the course, the times are all over the board.

This was the first year for St. George, so no one really had any idea what to expect. Since I’m used to racing without worrying about time I think I was in a better place mentally that some of the competitors.

My number one goal with Gordo was to ensure my successful finish and that came from building up my durability. And I think Gordo’s approach is really good too. All the race sims were built around long days -- tough swims and bikes with hard efforts -- and then going running. Contrast that with some folks who go out fresh and smack a 10k and say, “Okay, that’s my marathon time.” And then they’re in for a surprise on race day. Running just long enough when you are tired is key to being specific in your pacing and expectations.

Gordo had said something a few weeks before the race that I kept in mind. He said have the approach of “humility, patience and fortitude.” And I took that approach on race day. With the swim, even if you can swim fast, you need to swim knowing it’s going to be a long day and you need to stay humble. Then the majority of the day is just patience -- I had so many people passing me early on -- but you just need to be patient and remember what a realistic pace is for you and stick to that. And with the fortitude, it’s knowing that when it gets hard on the back half of the run, it’s going to get really hard. The longer you are patient the less you have to rely on fortitude to get you to the finish but it all starts with humility of what you can do on race day.

EC: With your endurance sports accomplishments, many people might be surprised that you’re also a full time network engineer. How do you manage to get everything done?
SF: I’ve been fortunate to have the same boss for more than 10 years, across two companies, and that’s a big part of why I’m able to do the training that I want to do. We have a solid relationship and he trusts me to get everything done so I get a pretty flexible schedule.

It’s always a delicate balance though -- being able to be creative with the time I have available to train on any given day. It does not always work out in favor of my training but finding the balance is part of what I love about the process of getting ready for a race.

EC: Does that mean you don’t follow a structured plan?
SF: I follow a big picture plan, but don’t stick to a set daily protocol. I remember talking to Gordo when I first started working him and saying that I was frustrated that I just couldn’t stick to the plan. And Gordo just said that I need to do what works for me. So he came up with monthly targets for me that give me enough structure to direct my progress, but leaves things fairly flexible. This helps me keep my job and life in balance which in turn offers more consistency to training in the long run. I may not be following a daily plan, but I have key workouts that I’ll do in certain weeks, especially as I build up for big races.

I’ll also do a lot of mini camps with my wife where we go away for a few days. Basically, we’ll just throw everything in the car and do as much outdoor activity as we can. Sometimes it’s more running, sometimes it’s more cycling, but the focus is really on having fun moving through the outdoors.

EC: Although you don’t have a set plan, can you share what an “average” week looks like for you?
SF: Even though I don’t follow a schedule, when I step back and look at it, my training is pretty consistent. One thing that’s cool is that when I started this, I never really knew what was “normal.” Last year I was doing about seven or eight hours a week. Then I went to the EC St. George camp in November where we did close to 20 hours. When I came home I was pretty motivated and just kept up those 20 hour weeks. And without really thinking about it, I’ve been between 20-25 hours since last November. Sometimes it’s a lot of running. Sometimes its a lot of biking.

EC: Did you have any trouble going from eight hours to 20?
SF: Actually, not really. I obviously get tired sometimes, but I just seem to be able to absorb and roll with that volume of training. I also feel like I am training more appropriately now with intensity and that comes from some of the key sessions Gordo has me doing. I felt pretty fried last year within some seven hour training weeks but as I look back I see I was doing a lot of intensity at or above race pace within training. Another reason why I think going a bit longer may suit me better. I feel like I can ride my bike forever at a certain pace but when I start training above what I should be my volume drops pretty quickly.

EC: Now that you’ve transitioned to primarily focus on road events, do you get in much Xterra or adventure race training?
SF: Most of the hills where I live are really off-road trails, so I still spend a lot of time on my mountain bike, especially if I want to get some climbing in. And I prefer to run trails if I can -- I just enjoy it more. I still do a few adventure races and I’ll get a little paddling in when I have time.

EC: It’s a little weird to ask with so much coming up for you so soon, but what do you think your plans are for next year -- will you go back to primarily Xterra or adventure racing?
SF: Honestly, I don’t know. I can say I think I still have a lot more to give in terms of iron-distance. I love training -- I know that for sure. I really feel that I’ve connected with that element of going long and racing long and I want to see what more there is for me there.

We’ll be sure to follow up with Slater after he completes the Aloha Triple to get more detail about his approach to racing all three events. You can also learn more about Slater by checking out his website (slaterfletcher.com) where he blogs regularly.

Click to share on Twitter and Facebook
      Tweet This!