Saturday, March 9, 2013

Slater Fletcher: Dream Crushing at its Finest

Along with the traditional "Contact" and "About Me" pages on Slater Fletcher's website, you'll find a page entitled "Adventures." Click again and you'll find a jaw-dropping list of races and accomplishments over the past few years, ever since this now elite athlete decided to change his life from the guy known to friends as "big booty." One of his recent adventures was a trip from his California home to Panama for the Latin American Ironman 70.3 Championships, in which he was the 2nd fastest age grouper (amateur) and 19th overall. I caught up with Slater to get his thoughts on that race, plans for 2013, how much of his success is DNA vs. training, and other random questions. 

Cali is somewhere that way

As the elite athlete that you are, I was surprised to read the following on your site:
“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.”

What timeframe was this, and when was your first triathlon? When did 
it first dawn on you that you were pretty good at this?

It was my late twenties and just about the time I got married. Most people are skinniest when they get married but that was about the time I was my heaviest. I remember a nickname I had at the time was “big booty” among my closest friends. My weight never really bothered me but when I realized there was so much I wanted to do and I was not in a place physically to even start, I knew it was time for a change. I did my first triathlon, an Xterra, in 2006 and it was brutally hard and way over my head at the time. However, I learned it was not all physical and that got me hooked! I raced some shorter races for a while but it was not until I raced long (having not trained long) at a 12 hour mountain bike race a couple years later that I knew I had a knack for endurance – I just didn’t slow down and loved the challenge. 

How would you sum up your 2012 season? Where did you race, and 
what was the highlight/lowlight?

The year ended up being a big running focused time for me. I say ended up because I started a new job the year before and was really focused on setting up my life so I could do the training in 2013 and beyond. This was also the first time I have been single sport focused, and running allowed me to get my everything out of a single discipline and still get a lot of great experiences along the way. Running requires little time and is so simple and pure. It was also a limiter for me, so I got to focus on running further and faster than I ever have before. I did my first 10K and just about every distance up to a 100 mile run, but most of the year was Ultramarathon style running. Trail time fun! 

Finishing a 100-mile race was definitely a highlight. The way the race played out, and having my "A Team" crew there was a true dream crushing experience. A low for me was probably a late season 100K race where I DNF’d - although it has provided the best learning for me for the year. I knew I had the endurance after running 100 miles, and I had the best prep going into the race. For the first time, I took the lead early on without looking back. I finally felt like I could run with anyone during that race, but I ended up spraining my ankle and pulling out. It would have been nice to see how it turned out, but the build up and start of the race was enough to prove (to myself) that I had become a runner.

From your website it’s clear that you’re involved in a wide variety of endurance racing (triathlon, xterra, ultra races, etc) and each year seems to have a slightly different theme. What’s the theme for 2013, what are your “A” races, and what are your goals?

Yeah, I like to mix it up and I think that is what keeps me motivated. This year is a return to triathlon for me but with a very different approach. I know I can do the work physically/mentally, but I also think there is a more efficient way of getting it done that will leave me fresher and fitter on race day. If I had a theme, it would be “less is more” and I am out to prove I can be faster and stronger by cutting out things that are not specific to my goals throughout the year.

Next week (March 17th) I am racing Ironman Los Cabos, and I am also signed up for Ironman St. George 70.3 in May and Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June. Those are key races until I qualify for Kona, but to be honest my main #1 goal is to run sub 3hrs off the bike at an Ironman. I know my other goals (Kona, Sub9 finish, top amateur, etc) should fall into place if that happens, and it will be more rewarding to me than anything else. It may not come to pass right away but I am keen on putting in the smart work to make it happen.

Besides learning about its famous canal in 5th grade history and Yankees legend Mariano Rivera, I don’t know much about Panama. What 
led you to race there and how was your experience in the country?

Panama is such an international hub and you really get a feel for that in the city, people and variety of food. The people are as friendly as that place is hot and humid! I wanted a hard early season race, a tune up for Los Cabos, and I also wanted to do the two 70.3 pro championship races (IMSG is the North American). I kicked the idea around for a couple weeks with my friend Josh, who I have been on a few remote adventures with in the past and then we both realized the more you think about it the less likely you are to "just do it," so we booked our flights and made it a done deal.

doing work in Panama

Can you give us a brief synopsis of how the race played out for you? I take it you qualified for the 70.3 Championships in Vegas… did you validate the Vegas slot or is that not in your plans for 2013?
I had a solid swim but was freezing the entire time. The bike had a good amount of climbing and either a head or cross wind the entire time. I kept thinking we would flip it around and get a tail wind but it just didn’t happen. Ah! It wasn't gusty like in Kona, but always pushing. My cycling legs are starting to come back, and I managed to have a personal best power output for the course and got off the bike as the first amateur. Then it was down to the run. 

It’s ironic that I spent last year running over 2600 miles and had no injuries, and now after getting back in the pool and on the bike I got shin splints just before this race. Although I wanted to run a personal best off the bike, I had to make adjustments for the conditions on the day and my condition. I did little to no running the couple weeks before the race and just had confidence I would still be able to run decently. It’s way too early in the season and I won’t run in pain. The day before the race I did a short, pain-free jog, so I knew I was ready to run again. When I got off the bike I never felt any shin pain or lack of running endurance. Good lesson to learn! I ended up running the same time as the overall amateur winner (1:27), but he started in a wave behind me. I was very happy to be able to run pain free and strong in that heat and humidity. I actually got the last bus back to the awards, so I missed any chance to get a Vegas slot and didn’t get any award. Anyways, I was not planning on going to Vegas so I wasn't too bummed.

on the run in Panama

What motivates you?

Crushing dreams! That has become sort of a catchphrase for me, but it really encompasses what motivates me. Having a goal big enough that demands your focus and is just outside the limits of what is reasonably possible (like running sub-3 hours off the bike for me) and then exceeding your expectations is dream crushing at its finest. The process of unraveling what it takes, doing the work, and crushing the goal is extremely motivating to me. 

You qualified for Kona in your one and only attempt (qualified at IMSG 2010, went 9:27 at Kona for 143rd overall, 29th in age group) yet haven't made another run at it. Why the hiatus over the past couple of years?
After I did Kona I followed it up with Xterra Worlds, Ultraman, and then some International Adventure Races within the next few months. I had about 200 hours of racing in 12 months and big training in between. I needed a break and also had a switch of focus last year to just running. I plan on going back this year!  

kind of a big deal
The competition at the top is notoriously fierce. Do the elite guys generally get along or just want to crush each other? Have you developed any “friendly rivalries” along the way?

I guess I am not close enough to the top to see that ;-)  For me, it is still an individual time trial and I don’t worry too much about what the guy next to me is doing. I have developed some good teammates over the last few years to train with, and if we race together we usually just push each other to crush ourselves or our own PR’s.

Are you a "fan" of the sport and if so do you have any favorite pros?  

Triathlon is an extremely demanding sport (I think the hardest) especially for the ones at the top of our sport. I look up to a lot of the pros who have a balanced life and continue to have consistent progression over the years. They are playing the part of a champion long before they win races. Linsey Corbin and Pete Jacobs come to mind… I will use Pete as an example since I just heard him speak tonight at our tri club meeting. He has the confidence to take a long-term, "less is more" training approach, and has a grip on the balance of life. Did you know that he raced 25 Ironmans before he finally became an Ironman champion? However, when he did win it was a big one. Never give up, never surrender.

Among the following choices, how would you divvy up the credit (100%) for a race gone extremely well? For these purposes let’s quantify that as winning your age group.

Coaching: 15%
Equipment: 10%
DNA/natural ability: 1%
Luck/feeling great “on the day”: 4% (all from items below!)
Mental toughness: 25%
Race strategy: 20%
Training: 25%

he'd still out-split you

Lastly, what advice would you give to those new to the sport?

Have fun! There is so much to learn in triathlon trying to master multiple sports at the same time. The more you enjoy your process, the deeper you are likely to learn, grow and develop over the long run. As triathlon requires so much time, it is essential that it is a lifestyle change, and that takes time and consistency. 

Log it - Keep a training log and write down your goals and why you enjoy getting out and “suffering.” It will help you to listen to your body, set reasonable goals, and give you a laugh some days when looking back.

You can follow Slater at his website, find him on Facebook (he's got tons of amazing pictures btw), and via Twitter handle @slaterfletcher

Thanks for the time, Slater... good luck at Los Cabos next week and beyond!

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