In Our Corner: Slater Fletcher - Part I: Completing the Aloha Triple
by Nick Mathers
This past fall, EC team member Slater Fletcher completed what Gordo termed “The Aloha Triple” -- the trifecta of triathlon world championships in Hawaii: Ironman in Kona, Xterra in Maui and Ultraman back on the Big Island.
We took some time to chat with Slater about his approach to training for these three huge races essentially run back to back.
Endurance Corner: What were your goals for each event?
Slater Fletcher: For Kona, I had a similar approach as I did for my first IM at St. George. With this being my first year, Gordo recommended that I just go, race well and have a fun. I was perfectly happy with that as the objective.
With Xterra, I wanted to go as hard as I could. That's really my overall strategy for every race, but the level of intensity is so much higher for the shorter race.
Ultraman was exciting because it was such an unknown. I didn't have any major goals other than to have the best race possible.
Obviously, each race was important. The initial priority was Kona, in part because it was first, but also because it's the biggest in terms of qualifying. That said, I took each race as a standalone event. When I was racing Kona, I was only thinking about the race in the moment. When I was at Xterra, I wasn't thinking about Ultraman.
EC: What was your basic training block like going into Kona? Do you think it was different because of Xterra and Ultraman so soon after Ironman Worlds?
SF: The training was different than I expected, but not because of the other two races. In the early summer I made the mistake of getting stuck on numbers and trying to do more based off of the numbers alone. I also did not take a mid-season break so I was continually increasing my volume throughout the year. In July, I began to overextend myself. Then I pulled back and raced an adventure race where we were challenging for the win. That mid-summer volume and then the intensity from the adventure race left me shelled for a little while.
In working with Gordo, I scaled things back to recover appropriately. So, to get back to your question, I thought the original plan for Kona was going to call for a lot of big week training. I seem to really tolerate and enjoy the longer, slower efforts. I could ride my bike everyday and be completely happy. Gordo recommended a plan that took me a little out of my comfort zone -- it had less overall volume, but the work rate was higher.
So I didn’t do the amount of huge volume work that I thought I was going to be doing. Going into Kona, I was running more, but my overall riding volume was down. But the work on the bike was higher intensity -- not max efforts, but work above steady.
For example, Gordo had me doing Tuesday and Thursday as key workouts. I could ride my bike on Wednesday if I felt up to it, but the priority was nailing those key workouts.
EC: With your work schedule, you mentioned that you didn’t follow a set schedule in the past; instead you would be given key workouts to complete in a week and you’d slot them in when you could. Did that change leading into Kona?
SF: I started following a more concrete plan overall, although I had to move some things around when there were work conflicts. There was one key block of about two weeks where Gordo told me, “For this short window, don’t change the schedule, change your life.”
That stuck in my head and it was a huge perspective change to get me focused. I was able to reprioritize everything so I could make sure I did the work I needed to do to set me up to have the race I wanted to have.
EC: When did you start thinking about each next race? How did you approach your training post Kona?
SF: For Xterra, I took a few days easy after Kona, but I was surprised how quickly I bounced back. Gordo and I had talked and it was obvious that there weren’t going to be any fitness gains to be made between Kona and Xterra. So, I just took it easy and when I felt ready a few days after the race I started doing some short, higher effort work to focus on my high end and prepare mentally for the intensity of Xterra. I knew I would have the endurance for a three hour race and I felt recovered, so I just had to prepare my mind to suffer at an intensity that I was not used to racing at -- sometimes the short races are all between the ears too.
Once Xterra was over, it was just, “Well, it’s only Ultraman now.” And it was fun training for that.
With Ultraman, I feel that that training that I couldn’t do before Kona I was finally able to do. I bounced back much faster after Xterra Worlds than after Kona and I had an extra two weeks before Ultraman. That allowed me to get in one solid block before flying back to the big island to race again.
EC: What's your perspective on each of the races?
It gave me confidence for Ultraman. I have a real hard time with the short, intense races. I’m much better suited for the long stuff. A race like Xterra is so hard for me and being able to push through when things went way offtrack was a big mental positive.
Part II of our interview with Slater will be available in the coming days and includes more on his training and his experience at Ultraman. You can read Slater's Kona and Ultraman race reports on his blog at SlaterFletcher.com.