Realistic Butterfield dreaming big
Tyler Butterfield is an athlete who does not particularly prescribe to the power of positive thinking.
After 15 years as a professional, Butterfield is far more of a realist than an optimist and knows more than most that perfect preparations do not necessarily equate to a perfect race.
Butterfield heads to Kona today for the Hawaii Ironman World Championships amid the best season of his triathlon career.
He is not getting carried away, though; it is just not in his DNA.
“Results-wise, it’s been the best season of my career, but you can probably hear by my voice that I’m not the super-positive type,” Butterfield says.
“I’m just very realistic. I know the guys that I’m racing and there are 20 of us who can easily be top ten.
“I’d be confident if it was just another weekend race, but when you’re racing against the best in the world you have to bring your ‘A’ game. You can’t have a B-plus race and expect a good finish.”
Misjudging Butterfield’s level-headed pragmatism as a chink in his armour, as he approaches the most important race of his season, would be a mistake.
After all, he has proven that he can tough it out against the finest in his sport, having already secured a pair of top finishes in triathlon’s “holy grail”.
He says: “I get nervous and that’s basically a show of respect for the other competitors. I know how good you need to be to reach the top echelons of the world.
“I know I can do it, though, and if I have a good day I should be there or thereabouts.”
Butterfield was there or thereabouts in 2013 when he came seventh — the same place that his father, Jim, finished more than 30 years earlier — and in 2015 when he broke into the top five.
While another top ten “would do just nicely”, Butterfield is seeking tangible improvement and will not be truly satisfied until be betters his career-best fifth.
“Everyone knows that the World Championship makes or breaks your year — we all see it that way,” Butterfield says.
“It would be nice to do a little better than fifth and see a glimpse of yourself stepping up.
“I said to a friend recently that it’s strange because if I came eighth or ninth I’d be very happy, but it would still be my third-best result.”
The 34-year-old did not finish last year, 12 months after placing fifth, having had to withdraw early in the run.
It was a similar story in 2014, when he was forced out two thirds of the way through with a back problem, a year after coming seventh.
However encouraging that pattern is for the exhausting 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and marathon, Butterfield is reading little into that sequence of results.
“If that pattern works, it would be lovely,” he says. “I like maths and I like patterns, but I’m not going to rely on that one!
“Sometimes you can learn a lot from the DNFs, but you don’t want two in a row. I’m in a lot better form than last year when I had a calf injury earlier in the year, which meant I couldn’t do the training that needed to be done.”
Although Butterfield is in better shape than last time, his preparations have not been quite as smooth as he would have liked.
“I had a crash on my bike last week and my wrist and ribs are a little sore,” says Butterfield, who finished a career-best seventh at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last month.
“I didn’t get it X-rayed because I knew it wasn’t broken and there’s not a great deal you can do.
“It’s hung around longer than I wanted and it’s a bit annoying. It was just a silly crash; I was daydreaming and didn’t see a stick on the road.”
As for Butterfield’s race strategy, it is simple: “I’m just looking to follow the best guys in the world and stay with the leaders for as long as possible.”
It may be an uncomplicated approach to the most romantic race in triathlon, but it is certainly not wholly unrealistic to imagine Butterfield producing another career-best performance on Saturday.
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