Tyler Butterfield capped off his first year of fully focused long-course racing with a seventh-place finish at the Ironman World Championship in Kona and a second at Ironman Cozumel, just seven weeks later. Prior to 2013, Butterfield kept busy as an ITU athlete, representing his native Bermuda in two Olympics (2004, 2012), and even took a turn on the European professional cycling circuit.
I caught up with Butterfield to talk about how he handled the time between those two Ironman races and what the future holds for him, both professionally and personally.
First of all, congratulations on your race in Cozumel. You said afterward that you really didn’t do the training you would normally demand of yourself in the lead up to an Ironman — which makes sense since you were coming off of Kona. Still, you ran a personal best Ironman marathon in Cozumel (2:49:48). You strike me as someone with a normally heavy training load, so I’m curious how you approached the seven weeks in between Ironmans, specifically in your run training.
I’m not sure who you talked to that made you think I’m normally a heavy load trainer. The rumors do sometimes get out — and I did run a marathon four weeks before Kona. So that was 42km on a Sunday, but I think my run volume for that entire week was 65km. People hear about the one-off sessions I do, but over the whole year I would almost bet money that my weekly volumes would be in the lower 10 percent of anyone racing Kona. I only rode my bike four days a week before Kona. Before Abu Dhabi I only rode three days a week. I had success there, so that gave me confidence.
Before Kona I did a good 10-week training block, but over the whole year I did more key sessions and more quality at volume per day, while keeping my weekly and monthly volumes very low, if that makes sense. Between Kona and Cozumel my longest run was 1:20, which was a half marathon. There was one happening in Bermuda so I just did it. And I did two other 10-milers which were basically just social long runs with friends that happened to take 1:20. I also did two track sessions.
There’s a group of maybe 100 local Bermudians that run on Wednesday nights at the track with a coach who coached me when I was a teenager. The first week we did six 800s and the next week 16 400s. Other than that I did a few 10km jogs and that was pretty much it. So I guess to answer the question I just had fun with it.
In terms of Kona prep this year, I did run two marathons — one 10 weeks out and one four weeks out from the race. I went mostly on low weekly volume and key sessions, and I said to myself if I want to run a good marathon off the bike I should be able to run a straight marathon quite easily in training. A lot of people said I was silly. My first one was three hours and I went out the next day and did five hours of training. And then the other one was just under 2:40 on the course in Kona. I thought if I could run that alone in training I should be able to run 15 minutes slower off the bike — a 2:55 — and I ended up running 2:58.
My whole theory this year was to push the bike as hard as I could and know that I could run under three hours, even if I looked like a total wreck! And it was pretty much spot on. I was hoping to run more like 2:55, or 2:50 if I felt good, but I hadn’t trained my run to be one of the best runners. I was hoping to be one of the better runners off the front of the bike. That sort of happened, but the guys that I think did really train their runs caught me — Tim [O’Donnell], James [Cunnama] and Ivan [Rana]. Still, I was pretty happy.
Then in Cozumel, it’s a fast course. The last time I raced there  I ran a 2:52 and this time I ran 2:49. It’s only three minutes difference, but last time I did it I rode almost five hours [4:56] and this time I rode 4:35. So to run fast when I biked faster was great and a surprise. The bike in Cozumel is easier than in Kona — I mean you can make it as hard as you want, but I knew I hadn’t done the training to ride my bike like in Kona and then expect to run well. But even though we were holding back a little on the bike, my run was a surprise to me. I thought I might walk!