Kathy Butler is British, Canadian and currently trains in America. She is an Olympian, coach, proud new mother and maker of eco-friendly children’s wear. She is now in-training for her third Olympiad, the London 2012 Games, but first she needs to qualify.
Butler competed in eleven IAAF World Cross Country Championships, three times she ran both the long and the short courses at the same meet. She finished as high as fourth position during the 1999 Worlds that took place in Belfast, Ireland (short course) and eleventh in the long course at the 2004, Brussels, Belgium competition.
Butler ran for Canada until 1999, at that time she decided to compete internationally for Great Britain, as Athletics Canada’s funding for the sport was cut by nearly two thirds from three million dollars to one million, annually. In comparison to Great Britain, Canada’s budget went from a mere ten percent to just over three percent of their annual 32 million dollars (CDN) for athletics. There was no longer enough funds to support individuals, which forced her hand.
She went on to run the following personal bests:
1500 Metres 4:07.68
3000 Metres 8:40.97
5,000 Metres 15:05.51
5 Kilometres Road 15:36
8 kilometres 25:25
10,000 Metres 31:36.90
10 Kilometres Road 32:28
10 Miles Road 53:16
Half Marathon 1:11:05
She again is hoping to compete for Great Britain.
Christopher Kelsall: After having a baby in 2010, you needed to take your time coming back. On October 18th you ran the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon in 1:18. Was that race your first of any consequence?
Kathy Butler: Yes, I took quite a while coming back after the baby. I had a few medical issues at the end of my pregnancy that meant that I was very out of shape when I started back. I also didn’t want to get injured and wanted to enjoy my baby while she was small. I didn’t start back doing any workouts until she was 9 or 10 months old up until then I was just running and building back slowly. The Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon was my first race at sea level in over two years. All of the other races had been local races in the Boulder and Denver area.
CK: How is motherhood (while still competing)?
KB: I actually am really enjoying training and competing while being a mother. She is my biggest fan! She sees me getting ready to go running and runs around saying, “Mummy running, go go go.” Although, I think she thinks everyone in the world runs as most of the adults she knows run. Being a mother is fantastic and even if I’m tired after hard training I’m never too tired to play with her.
CK: So no accidentally nodding off while playing barbies on the floor?
KB: If we had Barbies I may well nod off!
CK: Speaking of nodding off, did coming back from Clinical Anemia, a bout with Graves Disease and pregnancy – two of those which took several months before training seriously commenced, provide you with a renewed sense of energy towards your athletic career? Do you feel those breaks may have extended your career a little?
KB: Probably, the unplanned and planned breaks (pregnancy) have reminded me of how much I love running and competing and made me want to get back even more. However, it is hard because sometimes it feels like people write you off as being finished and despite being desperate to prove them wrong it can be hard to have to buy running shoes and pay for travel to races. I know that I have some great performances still to come in the 10k, half-marathon and marathon it’s just about getting in shape and having a few opportunities to get there. I’m also inspired by other women like Helen Clitheroe and Jo Pavey who have proven their doubters wrong and are still running really well.
CK: Having competed internationally for over 20 years in middle-distance, road, cross-country and the marathon, it appears that your best performances happened when racing cross-country, would you agree with this?
KB: It’s hard to say completely, but I have had some of my best performances racing cross-country. I think I’ve also raced quite well on the track but more at championships. I think I race best when it’s more about competition rather than times. So, cross-country fits that as well as championship track racing.
CK: Cross is a strength for you and we know you need to heat acclimatize very well before racing in warm weather. What about marathon courses, what sort of course works best for you?
KB: I suppose it’s hard for me to say as I haven’t run too many marathons. I’ve run well in Chicago but haven’t tried too many other courses. My cross-country background would suggest that I could do quite well on a rolling course but I haven’t really had the chance to try yet. I would really like to try New York and Boston marathons before my competitive career is finished.
CK: London 2012 could provide anything for weather. I notice that in a few hot weather races you either had a sub-par performance or decided to not show, for example you missed Osaka Worlds – which did in fact turn out to be very hot – do you feel you need extra heat acclimatization time than other athletes?
KB: Yes, sometimes I have had trouble running in the heat and do feel I need more acclimatization time. I have had good performances in heat like in Athens 2004, but I need a long acclimatization time. For me, I know there is no point in going from a cold location straight to a hot location. I need at least a few weeks.
CK: Any chance if you meet the UK qualify times to run the marathon for the London Olympics – but let’s just say three others run faster – would you be able to run for Canada again?
KB: No, I don’t think that is a possibility.
CK: Do you run the famous goat trail near Boulder? I heard it is a steep, yet popular run?
KB: I have no idea if I’ve run it or not! I run a lot of trails that I have discovered on my own but I don’t always know what they are called. I’ll say to someone, “you know the trail with the meadow” and they’ll say oh you mean, “starwars”!
CK: Starwars? Sounds like a mountain-bike trail, they always have great names, like “Industrial Disease” or “Anal Intruder” or one of my favourites, “Organ Donor”. Bob Wells with the Huffington Post wrote an editorial about a civic issue to do with the trail, here is a piece of it:
“The controversial part of the Goat Trail is a steep run-up from just west of the head of Hawthorne connecting to the Mt. Sanitas trail system over the ridge to the west. It’s steep enough for a goat to love, or it may have got its name from an eccentric lady, Minnie Mae Cunningham, who had a rambling and rundown place, and numerous goats, just south of Linden and bordering the foothills. (She was most famous for driving around town with goats in her car.) Anyhow…”
Does that ring a bell?
KB: Starwars is a single track trail in the forest between Nederland and Rollinsville (Colorado). You run through these really tight packed trees then out into the most amazing meadow. It’s a great trail. We also have one that is generally called, “School Bus or Bus Route” but I call it “Alexander Supertramp” because you end up running past this old abandoned school bus that is in the middle of a forest. It seems impossible that it could even have got there and reminds me of the book/movie “Into the Wild”. Kind of freaky but I love it.
I feel like I have been on the goat trail but just didn’t know it was called that. There is, however, a trail near me that should be called the goat trail. It goes up past this old mining town called Hessie and there’s a steep part that goes to a really nice waterfall, I was walking on it one day and saw a woman walking her dogs and goat, as if it’s perfectly normal to take your goat for a walk. There are so many stories and so many trails around here!
CK: Into the Wildis a great read. Are you into adventure stories?
KB: I’ll read anything that’s a good story not necessarily adventure or at least I did when I had time to read.
CK: Which is your next big race towards running a qualifying time for the London Olympics?
KB: I plan to run a mixture of races this winter before getting ready for some fast spring races.
CK: Have you planned which marathon will be your qualifying race? Would that perhaps be the Virgin London Marathon?
KB: I don’t know yet which marathon I will do as my qualifying race. I want to make sure I find one that works the best for me.
CK: What is your honest opinion on the work of art, the Arcelor Mittal Orbit Sculpture that stands 114.5 metres tall – London tallest structure at the Olympic Park?
KB: To quote one of my high school kids, “Wait… what?” I guess google should be my friend.
CK: So can you tell me about these eco-friendly baby clothes that you make?
KB: Before and after I had the baby I got into sewing baby clothes and then I had quite a lot of people ask me to make things for their friends to give as gifts so, I made some more and also would make extra and started a little online shop through etsy.com. My shop is called LittleLibbyLane. I make a lot of things from upcycledmaterials so maybe sweaters that I wash and make into a more felted fabric or I make things that can be used in an environmentally friendly way. The wet-bags I make, for example, allow you to put wet, stinky stuff, or things that might leak and make your dry clothes yucky into a nice, funky bag that can just be thrown in the wash and reused. I really enjoy making that stuff I just haven’t had much time lately to make anything!
CK: Is coaching high-school athletes a new found passion for you? Are you enjoying coaching?
KB: I’m going into my fourth year of coaching high school kids and really enjoy it. Most of my post-collegiate career I have had some involvement with coaching. I was a volunteer coach both at the University of Wisconsin and at Stanford. When I moved to Colorado to live at altitude I saw that the local high school was looking for a track coach and got hired there. I now coach both cross-country and track at Nederland High School. I really enjoy working with the kids as they are always full of energy and a lot of fun. It’s also been fun to see them improve and change as they grow up. The added bonus has been that they’ve done pretty well in the time I’ve been there.
I’m also doing some personal coaching with some individuals and offer online coaching through my website www.kathy-butler.com. I’ve been coaching Katherine Moore who is one of Canada’s top marathoners for a little while and just started coaching another Canadian, Kate Vaughan who is quite new to running and improving a lot. I love how excited and motivated they are to improve. I also like sitting down and planning out the various stages of training from the overall year plan, down to smaller racing seasons and then figuring out each day’s training that goes with it all. I really like to personalize my coaching whether it’s with top-level athletes or a new high school kid. Everyone had different needs, desires, goals and abilities that make it really exciting to figure out what works for them.
CK: Is there a particular method that you follow? Do you have coaching mentors?
KB: I’m not sure I would say I have a particular ‘method’ I follow. I have a degree in Exercise Physiology and have taken various coaching courses. I think that the method varies depending on what you are preparing the athlete for. What I would do with someone who is getting ready for a track 1500m is different from what I would do with someone who is training for a marathon.
My primary coaching mentor would be my former coach Peter Tegen. He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know about many things, one of them happens to be coaching people to run well. Being able to take all levels of athletes and improve them is an amazing skill and I feel like I learnt so much from Peter over the years.
More recently I have also been inspired by Steve Jones. His coaching approach to life and training have not only given me a renewed approach to my own running but have added to my way of looking at coaching. It’s really interesting to see how two somewhat different methods can get the best out of individuals.