BURNABY — Lindsey Butterworth has always been good at putting in the quiet miles.
Now, as she navigates the unpredictable homestretch of her bid to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the North Vancouver native knows it’s just as important to maintain a quiet mind.
“If you look at the big picture… start to look at things too far ahead, you get overwhelmed over nothing because no one has a crystal ball for all of this,” the former NCAA 800-metre champion from Simon Fraser said this past Monday after returning home after more than two weeks of stateside competition and training.
It’s a mindset that will serve her well, even when things get perhaps a little too quiet.
Butterworth is currently at the midway mark of a 14-day quarantine with little more than a treadmill and elliptical with which to train.
“One of the main things that has helped me move through this and process it every day is working with what the situation is on the day,” continued Butterworth, 28, of taking on her greatest running challenge in such inconstant times, “because even from the start of the pandemic, when the (2020) Olympics were first postponed, we’ve had so much uncertainty. We still do.”
The numbers that matter most: Butterworth has until late June to make the Olympic standard of 1:59.50, Her current personal best is 2:00.31, set pre-COVID on July 19, 2019 at the Stumptown Twilight in Portland.
On her recent U.S. west coast tour, the best of Butterworth’s three races was a 2:00.50 at the Mt. SAC Relays on May 9 in Walnut, Cal. She had opened with a 2:00.97 on April 30 at a meet at Oregon State University, then closed last Saturday in Irvine, Cal., with a 2:00.81 at the Sound Running invitational.
Longtime Simon Fraser head track and field coach Brit Townsend accompanied Butterworth down south, and upon her return reflected on the patient, process-first journey her 2015 NCAA 800m national champion, a 2010 graduate of North Van’s Handsworth Secondary. has steadfastly maintained.
“A lot of people have come up to me and asked me if I thought Lindsey would ever be where she is now,” Townsend, the 1984 Canadian Olympian in the 1,500m says in reflection. “I say ‘Yeah, I always believed it.’ It’s a long process and people don’t realize longterm development of a middle-distance athlete is slow and staying patient, working on the little things… just getting through all of the levels. And that’s what it has been for her.”
It’s a process which, through full maturity, seems to have helped prepare Butterworth to be at her best in times of uncertainty.
And so in times like these, while not fully knowing when and where she will be able to compete next as the calendar turns to June, she once again speaks from a quiet mind.
“I would say I am just kind of focussing on these next two weeks to get in some good training,” she said of her quarantine period. “We’ll see from there. I am sure there will be something. We’ll be allowed to race here in B.C. I hope. I don’t know. I don’t want to say I am sure of anything because you never know how things change with time. Hopefully after these next two weeks we’ll have some information to make a plan.”
SIMON FRASER: IT’S STILL HER HOME, SWEET HOME
To simply catch a glimpse of Lindsey Butterworth working on her strides around Terry Fox Field atop Simon Fraser’s Burnaby Mountain campus under the watchful eye of head coach Brit Townsend is to be reminded of one of the most celebrated athletic traditions in our province: The SFU women’s middle-distance legacy.
Townsend, a West Vancouver Secondary grad, coached SFU grad Jessica Brockerville née Smith (1:59.86 PB), a graduate of North Vancouver’s Argyle Secondary, along her 800m journey to the 2012 London Games, and also Helen Crofts, who attended the same high school as Townsend and was a 2:02 runner over her university career.
Ask Butterworth about her on-going runner-coach relationship with Townsend, and her response is filled with appreciation.
“I have always valued how Brit has carried over her experience as a runner into her coaching,” says Butterworth, who at 28 is a year older than Townsend was when she competed at the Los Angeles Olympics.
“That is something that I have always fallen back on as a positive to having her as my coach just because I know she has been there and her experience can speak to that,” she continues. “She’s always come from this place where she says ‘If you prioritize your running, you’ll make everything work.’”
Butterworth has done just that, while at the same time carving out a career at her alma mater, finding a perfect fit in her current posting as the athletic department’s NCAA Program Coordinator in Student Engagement and Retention.
“I am providing academic support and resources to student-athletes to make sure they are successful in their courses and academically eligible to compete with their teams,” explains Butterworth, who while working remotely has relished her job amidst the demands of the training through the Olympic qualification window.
“My manager has been super-supportive and everyone has just been amazing,” she says of her employers. “I couldn’t ask for a better set-up, and it’s really been a great distraction because if it was only running right now, especially sitting in quarantine with nothing else to do, it might be a bit too consuming.”
GETTING BACK UP TO SPEED
Study the recent resume of Lindsey Butterworth at her preferred 800m distance, and one trait stands out above all others: Her consistency.
“She has run a lot of two-flats,” points out Townsend. “But she has just not had the opportunity to go under two minutes. I believe she will and I believe she can. We just ran those three meets in the U.S. and she ran two-flat every time. And we ran them in May, which is still very early. That is great. It shows we are in the right place.”
Seizing that elusive breakthrough is something Canadian 800m record-holder Melissa Bishop-Nriagu (1:57.01) sees for Butterworth, and she said as much to the CBC’s Doug Harrison in a September 2020 article.
“She has a plan and is no longer waiting for the race to play out,” Bishop-Nriagu said. “As you gain confidence and become more comfortable on the track, your guts start to show, and she’s got ‘em.
“I know (Butterworth) trusts Brit and trusts her training because it’s showing right now (in her results). It’s just a matter of keep doing what you can and staying healthy.”
Bishop-Nriagu’s observations have been spot on because over the past 22 months, a span which includes 14 months of COVID restrictions and counting, Butterworth has hit 2:00 flat five times and missed a sixth by a 10th of a second.
In addition to reaching that mark three times over 15 days earlier this month, she followed her personal best 2:00.31 at the Portland Stumptown Twilight meet in July of 2019 by running a 2:00.74 in the semifinals of the the World Athletic Championships in Qatar, finishing 10th overall and in the process turning in what she has called her best tactical race yet.
In fact with limited opportunities to race since the pandemic’s arrival — she ventured off the continent in September of 2020 to finish third in a 1,000m Diamond League race in Brussels (2:37.26) and also ran an 800m race in Roverto, Italy (2:01.01) which was achingly shy of two-flat — Butterworth has noted how important it is to get back up to speed on the actual race dynamics of manoeuvring within a crowded field.
“I didn’t get out as fast as I was hoping for,” she said of her May 15 race at the Sound Running event where she went 2:00.81 to finish eighth. England’s Laura Muir (1:58.71) led a 10-person field in which fully half the entrants finished sub-two-minutes.
“I was a bit disappointed with how I raced tactically, and with it being such a deep field, we could all run very close to the same times. So getting used to the tactics and running around people is something I could have improved on.”
Added Townsend: “For the last year-and-a-half of not racing against a lot of people, you kind of forget how you have to jostle, get position and make your moves.”
HOW CLARITY BRINGS CONFIDENCE
Ask Lindsey Butterworth what it feels like to do what she loves best within the pressurized confines of an Olympic standard qualifying window, and she immediately leans on her cadre of mentors.
“In an Olympic year, things are always heightened and the stress level of people is always high, but I think what has been instilled in me here is to focus on my own training and not on outcome,” Butterworth begins. “That is what Brit and (sprint coach) Tom Dickson and Jess have (talked about).”
Jess, of course, is Jessica Brockerville née Smith, and her eventual breakthrough on June 10 of 2012 at the Harry Jerome Classic in a dramatic 1:59.86 doubled as an 11th-hour express ticket to the London Olympics.
“I have talked to Jess a little bit just recently and it’s funny because the other day she was like ‘Wow, your Olympic year is so similar to mine in that we were both just so consistent and just know that the breakthrough is coming,’” begins Butterworth.
“It was just so nice to have someone who has been through the exact same process and she… we’re in the same place, just running so consistently, and then her breakthrough ended up coming at Harry Jerome. It’s nice to have someone who has been through that and has been in the same place that I am now.”
For Butterworth, such words were balm for her heart.
Ask her where she’s at one year after the pandemic cancelled the 2020 Olympics, and she answers in assured tones.
“I think I have maintained the same level of belief and confidence, knowing that I am in the same place, and maybe even a better place now,” she says. “I still feel I am in my peak and that this is my time.
“I have been reflecting back on all of my experiences and that has really helped me over the past year, just in staying patient,” she adds. “I think about things day-by-day and I keep focussing on my process.”
There is a soulful confidence that comes from such clarity, and with a quiet mind it’s always that much easier to appreciate.
In fact that and a lot of quiet miles are a great way to start her day.
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