Olympian heading into European Cross full of confidence after return to the UK provides plenty of benefits

IF the pursuit of happiness were an Olympic sport, then Andrew Butchart would surely be a strong gold medal contender right now. While the IAAF World Championships in Doha might not have brought much joy, the 28-year-old distance runner has been finding plenty of contentment away from the track. 

Long-term partner and fellow British international athlete Lynsey Sharp became his fiancée in October, while the couple have recently moved to a new house in Loughborough. 

Their return to the UK earlier this year followed a springtime decision to abort the adventure of upping sticks to train in San Diego with coach Terrence Mahon’s group. An American dream it was not, ultimately. 

There were no regrets on the part of either athlete, however, and both quickly set about finding a working environment more to their liking. 

Sharp’s UK return saw her team up with David Harmer while Butchart, content to set his own schedules and dictate his own training, is working with an “adviser” from British Athletics. 

The arrangement appears to be suiting everyone and, as the groom-to-be puts it: “This is where Lynsey’s happy to train and I can just blend in anywhere. If she’s happy then I’m happy and I think that’s how most guys should be with their girl.”

There have been simple, if perhaps unexpected, pleasures to be found when it comes to being back in UK climes, too. 

Butchart revelled in recent returns to Scotland to compete in the Scottish East District League cross country and the Lindsays Short Course Championships in Kirkcaldy. 

“It’s so good,” enthuses Butchart, the European cross country individual bronze medallist in 2017 who will lead the British team at this weekend’s championships in Lisbon. “Running in the pouring rain down here and up in Scotland has been so nice. This time last year I was in San Diego and it was really warm so we were still on the track. It’s been nice to do the hard grind, which I guess I’ve missed. It’s been lovely.

“I didn’t think I’d missed it because I didn’t think I’d got that far away from it but I obviously did.”

Life is now very far removed from the set-up under Mahon. 

“I don’t do any of the training that I used to do in America so that just shows how much of it I believed in,” adds Butchart.

“I’m so confident in my own ability to get myself into good shape that I just do what I know works for me. It was a case of me not talking to the coach enough about what I enjoy doing, him not telling me what he was wanting me to be doing…it was all just a bit in the middle of nowhere. 

“I think the downfall was the lack of communication between myself and Terrence but I don’t regret going to America and I know Lynsey’s the same. If I was still here (without having gone) I would have been thinking ‘should I be in San Diego? Should I be in America? Would I be the world champion?’ You don’t know these things so it was nice to give it a test and see what it’s like.

“It went awfully badly and we’re back here but that’s just the way it is. We missed a year but that’s not the end of the world.”

He adds: “You get given a lot of opportunities in the sport and obviously you can’t take all of them but if you get a good one then go for it. So many people are scared to go out of their comfort zones and we definitely did that. Yes, it didn’t work for us but it’s worked for others so there’s no right or wrong answer.”

So many people are scared to go out of their comfort zones and we definitely did that. Yes, it didn’t work for us but it’s worked for others so there’s no right or wrong answer

The key for Butchart since has been to take complete ownership and responsibility for his training. 

“Any mistake I make is down to me – there’s no-one else that’s telling me what to do,” he says. “I’m in charge 100% of what I’m doing. I am getting help from people and if I’m nervous about something I’ll say ‘what do you think about this or that?’. But it’s not a Sunday to Monday schedule that’s written out for me – I do that myself. I’m old enough, mature enough and smart and sensible enough to understand what works best for myself.”

After the transatlantic upheaval of March, coach Butchart had got his athlete into good shape ahead of Doha and he was a convincing winner of the British 5000m title to book his seat on the plane. 

A rollercoaster of an opening night in Qatar proved to be one of more downs than ups, however. Not long after Sharp had unexpectedly made an early exit from the 800m heats, Butchart finished outside the qualifying positions from undoubtedly the tougher of the two heats. 

His time of 13:26.46 which ultimately saw him finish seventh, was not quick enough to earn him a fastest loser’s spot either and, such was his level of disappointment over his performance that, when he heard the news he was in the final due to disqualification of Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the Scot admits elation was not the first thing on his mind. When the young Norwegian was later reinstated, Butchart didn’t have the heart to protest.  

“I was obviously very upset and frustrated with how it panned out,” he says. “At the end of the day I didn’t run well enough. I got myself into really, really good shape – and certainly good enough to go sub-13 minutes for 5000m. 

“I could see my heat was stronger than the second one and I thought ‘if I can get through this then I’m doing well’. I knew I would be around either the last one to scrape in with an automatic spot or hope for a fastest loser’s place. 

“The way the race panned out, it was going well – it was going fast/slow with a lot of surges and then towards the end I did what I shouldn’t have been doing which was to leave it to the kick of the race. I know that’s not how I should be running because I can’t run a 50-second last lap.

“But the thing is that when you’re in a heat you want to get through it as easily as possible so it’s quite hard to be like ‘oh, from four laps out I’m going to nail it’ because you’ll be exhausted for the final. 

“You’re trying to run as sensibly as possible and I just missed out. After that it was a bit of a nightmare with being put into the final after a disqualification and then being taken out again. When it all happened I just wanted to go home.

“Because I didn’t get in the top five, I didn’t think I’d merited a place in the final. And then when I got qualified I wasn’t sure how to react.

“Then, when people were wanting me to protest…I felt it was a case of I didn’t do well enough so I didn’t deserve to be in the final. 

“I made the mistake so I have to take the repercussions of it. I just have to learn and understand that if I get myself into that shape again then I don’t f*** up the way I did in Doha.”

As with moving back from America, Butchart managed to find a positive. 

“Let’s say I’d gone to Doha, I’d qualified for the final, finished fifth and had had a good run. I would have had the biggest off-season celebrating and probably taken a more relaxed approach to next year, thinking I was the bees knees,” he adds. 

“At least now I’ve got the kick up the backside to say ‘You have to be that extra per cent better, you have to be that little bit faster, you have to be that little bit stronger’. I’d far rather it happened in Doha than in Tokyo.”

There can be few greater incentives for training through the winter than next year’s Olympics and 2016 Rio finalist Butchart intends to be in Japan come the summer. It is a challenge he will attack with renewed vigour.

“I’m still the same person and I haven’t changed too much,” he says of his development since that Brazilian summer. “The training that worked for me in Rio works for me now. You just learn little things about yourself. 

“Even though I’m 28 I still see myself as 22. I’m still freshly minded and open to ideas. I’m still like an excited puppy just wanting to crack on and go for a walk. That’s all I want to do. Just let me off the lead. I still feel fresh in the game but I understand I’ve achieved a lot since Rio. I still believe I’m on the right track.”

» This article was first published in the November 7 edition of AW magazine, which is available digitally here or to order in print here

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