‘If you don’t get it right now, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.’ Kathy Butler – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 97

Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Kathy Butler. Kathy is a double Olympian who competed in the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in track and field. Welcome, Kathy.

Kathy: Thanks.

What makes long-distance running addictive

Christian: Kathy, you competed in the longer running disciplines in track and field, and some people say this long-distance running is addictive. For those who don’t like running too much, what’s the addictive part?

Kathy: I think once you get to the point where it feels easy you just feel great. You feel great while you’re doing it, not always, and afterward as well, so that is the addictive part.

Once you get to the point where it feels easy you just feel great, that is the addictive part.

Sometimes it takes a little bit having had to come back for various reasons over the years to get to that point where it feels good. Not everyone ever gets there, so that’s why it’s hard to understand that good feeling. Also for me, you get outside and you get to just have some fresh air and it just makes you feel good that way as well.

Christian: Yes, I believe that.

How she got into middle-distance running

Christian: How did you get into it? At what age did you start with track and field and then specializing in the middle-distances?

Kathy: I was living in the UK. I got started when we lived in Scotland and then we moved to England. They just had school sports where everyone in your class did everything against each other.

We did long jump and sprinting and the 800 meters were on a grass track. In the 800 meters, I beat everyone in my class, including the boys.

So that kind of got me hooked on middle-distance running. But at that point, I still did other things, as well as all the athletics disciplines. I did high jump and long jump and sprinting and a little bit of throwing, where I wasn’t very good at. And then as I got a little bit older, I did the running stuff. I was more of a middle-distance runner through most of the middle and high school.

In the 800 meters, I beat everyone in my class, including the boys. So that kind of got me hooked on the middle distance running.

We moved to Canada and I joined the club and just ran for the school. I gradually got a little bit longer, even in university I didn’t run anything longer than 5K and I ran mostly 1500 meters, 3000 meters, and the 800 meters.

Then my first Olympics was when I was still in university and that was 5,000 meters. And that was kind of at the time, the longest that I raced and then gradually ran some 10Ks as I got older and then eventually a few marathons, but I mostly did middle to long-distance track events.

Her darkest moment

Christian: In your athletic life, what was your darkest moment?

Kathy: There’s probably a couple, so I know it’s supposed to be one moment, but when I was at the World Cross Country Championships in 1994 in Budapest, Hungary, I really didn’t feel very good and wasn’t able to sleep.

I had a resting heart rate that was super high and I didn’t know what was going on. I started the race, but didn’t finish and just felt terrible. I got back and I had lost a bunch of weight and I went to the university health doctor.

Luckily for me, they figured out that I had Graves’ disease, which is an auto-immune problem with the thyroid. So at that point, they basically told me that I was not to do any running. They said if I run, I might have a heart attack because even just walking around, my heart rate was like a hundred.

They said if I run, I might have a heart attack.

Normally resting heart rate for me would be like 45 or fifty but then it was really, really high. If I went for a walk, it would go to 130/140, which should be just running heart rate. So when they told me not to run, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run ever again.

So the thyroid is kind of tricky. They worked through it, they put me on medication. I had just signed paperwork, right when all this was happening to go on a scholarship to the United States. So it was all very much up in the air.

My university degree was tied to the scholarship and running and I just didn’t know what was going to happen. So that was one of the darkest moments for sure.

It was all very much up in the air. My university degree was tied to the scholarship and running and I just didn’t know what was going to happen.

Christian: You competed in the 1996 Olympics, so within two years, at least you got to a decent level again? Is that what happened?

Kathy: Yes. So it took the summer. The World Cross Country was March 1994, and the whole summer of 1994 was kind of trying to figure it out.

By the time I got back and ran the Canadian Championships, I actually ran okay, but up until that point, they ran a bunch of tests and I was able to keep running. Then they said that the type of medication, you can only be on it for a maximum of a year to a year and a half.

So, now we’ve got the Olympics coming up. At the time, it wasn’t on my mind initially to try and make the Olympic team. So in that time period, I was on the medication for a year and a half, so that took us to almost the end of 1995.

Then they decided to take me off it and see what happened. That was pretty risky. Normally as an elite athlete, you wouldn’t mess around with something like that less than a year of the Olympics. They tested still for a few years later and it’s been okay.

It kind of goes up and down sometimes, but the more extreme options would have been that they would have had to radioactively remove my thyroid or surgically remove it. I would then have had to take a different kind of medication for the rest of my life. But luckily it went into remission and it’s been okay.

Auto-immune stuff is weird. They don’t really know why it started or why I was lucky and able to end up in remission. Literally from when they took me off the medication, I qualified for the Olympics. It must’ve been six or seven months later, so it just all worked out, but lots of doctors help and I just didn’t know what was going to happen.

Maybe both of my dark moments have been two years before an Olympics Games. So I don’t know if it was just that sort of, “I’m going to come back from this attitude” that allowed me to come back even better. Having had it sort of taken away so close to an Olympics made me fight even more for it, I’m not sure.

Both of my dark moments have been two years before the Olympics Games.

The other one, I had a fairly major injury in 2002. In addition, 2000 was a dark point also, because I didn’t make the Olympic team. But in 2002, I had a pelvis injury that they weren’t sure if I was ever going to be able to run again. It was a whole kind of severe pelvis injury problem.

Then I was on crutches and wasn’t able to do any exercise for a while and took me about a year to come back. Then the year following that year to come back was the best year of my running career.

It was a couple of dark moments and usually mostly tied to medical type things. It was either injury or illness and missing the 2000 Olympics was due to anemia. As a coach now, it seems like such a ridiculous reason to miss an Olympics.

But that was also a hard moment. By the time the Olympics actually happened, I was healthy and running well, but I was anemic and missed making the team. So, I guess those are my big three. I feel like I wasn’t even really a very injury prone or illness prone athlete, but those moments stick in my mind for sure.

Christian: I’ve actually taken this as a note for later, but as you just mentioned two years out of both of your Olympic participations, you had a major setback. How did you stay strong in that time?

Kathy: It just almost made me want to fight more to have what was taken away from me. Not to say that I took it for granted before, but I think having it taken away made me realize how much it meant to me and how much I like to be able to just go out and train hard, whether that training hard resulted in the performances that I wanted or not.

Having it taken away made me realize how much it meant to me and how much I like to be able to just go out and train hard

It kind of didn’t matter at that point. I just wanted to be able to go out and run hard. So I think that was probably what kept me going and just looking for improvements every day.

At times it was difficult. With the pelvis injury, I was on crutches. I was supposed to just pretty much just do nothing.

So that was difficult and the same as when they first told me I couldn’t do anything because I could have a heart attack with Graves’ disease. Just not being able to do anything, those were probably the hardest times. Typically, during most of those, I found something else to do.

When I was on crutches, I took my first coaching education course. My degree is in Exercise Physiology and Biology, but I hadn’t taken any actual coaching education.

So in 2002, I went along to the UK Athletics at the time, like first beginning level coaching education class. People told me that I am an elite athlete, so I could skip to level three. They suggested that I didn’t need to take that one.

I figured that I had to do something because I couldn’t do anything then. So I went along and learned how to coach the long jump and how to do a shot put, throwing square, and the basics of coaching and probably just having other things to do during those times helped a lot. You get caught in the world of doctors and physios and days go by fast.

Her best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Kathy: I have two, I hope this is that allowed?

Christian: As many as you would like.

Kathy: The first best moment was winning the NCAA Cross Country Championships. This whole thing with the thyroid and everything and going to school in the States had all happened.

I was a transfer. I had gone to school in Canada for a couple of years first so I had one year under my belt. I had won a track title at that point, but to win the cross country – everybody runs cross country.

You’ve got everyone from the 800, 1500 meter runners to the 10 K runners, and I’ve always loved cross country. Some of my best performances on the international level have been in cross country.

At the time, you see all these other people that you’ve looked up to, or big names on the start line with you. It was one of those races where I put everything out there really early on and just went forward and had a big lead and people were catching me for sure, but I managed to hold on to the win at the end.

You see all these other people that you’ve looked up to on the start line with you. It was one of those races where I put everything out there really early on and managed to hold on to the win at the end.

That was probably up there. Cross country for runners anyways, is unique because we have a team there. So you have your support of your team, not just your teams that you have, like your coach and all that kind of team, but actually having a team competing together.

So to cross the finish line and then be able to see your teammates come in and see how you did as a team also have that support, in cross country is huge. So that was a pretty big event.

Christian: What did you learn from that one? How has it influenced your life?

Kathy: It was how important it was to me to not only put everything into a singular goal for myself but that it’s also important to be part of something bigger. So to be part of the team or to be representing your university and it never becomes just about you.

If I had just been there by myself and crossed the finish line and won, yes, it would have been great. There were many other races like that later in my professional career, but to be there as a group and part of that team was really important.

It made me realize how having that connection with other people makes whatever you do in life more important. You’re not just out there doing your thing on your own and I try to do that now with my coaching.

I have a post-collegiate group here in Boulder, in Colorado and just having them connected to each other, makes them so much more committed to their own running. It also takes them out of themselves when they’re having a bad day and allows them to perform better.

Additionally, they also just get more out of their running and it reflects better on their life because sometimes you wonder what’s all this sports stuff about and why you are doing it. You can have those kinds of big questions as an athlete, as well as, as a coach. You may ask yourself what you’re really doing there that’s bettering the world.

But having these people go on to use those skills and also take that dedication into other parts of their life and the relationships that they build with people, I think, to me is the most important part of the sport, not just how fast someone runs or how far they throw something. That was a long answer to a question about what I learned from winning a race.

Christian: That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The lessons learned.

Kathy: Yes, exactly. So that was big. My other big moment was making the 2004 Olympic team. I had missed the qualifying standard by 0.4 seconds over 10 K. So that’s like, I don’t even know what that is per lap, but over 25 laps, 0.4 of a second is nothing.

I had missed the qualifying standard by 0.4 seconds over 10 K. I don’t even know what that is per lap, but over 25 laps, 0.4 of a second is nothing.

So everything came down to our trials. I had to get the time and finish in the top two in order to make the Olympic team. There was a friend of mine and myself, that just worked together. We were lapping people and sometimes running in lane two and just really had to go for it.

Even with probably three laps to go, it wasn’t certain that I would still make the time. And so, just really going forward after all the disappointments of being injured and having just missed the time, six weeks before and then to come back and I made the time and unfortunately my friend missed it by 0.14, which is even crazier over 10K.

So she didn’t get to be on the Olympic team. She tried again and didn’t get the time, but yes, she was European Champion in cross country. She had many other things that she did, but yes, that was a big moment just to get on that Olympic team after eight years.

Eight years is a really long time in the career of an athlete to wait to go back to the Olympics. So that was huge. I don’t think I slept at all the night after.

To get back on that Olympic team after eight years that was a big moment. Eight years is a really long time in the career of an athlete to wait to go back to the Olympics.

Christian: What did you learn from this moment?

Kathy: I learned the power of persistence of sticking with something over a longer time. So the stuff that happened, even with being sick when I was younger and all the stuff that happened in my late teens and early twenties, you still feel like you have time on your side and you have all this time to do these things and have these performances.

However, by then you start to think about what will happen if you don’t make it because I was 29 years, almost 30 years. You’re thinking that people go on and people make many more Olympic teams later in life than that, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

I think it was the persistence of having gone eight years and really having had another setback and just having to really stick with something. I coach quite a lot of athletes now that are just out of university and they want everything now and they want to have their very best performance at twenty-four.

I have to be that person who says to them that they should be patient because they have another 10 years. It’s hard when you’re 22, 23, or 24 to think that you’re going to be there for a while as it is a long game.

But I think that was the main thing I’ve taken forward from that. If you don’t get it right now, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.

If you don’t get it right now, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.

Christian: That’s a very powerful advice.

Her advice to a younger Kathy Butler

Christian: What advice would you give a younger you, if you could travel back in time, 15, 20, 30 years, what advice would you give a younger Kathy?

Kathy: Don’t neglect your blood test, though. Obviously, I knew this question was coming. I knew it was going to be a hard one for me.

Some of those lessons I learned from the older me as an athlete was just to have some patience. But then you also don’t want to deny them now either. Like if someone is doing well, you don’t want to tell them that they’re not supposed to do that for another six years. You don’t tell them that they can’t do that right now.

You tell them to have patience, but also enjoy the moment that I was in at the time, rather than always looking ahead to the next thing. Just really enjoy the travel and the lifestyle of being an athlete and getting out there.

Those are some of my best memories looking back on all the people that I met. There was a time when I had probably more friends that lived in other places than I lived than I did where I lived but just making sure to enjoy that and get to stay in touch. It’s easier now to stay in touch with those people.

That makes me sound really old, but just making sure to enjoy those moments of travel and living that kind of lifestyle. But also to always be thinking about the future.

Like I said I took coaching education when I was injured or I did other courses and that kind of thing. But every once in a while I wished that I had taken more Masters’s credits or that I should have done something else. Or maybe that’s just me wanting to have more stuff now, I don’t know, like more credentials and that kind of thing.

But making sure to have balance, would be the big thing and to not neglect the other aspects of your life. It becomes a very singular pursuit, high-level athletics, so sometimes you need that singular focus.

Also taking the time to maybe have a little bit more downtime every now and then would probably be a bit more of a recommendation. Maybe I wouldn’t have done what I did or maybe I would have done more, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. You never know.

Making sure to have balance and to not neglect the other aspects of your life, would be the big thing. High-level athletics becomes a very singular pursuit, so sometimes you need that singular focus.  But you also need to have a little bit more downtime every now and then

Christian: It’s a balancing act, right? You need to be very focused on your goal which comes with what you just said, very single-minded, and letting go is also probably difficult.

Kathy: Yes, when I ran all the way through to when I had my daughter and had a little comeback after her, that was the point where I realized that I can’t put that kind of singular focus in anymore.

Some people can because some people can have kids and have careers and still managed to be a high-level athlete. But for me, it was like I couldn’t split myself that way and it was a good point to be done with athletics at that point, as an athlete anyway.

Her success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and, or person?

Kathy: Probably you’re getting the idea already that I’m a pretty good planner, I am always looking for the next thing to be doing. So the first thing that I did when I had extra time at home for this whole COVID-19 thing was that I started working on presentations and things that I had been putting off because I have time.

So for me, just always looking for the next thing that I could be doing to improve. That happens now in coaching, but as an athlete, it was always wondering what else I could be doing without overdoing it.

Always looking for the next thing that I could be doing to improve.

I always tried to make sure I had the recovery time. So being able to balance which I just told that myself from 20 years ago to have more balance, but I think I actually did a pretty good job as an athlete of having balance.

And just being consistent with things and not trying to do everything today, but just knowing that it’s consistency over time was probably a major thing for me. It did take a while sometimes to get the results that I wanted to get.

Sometimes you’re just not in the right race on the right day or it doesn’t happen. So just making sure that if you keep working at it, it’ll happen. That’s it. It was the main habit and still is of mine.

Christian: You mentioned that before persistency and consistency, isn’t it?

Kathy: Yes. I don’t think I would have been any good as a gymnast whose career was done by the time they were eighteen. That wouldn’t have been enough time to keep working at something.

Why she competed for two different countries

Christian: You competed for two different countries. What was the reason behind that?

Kathy: I have a varied past in terms of where I’ve lived. I was born in Scotland, in the United Kingdom. My parents were English and we lived in England as well for a year. My dad’s job moved us to Canada.

So I started off as a Canadian citizen when I was 15 and also had my British citizenship. And so started off as a junior athlete competing in Canada locally and then competing internationally for Canada. It was always one of those things and the background that I thought that it would be nice to compete for the country of my birth.

Once I was a senior athlete and traveling and able to go back to the UK, I ended up by a weird, just the way things worked out, that my manager was based in London. So I was over there all the time anyway, and just talking to him and telling him how I would have liked to have competed for Britain.

He asked me why I didn’t.  So I made the switch, but it was hard though because I definitely think there’s a lot of people out there now that have lived in multiple countries and you feel a little bit split. Now I live in America, but I don’t actually have American citizenship, but you just feel like they’re both parts of you.

I think for some people who’ve only ever lived in one place, they maybe have a harder time understanding how it feels to be both. But I do feel like I’m both British and Canadian and now I have this life in America as well. But I don’t think it’s as simple as just being one thing.

I think for some people who’ve only ever lived in one place, they maybe have a harder time understanding how it feels to be both. But I do feel like I’m both British and Canadian.

I definitely got criticized and there was some stuff brought up that it was because they were not supporting. For example, in Parliament in Canada, they kept asking if they were not supporting their athletes well enough.

There were definitely some elements of competing for Canada where I wasn’t as well supported as it would have been nice to have been, but that wasn’t the main reason. It just felt like it was something that I wanted to do was to compete for the country that I was born in.

So I went back and competed for them and it was a little bit of a tough transition. You feel like the new kid at school in the middle of the school year kind of, but everyone was very welcoming. It ended up being a great experience for me and I’m really glad I did get to do both.

I obviously don’t know it any other way, but if I look back on my career, the fact that I got to have half of it competing for Canada and half of it competing for Great Britain was sort of the best way for me to have it. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Her morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine?

Kathy: Not during COVID. Non-COVID morning routine. As an athlete, I wasn’t like an early morning workout person. As a professional athlete, you have the luxury of optimizing when you do those things. So either get up and have breakfast and tea or now I drink coffee. I didn’t when I was an athlete really.

Then get out for like an easy run usually was kind of the main routine stretch. It’s not anything too exciting. And I guess it’s kind of stuck like still, get up, eat a little something, have a little something to drink, go for a run.

Get up, eat a little something, have a little something to drink, go for a run.

But I feel like it does get me started pretty well for the day. I don’t run every day now. So sometimes I take my old dog for a walk instead. I guess it was just consistency of the same kind of routine every day; get up, eat, run. Running’s not always glamorous.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How do you prepare for important moments?

Kathy: Practice, practice, practice. As a former competitive athlete, a lot of your practice went into something physical. So just making sure you have taken care of all the things that you needed to physically.

I look back on it now and I realize that there was a lot more psychology involved than I realized at the time. But all of that physical practice is also a mental practice. You’re always thinking about why you’re doing this training for this race.

All of that physical practice is also a mental practice.

So you always have the races in the back of your mind, so that’d be the main thing. Then finding ways to have downtime, especially before big competitions. That would be books and movies.

Olympic villages are not ideal places prior to big competitions. They’re loud and there are people partying because they’re already done with their competitions. Athletics is at the end of the championships and just being able to block out as many distractions as possible, whether it’s listening to music or watching movies.

I used to do all those kinds of things. When I was an athlete, I was the queen of very long coffee or tea breaks with friends. You just talk about whatever; anything but running usually, but yes, it’s sort of a balance between complete focus and a complete distraction.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?

Kathy: I’m always just looking for a way to improve for the future. But there has to be an acceptance of the disappointment as well when you have a setback. It could be something that you can really put a finger on and knowing that you didn’t get it right and you own it. Or you could feel like it was something completely out of your control.

There has to be an acceptance of the disappointment.

The two Olympics, 2000 and 2008 that I tried to qualify and didn’t make, they were kind of out of my control type of thing. It’s like just having to let it go and giving yourself time to be upset about it. You tell yourself that you have to move on. You ask yourself what’s the next thing that you’re going to do and if you’re going to be done with it.

It may be that you’re not ready to be done. So if you’re not ready to be done, what’s the next phase? And sometimes it’s hard because the next phase is to take a break from training, right? And that’s the last thing you want to do.

You want to go back and train even harder. But just always having a plan and knowing where you want to go next and you don’t always know exactly how you’re going to get there, but having the steps in place to get there.

Christian: Focus on the process.

Kathy: Yes, exactly. That’s the current term for it.

Her role model

Christian: Who’s your role model and why?

Kathy: When I was a young athlete, I had two sets of role models and it’s kind of sad that they were all men when I think about it now, but it just is the way it was. But I was just realizing what athletics was around the time of Steve Cram, Steve Ovett, Se  [Sebastain] Coe, all of those really top-level, middle-distance runners in the UK.

They were my big amazing people. We were in the UK and then we left and we moved to Canada and a few years later, I made this indoor meet as a kid, as a high schooler. And I went to this indoor meet and I go out next to the trackside during the meet.

It was a big stadium; a big meet at the time. And I looked over and Steve Cram is standing right next to me and I was like, I don’t know, 15 years or something. It was one of those moments, like, are you supposed to meet your heroes? I don’t know.

It was sort of everything that came around. I asked him for his autograph and it was like, I have all of maybe three autographs ever in my whole life and he was one of them. But the funny thing is that later on as an athlete, I got to know him as just a regular person.

It’s kind of funny because he just seemed to keep popping up in my life. He was a hero and a role model early on. And then he became somebody that I knew as just a regular person. Then I actually had some ski role models, even though I didn’t really compete at skiing.

The Crazy Canucks were like the big thing back in the eighties. We were watching them compete in the Winter Olympics and how well they did was a big sporting role model back then. I had a few coaching role models too, but are we talking about coaching, or are we talking about athletics. Yes, from a young age, those were my main role models.

The best advice she has received

Christian: What is the best advice you received and who gave it to you?

Kathy: My high school coach who’s still around. He’s still a very good coach, but he was very big into philosophy. We used to drive to Toronto. We’d drive and most of the time he’d be looking at the backseat talking to us and we’re like driving down the highway.

But his big thing was that it should mean everything and nothing at the same time. And I think that probably always stuck with me from when I was 15 years all the way through.

It should mean everything and nothing at the same time.

Even now in coaching because ultimately it’s sport and it’s important and it’s okay that it’s important. But I feel like that one piece of advice, everything, and nothing really kind of stuck with me and has continued to stick with me to this day.

A typical training day in the life of an Olympic middle-distance runner

Christian: How did a typical training day look like in the life of an athlete?

Kathy: Life of an athlete? The morning routine was to get up, eat, drink, and run. Then usually some kind of stretching or physio type exercises and injury prevention stuff. Maybe if it wasn’t a hard session day, then probably some kind of massage or physio potentially somewhere along the other way.

If it was a hard session day, then typically we did our hard sessions in the afternoon. So then go to the track and by mid-afternoon, I’d be at the track for three hours. There’s one training session in the morning and then three or four hours of training sometimes followed by some lifting or that strength type work afterward and then lots more food.

And there was food in the middle of there somewhere too. And then bed or watch a movie in bed. Day in, day out, twice a day, most days usually had a rest day every week, which for some peoples they don’t have that, but for me, it worked.

It just helped my body fully recover. But then I trained really hard on all the other days. So just staying on top of all the little things, like massage and physio, and then training twice a day was pretty standard.

How she helps others through her coaching

Christian: You’re giving back a lot of your knowledge through online coaching. Tell us more about that. What can people expect?

Kathy: I do both in-person coaching and online and typically when people get in touch with me, it’s not for your bog-standard like here’s a 16-week training program that’s already preset and ready to go. It’s very individualized, so different kinds of people get in touch with me.

Sometimes it’s the person who’s really busy with work and they’re trying to fit training around their lifestyle. Or it’s someone who’s really trying to push the boundaries of what they can do physically. So just really kind of very individualized training.

But they also get a fair bit of why, not just the what. Ideally, I like to have people be able to move on. Maybe they move on and I don’t coach them anymore because they have learned enough that they can do it on their own.

They also get a fair bit of why, not just the what. Ideally, I like to have people be able to move on. Maybe they move on and I don’t coach them anymore because they have learned enough that they can do it on their own.

It depends on the individual, but yes, trying to make sure that they understand why we’re doing things and what’s specific to them, and the things that they’re training for. I do some coaching – coach development, coaching education, and I think that’s sort of just part of me.

Different people want to learn different amounts. Some people have a million questions and they’re very curious about the what and the why, and they maybe have some background. Some stuff I use is super low tech.

Sometimes people come to me, especially the triathletes, and they want everything to be super high tech. I tell them that this run should feel easy. You should be able to talk to your friend. Sometimes they have a hard time with that, but just very personalized one-on-one specific to the individual type of training.

Then just trying to get to know them, even though they’re maybe on the other side of the world. I have an athlete in Columbia and I feel like I kind of know him, even though we’ve never met. I know his dog’s name and how much running his dog can handle. I know that he has his kid and then his wife and all these things. It was just creating a relationship, even though you may never meet.

We actually missed each other in New York in December by like three hours. It just didn’t work. We were trying to make it work to meet each other, but it didn’t happen, but maybe one day.

But just making sure that you get as much feedback back as you can. We have all the electronic feedback now. You get all this data from their watch or from whatever, but it doesn’t substitute for really getting to know someone and talking to them.

How did you feel about this run? Why did you feel that way? Was it because you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and just something went wrong that morning or is it because there’s something else going on physically? So just kind of solving all the puzzles that go with coaching that individual.

How to make online coaching work

Christian: The bonus question here, it’s often asked when it comes to online coaching. Coaching often is considered as something in-person and then online coaching obviously is not in person. So how can you make online coaching work?

Kathy: I try to make it much more than just about the prescription of training. It’s not just as simple as run five miles, do three times a mile hard or it is about the relationship with the person. Sometimes it’s whatever level of communication works for that person.

It is about the relationship with the person.

It could be talking on the phone, it could be getting some video with them running, just lots of emails. It’s definitely different from the group that I coach in-person.

Although I’m kind of glad that I have the online coaching background at the moment because it’s helping with my athletes that are used to seeing me in person. It’s helping me know what kind of levels of communication I need in order to have a good relationship with them right now.

Some of them I haven’t seen in two months now or I’ve seen them but not actually seeing them train. I’ve seen them from a distance. So I think it’s just all about communication in order to have that relationship and then as much feedback as you can get, whether it’s a video or GPS watch. It’s about how they felt, perceived exertion, and all those kinds of things.

But it’s definitely different. You have to find different ways to communicate and try and have their personality and your personality still be relevant, even though it’s only stuff written down. I try to change things up and see if they’re paying attention to sort of things in there and see what happens.

I’ll often look at where they live and try to find that sort of connection. I’ll tell them that they have a hill. For example, I’ll tell them to go and run on Rabbit Street Hill or whatever. I’ll suggest that it looks like a good hill.

Often they’re wondering how I know the hill and saying that it is just around the corner. I’ll insist that they go and run there or that they go and run in the park. So just trying to understand their lives and be as involved, not too much involved, but as you should be as a coach.

Her interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Kathy: There are lots of people I’d like to nominate, but I don’t know if they would let you interview them or not. I would love to have you interview my college coach who coached me after, but he’s now 80 years old and I don’t think it’s not really his thing.

Although you could interview him maybe in a different language because he speaks many languages, so it’s kind of funny, how personal people are. That’s one I might have to reserve for the future and then I have to get back to you and remind you of when you wanted someone. I would then let you know that I talked to them and I now have that person.

Christian: That’s cool. No worries.

What’s going on in the life of Kathy Butler at the moment

Christian: What else is going on in your life at this moment in time?

Kathy: Coaching is good. It’s weird, but it’s good. so the group has been still meeting by video chat twice a week. And we have been doing a series of different things.

Sometimes we do bodyweight strength, or like kettlebell type hand weight strength sessions. And then we’ve had a series of guest speakers. Everything from physio, doctors, dieticians, sports psychologists have talked to the group; just trying to stay as connected as we can in that environment.

I’ve done a series of things for them. I’ve done three lecture things with them to let them have a bit more insight into why we do what we do while we have this time together. That’s weird.

It’s almost busier than normal, other than the fact that I’m not traveling anywhere on a regular basis to coach in person. The sort of day to day stuff is pretty busy, so that’s good. I do miss the in-person coaching and really hope we get back to that soon.

There’s no substitute for sure, to just seeing someone finish their warm-up and walk over and you can just see whether today’s the right day for what you had planned or not. And you can’t do that when you’ve given it to them and they have to just go do it by themselves.

It is just the interaction with the athletes I miss. I really am looking forward to when we can be back there. Luckily we’re outside, so once facilities open up we might have to split the group or something to make it small enough, and make sure nobody’s too close to each other or something. I think we should be okay to meet in person, hopefully, sooner than later.

Then we have, I don’t want to call it homeschooling, because it’s not homeschool. We have school happening at home for my daughter and she just finished. She came upstairs, but she was on video chat with school at the same time as this. Luckily our internet allows for two video chats at the same time.

And so yes, the weirdness that is happening, but life goes on. Flowers start to bloom and spring is happening in the mountains. So we missed the end of the ski season, which was kind of a bummer, but we have a pretty good life. We have space. If I could show you, we have trees all around and yes, it’s not bad.

Where can you find Kathy Butler

Christian: Where can people find you?

Kathy: I have a website. They can also find me on Twitter which is @Chutler C-H-U-T-L-E-R. The Twitter, I kind of use it as my science geek out kind of place where I go and look for research and sort of my coaching – coach development, coaching side of me. So that’s what you’ll find on there.

And then the club and I both have Instagram. Mine is at @Chutler as well. Run Boulder is the club; Run Boulder one tends to be more running-related. The Chutler one right now you find mostly like cooking stuff or whatever, messing around in the mountains type stuff. But yes, those are probably the main places that you can find me.

Kathy Butler’s social profiles




Instagram Run Boulder


Christian: And the online coaching services are on your website?

Kathy:   Yes, all on the website. Or you can contact me by email. The information is all on the website too.

Typically, if you put running coach and my name in, you might find some embarrassing pictures of me from back in the day as well. But not as many as if I had run like 10 years later, so, but yes, pretty easy to find.

Christian: Awesome. Thank you for your time, Kathy. That was awesome.

Kathy: Yes, it was great to talk to you. Thank you.