After an impressive 7th place finish in this year’s 70.3 Triathlon World Championships, it seemed as though Tyler Butterfield, was peaking well for his biggest challenge of the year, the Ironman World Championships in Kona on October 14th.
I met with Tyler in Kona for breakfast on the morning before the race and for a quick dinner that night. Despite a bike crash two weeks before that left him sore , he looked and sounded ready for the big race. With wife Nikki and the three kids, mum and dad, Debbie and Jimmy, and brother Spencer on hand and Flora Duffy flying in for the race, there was certainly plenty of Bermuda support.
In the end it wasn’t to be his day. A good swim of 48 min 48 secs left Tyler well placed going into the 180km bike and for the first 70km or so Tyler was up with the leading group. But the brutal pace set by former professional cyclist Cameron Wurf of Australia, Germany’s Sebastian Kienle and Canadian Lionel Sanders saw the rest of the pre race favorites either opting to drop off the pace or getting dropped. All three of the leaders shattered the course record of 4 hrs 18 mins with Wurf setting a new course record of 4 hrs 14 mins. Tyler gradually lost time to the leaders and entered T2 with a bike time of 4: 35 :10 and the realisation that it wasn’t to be his day.
When he passed me on Alii Drive at mile 4 of the run Tyler was clearly suffering and by the time he passed again after the turn on Alii his pace had dropped off. I found him stopped at mile 8 with dad Jim and ready to call it a day after apparently suffering from stomach problems on the bike and run with pain in his side from his bike accident and cramping.
He did however continue on and ran for a few kilometers with defending champion Jan Frodeno, who was having severe lower back pains. In the end he ran a steady pace, stopping at the aid stations and finished the marathon in 3:56:18 for a total time of 9:27:22.
However, after a DNF last year in the end all that mattered was finishing and for that he should take great credit. Sometimes there is glory in just getting across the line regardless of where you finish.
At the front of the race Canadian Lionel Sanders put in a tremendous performance to hold off last year’ sensation Patrick Lange until the last few kilometers before being overtaken by the German who once again produced an outstanding run of 2 hrs 39 mins 59 secs ( just short of his record run last year) to take the overall win in a new record time of 8 hrs 1 min 40 secs. Sanders held on well to take 2nd in 8:04:07 with Scotland’s David McNamee, who swam , rode and ran with Lange for much of the race, taking an impressive 3rd in 8:07:11 with the consistent Kienle in 4th. The amazing Daniela Ryf took her third female title in a row with another dominating performance but relative newcomer Lucy Charles from the UK, showed that she will be one to watch as the 24 year old, who led for much of the race, was 2nd in her first appearance at Kona after only getting on a racing bike for the first time in 2014. Another up and coming triathlete, Sarah Crowley of Australia, was 3rd.
After previous 4th and 7th place finishes at these championships Tyler can be proud of his outstanding achievements. There is no doubt that the quality and depth of the mens field is making it tougher every year but as the 40 year old Andy Potts showed with another top ten finish this year ( he was 7th), experience can count for alot in this test of both physical and mental preparedness, and Tyler should chalk this one down to some more valuable experience.
Whilst chatting to me at around mile 15 of the run I mentioned to Tyler that Jan Frodeno’s status as a legend in the sport would be further cemented by the fact that despite back to back wins in the previous two years he went through alot of suffering to finish. Tyler said to me that he would never have that legend status but I pointed out to him that it was he who had first put Bermuda on the triathlon world map with his junior world bronze medal and subsequent wins and podiums in so many races. I reminded him that he has been an inspiration to so many young and old Bermudian triathletes, including Flora Duffy.
I hope Tyler will be on the start line next year but if not then he should be proud of his achievements and the contribution he has made to the sport of triathlon in Bermuda and as an ambassador for the island.
Now…. I just wish he would get a coach !