Nikki Butterfield's juggling act

Aussie Nikki Butterfield won Ironman 70.3 Syracuse and also added a very fine 4th place at the HyVee 5i50 Championships to her resume in 2011. The recent mom, whose husband Tyler also competes as a Pro triathlete, shared with slowtwitch how she juggles racing, training, sponsor obligations and family - all with a smile of course.

ST: Good to chat with you.

Nikki: Thanks for having me.

ST: You really have been on a roll in terms of racing and your family.

Nikki: Thank you. I didn’t expect to be back racing so soon, and certainly not well for a long time. It helped Savana was a relatively easy baby, the only quirk she had was she didn’t like to sleep by herself. Once I brought her into bed with us when she was about 6 weeks old I suddenly felt rested and started to think about getting moving again.

ST: How old is Savana now?

Nikki: She was one year on December 22nd.

ST: How do you and Tyler manage training with that adorable bundle of joy needing attention too?

Nikki: It changes depending on who is doing what, where we are in the world, how much help we have, if any, and how Savana is going. When we’re in Boulder we have a fantastic nanny 3 days a week so we can ride together, she also helps around the house with laundry and light tidying which makes a huge difference. Sometimes, though, I daydream about having achieved enough athletically and having earned enough money to be able to be a stay-at-home Mom. I think I would love that!

ST: Can you even think back what it was like before Savana was here?

Nikki: For sure, but I don’t remember it being any less chaotic as I was always in school (I finished my MBA the month before Savana was born), and we didn’t have as stable of a base as we do now. I don’t feel any busier now than before, as I said previously the only hard part is leaving Sav.

ST: Looking back at 2011 we'd think you would be pleased with your racing?

Nikki: Of course! Last season was a ‘bonus’ for me. I planned to start to be serious in 2012. The funny thing is though before World Long Course (my last race for the season) I started to increase my training but I actually went worse… admittedly I was sick, but I felt more prepared than my other races. Maybe there is something to be said for just fitting it in what you can, when you have time, and not expecting anything. I’ll tell you what I think about this theory at the end of this season.

ST: That sounds like a plan, but let us go back to 2011. Anything stand out as a highlight?

Nikki: It was great to win in Syracuse, but I traveled with Savana and our nanny Aspen who I get along with really well, but it wasn’t the same as enjoying success with Tyler. We do so much together, whenever one of us does well it is a shared success so it felt hollow to me. It was like “great I’ve won, are there any flights tonight so I can get home?”. I am looking forward to after the Games us being able to race together all the time. I guess to answer your question HyVee had to be the highlight. I went in with the goal of 10th place ($10,000!) but Tyler kept saying 5th was a better goal. I just needed to believe in myself. In the end I didn’t think about the result, I just swam, biked and ran as fast as I could and ended up 4th. It was my biggest paycheck ever. It was fun to ride well, especially with the crowds, but the best part was running with the contenders, girls I used to race when we were younger but I haven’t run against in more than 5 years. I didn’t know if I had it against them anymore. Obviously some beat me, but I got ahead of others, I felt in the game, in contention in one of the biggest races - that was a good feeling. My greatest fear throughout returning to racing was to be at the back looking like a joke of a professional athlete. Sometimes fear is the greatest motivator. One of the best parts was seeing my Mother and Father-in-Law afterwards. They were so excited to watch me come from behind on the bike. Jim thought my race was over after the swim so he just kept getting more and more excited over the day. It's fun to surprise people some times.

ST: At what point did you feel a top 5 was possible?

Nikki: Once I got to 1/2 way on the run I started to get a little more confident. What I was afraid of was totally blowing up. I hadn't raced that hard in a long time and I hadn't done anywhere close to the work I used to do to prepare so I was worried at some point my body would give up. Fortunately I surprised myself.

ST: You are well known for your bike prowess. Is that something you always had in your quiver or did that improve while racing on the road?

Nikki: I was always a strong biker before switching to cycling, but I was more known as a bike-runner rather than a straight biker, not outstanding at either, but when I’d couple them I’d be one of the fastest. My swimming has always been by far my weakest. Now it is just time to get my run back.

ST: We are glad you are racing triathlons, but why the move away from just bike racing?

Nikki: Too much travel, politics in selection, hardly any money, definitely the biggest part though is it would be hard to be a hands-on Mom with the travel. It was an easy decision. I switched to cycling because I wanted to make the Olympic games, in triathlon I was not going to make it because of my poor swim. I was also burnt out after 8 years in triathlon. Since switching back to triathlon I do miss racing the cycling classics. I loved the one-off hard and rough days, cobbles, hills, wind, and the prestige of the classics, which the men raced too, always excited me. I get a kick out of big races with lots of hype. I seem to be able to find another level when it counts. If I could just jump into a team with no strings attached for a big race here and there I would do it for sure, but it doesn’t work like that in cycling. It is all or nothing.

ST: In Kona during the Shiv launch, word had it that you really tortured quite a few of the guys with your hard riding. Is that an accurate description?

Nikki: Haha. I didn’t mean to go out and ride that hard. I was still training for World Long Course so for sure I wanted a good workout, anytime I leave Sav I like to get something out of the time away for her, but the real reason was I started on the front with Jan and I didn’t want to have to roll off so it just got faster and faster, then Conrad attacked and I couldn’t resist. The group just kept getting smaller each attack and eventually I think there were 5 of us. It was a fun ride.

ST: Do you think some of them might opt to ride in a smaller group next time or at least one you are not driving?

Nikki: Probably not. They’ll just know whom to watch. That’s half the battle, knowing which wheel to be on. :)

ST: What is on your calendar for 2012?

Nikki: Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, Tokio Millennium Re Sprint Triathlon, Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon, Frankfurter Sparkasse Ironman European Championship and Hy-Vee Triathlon and Ironman World Championships if qualified.

ST: All well on the sponsor front?

Nikki: Yes things are good. Tokio Millennium Re and Philadelphia Insurance Companies, Tyler’s two biggest sponsors, have extended his sponsorship to include me too. We really like that it's a joint sponsor. We are a family first and a family in training so we might as well race like one too. Without them we couldn’t do what we do, we’re very grateful for their support. I’ve also signed with Specialized as you know. Of course I am very happy to be on board with them. When I was still pregnant I said to Tyler, "if I do come back I’m only riding the best, if they don’t want me I’m going to buy my bike". Specialized had me on a Shiv before I had even really started training. Their faith in me was very motivating. They are the biggest and best bike company in my opinion, and run the best triathlon program in the world. To be on their team is an honor and very motivating. When you have great people around you it inspires you to try to be great too. Bobby Behan (who runs the program) believed in me when I wasn't sure I believed in myself, and I didn't want to let him down. Now just to keep it up and keep improving.

ST: Anything else we should know?

Nikki: We leave for Australia on January 27th for 3 months. I will make a quick trip up and back to Abu Dhabi for the race and Tyler will race the ITU races down there in his attempt to qualify Bermuda for the Olympics. We will be based on the Gold Coast training with friends from our younger days. We’ll be back in the US from May onwards. Thanks for the interview.

ST: You are very welcome.