Stirling’s Andy Butchart returns to the streets of the capital on Sunday 28 May to race in the Vitality Westminster Mile just one day before defending the Vitality London 10,000 title he won last year at the start of an unforgettable season.
Butchart went on to represent Team GB at the Rio Olympic Games and finished sixth in the 5000m, won by Mo Farah, who was quick to heap praise on the Scot after the Olympic final.
“Andrew Butchart is the man. I’m very grateful for the way he helped me out in the race,” said Farah at the time. “He was protecting me and he was helping me out. And there’s not many out there who would do that for another athlete.”
Butchart signalled his form and fitness last May when he produced an impressive victory at the 2016 Vitality London 10,000 in 28 minutes 28 seconds, less than 24 hours after finishing a narrow second in the Vitality Westminster Mile.
He attributes his breakthrough to a bold move the previous winter.
“I wanted to go on a training camp with some other elite athletes in November 2015,” he recalls. “I asked my boss to get time off and she wouldn’t give it to me, so I just left. From then I got picked up by a sponsor and started going for it 100 per cent.
“For athletes in a similar position, they need to step up to the plate. Up and coming athletes need to believe in themselves and have the faith they can make the jump to the big time.
“If you don’t back yourself, no one else will. You’ve at least got to give it one hard year and if it doesn’t go to plan at least you gave it 100 per cent. I went for it and was one of the ones who came through.”
Having been catapulted to Olympic level so quickly, Butchart’s Rio adventure could have proved too steep a learning curve, but he was able to turn his inexperience into a positive.
“It was my first ever major meet so I had never experienced it and I think that was an advantage against the others because I didn’t think too much about it,” said Butchart. “I wasn’t worrying that I was in an Olympic final. I just thought ‘I’m in the final, I can only do what I can do’, so I was relaxed and when you relax in this sport it helps a lot.
“But I couldn’t have started the year and said ‘I want to come sixth in the Olympic Games’, no way, so the whole year was above my expectations, but in the back of my mind I knew I could be up there with the best in the world.”
He spent this winter in the USA racing indoors and taking down some Scottish records in the process, including the two-mile mark and the 3000m record.
Final preparations for this year’s Vitality London 10,000 will involve an altitude camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, before coming back to sea level to defend his title on his first appearance in Europe this year.
“There’s nothing like running through London,” says Butchart. “The Vitality London 10,000 and Vitality Westminster Mile are different to any sort of city run I’ve ever done and any race that exists, apart from the London Marathon.
“For my discipline, there’s no other way you could run through the centre of London, starting outside Buckingham Palace on The Mall with all those other elite athletes. It’s something special.”
Butchart will be hoping for a repeat victory on 29 May as he builds towards another key date in the capital this summer, the 5000m final of the London 2017 World Athletics Championships.