MOUNT VERNON — It started with a youthful dare between friends. Over 40 years later, it has become a rare, lifetime achievement that is set to come full circle — literally — in a few short years. For now, however, Mount Vernon resident Bruce Butler continues to run past milestone after milestone.
Recently Butler, 54, passed 20,000 miles of running, which was a goal that he has been pursuing for 41 years.
“I really found out that it relieved my stress,” said Butler. “I love to accomplish things. I ran track with (Mount Vernon High School coach John Fair.)”
However, in order to get to earn a spot on the track team — and eventually get to mile No. 20,000 — he had to run mile No. 1. When Butler was 13, a friend challenged him to run from Mount Vernon to Brandon, a five-mile jaunt over rolling hills.
He did it. And he found his new hobby.
“I just had to run slow and I did it but I had charlie horses so badly,” said Butler. “After that, I started doing crazy things. I ran 52 laps around the old (Mount Vernon High School) track on the west end.”
He was far from being a natural, but the hard work and all the miles paid off for Butler. Of course, all of those miles are recorded.
“I was last — dead last — in the first 27 (high school) races I ran,” said Butler, who graduated in 1976. “In my senior year, I ran 2,000 miles to get ready. Coach had me timed and I got first place in the mile.”
But Butler strained his Achilles tendon soon after and did little running in his senior year. However, he had made his point to his team and himself.
“As soon as I got out of high school, I knew I was going to stay running,” said Butler.
It was a few years into his running that he hit upon the idea of setting the lofty goal of 20,000 miles. In 1973, NFL running back O.J. Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards for the Buffalo Bills — a number that seemed unimaginable at the time. Butler hatched an idea while watching Simpson get the magical mark: Instead of 2,000 miles, what about 20,000?
“I thought, ‘This isn’t going to be too hard — 2,000 miles a year for ten years.’” said Butler.
Butler had many detours on the way to 20,000. Some, like raising a family, proved to be enjoyable.
“I had five kids and I couldn’t run as much,” said Butler. “I would get injured every now and then. My knees hurt really bad at one time so I took a break. ... Every time I started up again, I could get really good times.”
Running continued to follow Butler through the Army, where he was first in the mile in basic training and he also ran the 10K.
Ever since then, he has timed himself in the mile. At last check, Butler is still breaking seven minutes in the mile.
“I’m still not the 160 pounds I used to be,” said Butler, who is currently a Deputy Sheriff in Knox County. “I take pride in staying lean. I want to be, if I can. I have run races with all five of my kids.”
His next goal is to run the length of the circumference of the Earth — 24,901 miles. When he nears the mark, he plans to break it with a simple five-mile run — from Mount Vernon to Brandon.
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