Mark Butcher enjoys flying under the radar.
Whether it’s on race day or in his daily life, the sophomore runner for Benjamin Russell cross country tends to keep to himself.
“It absolutely influences my running style, at my very best,” Butcher said. “I don’t want to have all eyes on me. I’m just a kid who loves running and just loves doing what I do.”
He may not be the first person to tell you about it, but Butcher is quietly becoming one of the more promising runners for the Wildcats’ track and cross country teams, working through some of his anxieties in the process.
“When I first got him he was in eighth grade,” Benjamin Russell coach Crystal Wellborn said. “He’s grown in every way since then. Physically, mentally and in terms of his maturity.”
Butcher’s running journey started when he decided to sign up for track.
His friends had always told him he was fast, the 10th grader said, and he felt it was worth giving it a shot.
Then Wellborn approached Butcher and told him he should give cross country a go.
“I thought, ‘Might as well give it a try,’ and I loved it,” Butcher said. “I just love the exercise it puts you into, especially for track, it helps to build up my stamina. It wasn’t very good back then, when I first started, but I think it’s increased over the past few years.”
It took just two seasons for him to reach the biggest meet of the year.
Butcher was the only boys cross country runner to qualify for the state championships from Benjamin Russell in 2020. He finished 242nd with a time of 23 minutes 56.92 seconds.
While the experience was one Butcher enjoyed, it wasn’t without its difficulties.
Described as a shy person by Wellborn and his mother, being around a few thousand runners and their families did create some stress for Butcher.
“Anxiety got me back then,” Butcher said. “Seeing all those faces, seeing all those eyes around me. But I’ve started to build up away from anxiety, still have it, but I’m able to control it better. All kids go through that shy phase once in their lives, and then they’re able to shrug it off their shoulders.”
Butcher has learned to use his more introverted nature to his advantage on the race course. People don’t expect him to go out hard and fast, but he makes a habit of not only starting strong, but finishing strong, Wellborn said.
“He’s a great kid. I wish more could be like him. He’s really honest, genuine and gives 100 hundred percent.”
Wellborn added they’ve been working on some of the finer points of his running to get him to that mark, including his breathing technique and pacing.
His goal for this year? Work his way under 20 minutes.
“That, overall, will get me into state,” Butcher said. “I want to be able to go back. I’ve been there once and it was very good.”
Butcher is increasing his mileage at practice while also balancing a couple other extracurricular activities, including marching band. He plays trumpet for the Wildcats.
“It’s very good just being out there and moving,” Butcher said. “That was one thing I wanted to do. I love seeing the movements and all the songs they get to play and all that. So I’m excited for this Friday as well, because I get to do that.”
In the meantime, Butcher will continue to focus on shaving seconds from his personal bests in cross country.
“It’s up to him,” Wellborn said. “Every year I’ve been here we’ve been able to put at least one kid on scholarship to run at college. But do I think he has potential? Absolutely.”