Decked out from head to toe in wind- and waterproof rain gear, including a bright yellow Mountain Hardwear jacket, black pants and thick, warm gloves, Henry Ward looked like he was on an early-spring expedition in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In place of sturdy hiking boots, however, were running sneakers. Rather than mountains, his path was black pavement that glistened from hours of heavy rain.
Ward was somewhere near Chestnut Hill, around mile 22 of the Boston Marathon. It was April 16, 2018, and the Waltham, Mass., native and current resident of Tempe, Ariz., was making his Boston Marathon debut. Heartbreak Hill was behind him; the famous Citgo sign, downtown Boston and the finish line four miles ahead.
Ward was in agony, but it was hard to tell in that moment as he paused to fist-bump one of several friends who was standing along the course, soaking in the rain.
“Keep going, baby! Keep going!” a friend shouted as Ward waved his arms to the crowd, encouraging them to make some noise before turning and dashing on down the road.
“This is his fourth marathon consecutively right now,” another friend told an older gentleman in a yellow poncho who was standing nearby. “This is mile 100 for him right now.”
“You mean in four days?” the man replied with a look of amazement.
“No,” Ward’s friend replied. “Twenty-four hours.”
Aghast, the man’s mouth fell open and his eyes grew wide.
“He hasn’t slept?”
The concept of “doubling” the Boston Marathon has grown in popularity with each passing year. Runners will gather in the early hours of Marathon Monday, run the course in reverse from Boston to Hopkinton, and then toe the line for the run back to Boston as part of the official race. Ward was doubling the double — a Boston Quad. He’d started at the finish line at noon the day before and was running the course four times. The final trip from Hopkinton to Boston was his first “official” Boston Marathon as a qualifier. Ward’s body hurt like hell with four miles to go, but he pushed on.
“I knew I was going to finish once I got to the actual marathon,” Ward recalled. “I was going to see my family and friends. The hard part was over. Scraping back to my core and thinking through the really hard times I’d had before, thinking that I’d suffered a lot more than what I was suffering now … I knew I could get through it. And having other people with me, keeping my spirits high and supporting me, I knew I could do it.”
On that cold, dreary day where the rain was at times blinding, Ward’s mind was clear, his path certain. He ran down Commonwealth Ave., under the Boston Strong sign, into downtown Boston and across a drenched finish line.
After around 24 hours of running and in some of the gnarliest conditions in Boston Marathon history, Ward finished the Boston Quad.
Not long after, he began planning to do it all over again in 2019.
Long before Ward considered the possibility of running the Boston Marathon once, let alone four times in a row, he likely spent Marathon Mondays with a beer in hand, possibly several. Ward began drinking at parties when he was a high school student in Waltham in what would become a 20-year habit. In 2004, he met his future wife, Alejandra, on a trip to Arizona for a New England Patriots game. He moved to Tempe to join her, and they soon married. Ward attempted to hide his drinking during their first few years together, but it became increasingly problematic. Eventually, Alejandra gave him an ultimatum.
Ward sought treatment at Valley Hope of Tempe and says he has been sober since Nov. 17, 2008.
Seven months later, in June 2009, they moved back to Waltham for a work. Two years after that, Ward kicked his cigarette habit and was preparing to become a father. He was no longer drinking or smoking, but he wasn’t yet running.
“I didn’t have any crutches, any hobbies,” he said. “My son was born; life was busy and I wasn’t sleeping well. I had some irritability. I’d lost a coping mechanism, so I’d started walking and was enjoying that, but it wasn’t enough. I had nervous energy.”
Planting the Seed
Ward’s son, Sebastian, had restless energy. It happened to be at 3:30 a.m. when the Wards were back in Arizona visiting friends. The 10-month-old awoke and wouldn’t go back to sleep.
“He typically falls asleep when we go for a walk, so we went for a walk at 3:30 in the morning,” Ward said.
Ward pushed his son’s stroller around a cul-de-sac a few times, but his son didn’t doze off.
“He was just loving it,” Ward said. “He was kicking his feet; he’s loving life. So I decided let’s go a little bit further. We passed under an underpass and saw a silhouette of mountains — I thought, ‘Let’s go see that!’”
Four miles later, Ward pushed the stroller onto a trail surrounded by cacti; coyote howls echoed in the distance. The trail headed up, so up they went to the top of a foothill maybe 800 feet high. The sun began to rise as they reached the top.
“I’d gone five or six miles,” Ward recalled. “I felt alive; I felt like this is where I was supposed to be. I took like 200,000 photos; there was a pack of about 20 coyotes below. I ended up doing like 12 miles that day and got back to the house before anybody got up. They didn’t believe me until I showed them the pictures.
“It sparked something in me; the seed was planted.”
From that point forward, Ward considered himself an “endurance walker.” Whether pushing his son’s stroller, walking with his wife or strolling solo, he logged miles daily — oftentimes double-digits. He loved it, but eventually he started pondering a different pace.
“I started wondering what I could do with running,” he said. “I thought if I could run and go further then I could get there faster.”
He decided to find out. On May 25, 2013, during a trip to Corning, N.Y., he and some friends signed up for the fourth annual Wineglass GlassFest 8K. Ward finished in around 46 minutes. He had so much fun that he promptly began searching out local races near Waltham. There was a 5K the following weekend, so he ran it. He bumped into old high school classmates and reignited friendships. A few were also recovering from addictions.
“I thought, ‘This is cool. There are people like me,’” Ward said. “It’s comforting. They started telling me how running helped them as part of their recovery process. I love the way it makes me feel.”
Ward began running with the Waltham Trail Runners, and occasionally with the Boston Bulldogs when he could manage the commute. He liked the camaraderie and fun of running with good people. He loved being in motion and feeling the adrenaline rush through him while pushing his limits.
“I started reaping the rewards,” he said. “I felt better; I started eating better. My body changed, my attitude changed and my outlook on life changed.”
He started pushing Sebastian around town in the stroller. Hill repeats with the stroller on steep Prospect Hill became regular workouts and quality father-son time.
“It was a great way for Sebastian to see the world, to see a town,” Ward said. “You see so much more on foot, and I got to show him how to live a healthy lifestyle — monkey see, monkey do, right?”
He sought out more races, local 5Ks, the Cape Cod 10K, the Boston Half Marathon. The next step was obvious.
“I really wanted to run marathons,” he said. “I figured I’d sign up for Boston. I thought it was that simple.”
It wasn’t. Ward needed to run a 3:25 qualifying time to earn a spot in the Boston Marathon. He ran his first marathon in May 2014 in Pittsburgh. It would take him nearly four years to run a Boston-qualifying time, but his desire to run the race and his passion for taking on more mileage blended and propelled him to ultimately experience Boston in a way that only a select few ever have.
The Boston Quad
Ward ran his first ultramarathon on May 16, 2015. He was one of about two-dozen runners to take on the Manchester 2 Monadnock 55-miler in New Hampshire. It took him more than 14 hours, but he got it done.
“It was perfect,” Ward said. “It was humid; it was buggy; it was hard. It was all it was cracked up to be, and I got the ultra bug right then and there.”
Ward began run-commuting to work on Wednesdays, meaning a 26-mile effort. As the 2016 Boston Marathon grew closer he heard chatter about runners doing the Boston Double, running the course in reverse on Marathon Monday and then lining up to run the official race. He hadn’t yet qualified, so three weeks before the race he did it on his own.
“I wanted to know what it feels like to cross the starting line and cross the finish line,” he said. “At no point in the foreseeable future did I want to do the quad thing.”
A friend told Ward about how ultrarunner and recovering addict David Clark of Louisville, Colo., had done the Boston Quad in 2015 to raise money for his charitable organization, The Superman Project. Ward was intrigued, so he reached out to Clark.
“He said it’s an ultra thing; it’s out there for people to do and that nobody’s trademarked it so it’s out there to do,” Ward recalled. “He said, ‘I’m out there to share my story; you’re welcome to do it, but it’s not easy.’”
Ward learned just how difficult the Boston Quad would be during his first attempt in 2017, shortly before moving back to Arizona. He’d grown stronger as a runner and more confident in the belief that his personal story of overcoming addiction and embracing healthy eating and exercise could help others facing similar challenges, so he signed on to fundraise for Runwell, a foundation that helps those battling addiction and mental illness to live healthy, fulfilling lives through treatment and physical activity.
“We owe it to ourselves to try to help a fellow brother or sister who’s struggling,” Ward said. “By sharing my story it might change their life by getting into treatment, or starting running, or going on a diet, or being more positive.”
He thought the Boston Quad would be a good way to raise funds for Runwell.
“I still hadn’t qualified for Boston, and I didn’t want to interfere because it’s not my story,” Ward said. “So I decided to do it two weeks before on April 1.”
A daunting task was made far more difficult when a nasty winter storm rolled in. Freezing rain, sleet and snow fell on Ward and the friends who ran with him, including Mike Kenney and Scot DeDeo. Symptoms of hypothermia struck Kenney and DeDeo, and Ward’s right foot became swollen and painful. Ward ultimately finished the first three legs of the attempt, but he was forced to abandon the effort in the interest of health preservation.
“It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget, pushing through that weather, and being supported by the number of people who came out,” Ward said. “And there were lots of people who didn’t come out because of the weather or who came out but couldn’t find us and wanted to be there, so I thought maybe I’d do it again.”
Ward finally ran a Boston qualifying time on Oct. 2, 2017, his birthday, in Portland, Maine. That meant his second attempt at the Boston Quad could coincide with the 2018 Boston Marathon. He’d once again raise funds for Runwell.
The nasty conditions of Ward’s 2017 effort were replicated in 2018. He and his pacers ran through snow and wind during the first few marathons. A Nor’easter on Marathon Monday created brutal conditions for the final 26.2 miles, but Ward knew this time he’d finish. His body hurt, but he wasn’t injured. His family and friends lined the course, and he’d let the crowd carry him home. When he hit his 100th mile and encountered a pack of friends along the course — his crew from the Waltham Trail Runners — he was pumped. He soon saw the Citgo sign, and then the finish line. He was officially a Boston Marathon finisher in 4:48:20, and he was officially a Boston Quad finisher in around 24 hours.
“For addicts, there is no finish line,” Ward said. “You cross the line, get a medal and you’re done. I always have the mentality of ‘What’s next? What can I do?’”
He decided to do it again.
If Ward’s 2018 Boston Quad was about the struggle to overcome the elements, then the 2019 Boston Quad was about celebrating the gifts of running and friendship. When Ward set out at noon Sunday, April 14, and began making his way toward Hopkinton, he knew he was capable of completing the task ahead of him because he’d done it before. What he didn’t know was who all he’d encounter along the way, whether it was to share a few miles or just a few words. That’s what made this year’s Boston Quad so special.
“I really enjoy having others be a part of it,” Ward said. “There are always people who I know I’ll see, and then there are surprise people. I had people come out and run with me who I hadn’t seen in 20 or 30 years who just wanted to check on my well being and see if I needed anything.”
Around a dozen friends joined Ward at the Boston Marathon finish line to see him off on his journey. He was joined for the first eight miles to the Newton Firehouse by friend Melissa Arnold. Others dropped in to join him as the run progressed into the afternoon. Unlike the previous year, Ward endured no snow. Instead, sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s made his first marathon toasty. He focused on guzzling electrolytes and maintaining his nutrition to ward off fatigue until the evening brought cooler temperatures. Several friends paced him back into Boston where he picked up pacers Ilya Bass, Samir Patel, and Tim Irving and headed right back out into the night. A light rain began to fall. Bass stayed with Ward all the way to Hopkinton where the drops had turned into a downpour.
Three marathons were done; Ward hunkered down in the Hopkinton gymnasium to ride out the rain and then headed back to the starting line to finish his journey with the rest of the Boston Marathon field. The overnight and early-morning rain cleared out and gave Ward dry passage back to Boston. Soreness and stiffness settled in during the first two miles. The weather was better, but this year’s fourth marathon hurt more than last year’s. He suffered through the first half of the race and then began spotting friends and family along the course. They gave him strength, and he embraced it.
“I saw a lot of people and made a point to stop and share a picture, share a moment,” Ward said. “I saw 30, 40, 50 people I knew along the course. I felt like a celebrity.”
He passed the Johnny Kelley statue in Newton, saw his friends at the Newton firehouse who’d let him use their facility as an aid station the night before, and pushed onward to Kenmore Square. More friends, more smiles, more high-fives and stops for selfies.
Ward’s body ached, but his spirit was full.
“I went under the Boston Strong overpass into Kenmore with about .4 to go, and I just hammered it right down the middle of the road with some fist-pumping,” Ward recalled. “I had tears of joy. I felt happiness, relief and a little bit of sadness and anxiety — I did this. I had a feeling of gratitude, just grateful.”
Ward once again finished the Boston Quad in around 24 hours. His official Boston Marathon time of 5:12:34 was a little slower than the year before, but it didn’t matter. The people who shared in his journey are what’s important to him. There was his family, long-time friends, his crew from the Waltham Trail Runners, and unexpected surprises like a former work manager from years ago who, like Ward, has battled addiction and made a point of joining Ward at the starting line to share a moment.
For Ward, the 2019 Boston Quad was the joyful celebration he’d hoped for. Every step he took, every photo he snapped, and every memory he made are positive.
“It was like a party, man! It’s 2019, this is how we party now,” Ward said of the way the Boston Quad brought people together. “We run, spread joy … look at the expression on everybody’s faces. From the kids to the older people, everyone had giddy grins, they were happy to see that I was alive and in good spirits. They took pride in getting to take part in the actual event. It’s so cool to see somebody sincerely happy to see you. It was awesome.”
“This is a gift”
With two successful Boston Quads under his belt, as well as a Quad at the Phoenix Marathon earlier this year, and other fundraising efforts for Runwell such as the Patagonia Stage Race, a 24-hour track run and a 12-hour treadmillathon, Ward said he has raised around $15,000 for the charitable organization.
Always looking for what’s next, the 48-year-old is getting ready for the Hotfoot Hamster 24-hour race on May 4 in Buckeye, Ariz. Ward’s body and mind are tired right now, he admits, but he’s going to give it his best shot. He’s always ready for another challenge.
“This is a gift, my body being able to do these things,” Ward said. “Sometimes I feel like I have to do it. I feel like I’m lucky to be in this position.”
Before that, however, he took a brief break from running last week to attend a Tempe City Council meeting where he and his family were honored guests. Ward’s Boston Quad and his fundraising efforts caught the attention of Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell. At the Council Meeting, Mitchell proclaimed April 25, 2019, to be Ultrarunner Henry Ward Day in the City of Tempe. It was the latest sign that his love of running and commitment to living a healthy life are making a difference in the world.
Once Hotfoot Hamster is done, Ward will turn his focus to preparation for the Javelina Jundred, a 100-mile race in the desert outside of Phoenix in October. He has finished the race twice before, in 2016 and 2018, but the heat makes it tough and the companionship of friends and fellow runners make it unforgettable. Kind of like the Boston Quad, actually, which already has been weighing on Ward’s mind for 2020.
“It’s too early to say,” Ward said, pausing for a moment before adding, “but I almost set up the event page for it the other day …”
Then, on May 1 he made it official.