Thursday, February 08, 2007

Henri Renaud, 1890 - 1957

It's been seasonably cold in New England this week. Daytime temperatures are stuck in the teens and twenties. When the wind picks up, it numbs faces and sends people scurrying for cover. I say it's about time. Although I've enjoyed this mild winter as much as anyone, there's been something missing; a figurative cloud hanging over us. The cold weather this week has set things straight.

Believe it or not, one of the things I've missed is cold weather running. I realize most people don't understand the attraction of running outside in the cold. When I run during the day at work, people question my sanity. I could try to convince you we cold weather runners are an incredibly hardy lot, a cut above the rest, but I'd be lying. After all, most of us depend on layers and layers of high tech clothing to stay warm. Compared with Henri Renaud, we are pampered pretenders.

A hundred years ago, Henri Renaud could be seen running through the streets of Nashua, New Hampshire on cold winter nights. Still in his late teens, Henri was employed as a mill worker by the Nashua Manufacturing Company. Since he had to be at work by 6:30 AM and didn't get home until after 6:00 PM, he had to train at night. After a meager supper, he would hit the streets. I'm guessing he did so in all kinds of weather. I know he didn't have the benefit of the high tech running clothes we have today. People must have thought Renaud was crazy -- until he entered and won the 1909 Boston Marathon.

Although Henri Renaud must have trained through the cold 1909 winter, the weather on race day was a different story. According to the April 20, 1909 edition of the Nashua Telegraph race day was hot:
The temperature rose to 97 degrees, with the sun melting tar in spots. Ninety-one of the one hundred sixty-four entrants did not complete the distance, and nine men who led at various times during the first twenty miles all dropped out. Renaud was in fifty-third place in Framingham, twenty-eighth at the half way mark, and third after twenty-four miles. But, after he passed his last two opponents, he turned on the burners and won by almost four minutes.
In an interview Renaud said:
"When I started I was nearly choked with dust, but when we got going a little, I did not mind it so much. I ran my own race and refused to be coached by anybody, for I knew just what I could do and how fast I could run the distance. Some fellows wanted me to drop out, as they said I was all in when I reached Wellesley, but I am an American for speed, and a Frenchman for gameness, and I guess that will hold them for a while."
Remarkably, the city of Nashua has largely forgotten Henri Renaud today. There is no monument, park or school building with his name on it. He is well known in local running circles, but I think his story, if it were better known, could be an inspiration to everyone in the area. Despite working long hours during the day and unfavorable training conditions, he worked hard at his sport. Despite hot temperatures on race day and doubters on the sidelines, he ran his own race and won the Boston Marathon. Henri Renaud is an unsung local hero. Perhaps he is an American hero.

For more on Henri Renaud, see Allan Rube's Henri Renaud page.


BLM said...

Hi, I just found this Henri was my Great Grandfather! Thank you so very much for all you have said. My cousins and I have always talked about what could be done to honor him. I would love to talk to you more and show you what clippings etc I have. Sadly, most of his trophies he loaned to a traveling exhibit that never returned them.

Brett Misenor

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I saw your post on CV and Personal Designer. I am the guy from the small Seattle based company who created PD. I would love to use your post on that topic in a paper I want to attach to my resume. I know the story quite well myself, and, of course, I can tell it in my own words. But you tell the story of PD's demise so well, and coming from you it couldn't possibly have more credibility. I am trying to get a hold of you to get permission to use that piece.

If you wouldn't mind dropping me a note, I would appreciate it.
Steve Ford