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henri renaud
A Local Hero
Below is a selection from the April 20, 1909 Nashua Telegraph.

"Yesterday, Henri Renaud of Nashua, New Hampshire, won the thirteenth annual BAA Marathon Race in a time of 2:53:36. The temperature rose to 97 degrees, with the sun melting tar in spots. Ninety-one on 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."

Interview: "When I started I was nearly choked with dust, but when we got going a little; I did not mind it so muchI 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.

I did not stop running when I came to the hills, but stuck to my stride and did not lose any unnecessary strength in getting over them. I did not eat during the race and took but two drinks of waterI knew that those in front of me were going too fast and that the hills would kill them off. I got up to Jensen and Grant at Coolidge Corner, but I was sure that I could last longer than they, and I found that I could pass them without any trouble, and I did it when about two miles from home.

I found myself the leader and I ground my teeth together and said to myself, 'Henri, now is your chance, go do it.' I was determined that none should pass me if it cost me my life and I began to plug for all I was worth. My father came in a car ahead of me and when I saw himmy heart was full of joy and I could see the tape only a few yards away. I was as fresh as when I started and was ready to go ten miles more, at least I think so.

My father urged me to enter and about two weeks ago I did so. My greatest trouble was getting the time in which to train. I go to work at 6:30 and get home after 6 at night. So you see I had to do my training after supper. A week ago I ran ten miles and last Tuesday night eleven miles. I never had anyone to train me except a chum named Fournier; who sometimes used to run with me until he had to drop out on account of the pace I set for him. I trained on bread and butter and a little meat now and then, with a cup of tea at all my meals. I have always lived at home and believe that the good food I get there gave me such a good constitution."

Profile: Henri Renaud was born in Nashua nineteen years ago and still lives here, where he is employed by the Nashua Manufacturing Company. He began running last September, and on September 12th; he won the first race he ever entered, a four and a half mile cross country race in Manchester. His time was 29:30. In January, he competed in a marathon from Ashland to the Braves Field in Boston. He finished thirteenth. It was a desire to beat his time made in this race by thirty minutes that led him to enter the BAA race. He accomplished this feat and more. With his new fame, he is expected to be invited by New York promoters to compete in the Marathon Derby to be held at the Polo Grounds."

Other information in the April 20, 1909 Telegraph included the Sox record of 3-0 and the sale of a 100 acre farm, complete with a three story house, large barn, and a carriage house in Westford for $2000.

Henri's trainer stated the Nashua should hold a reception to show its appreciation "of the honor that the young fellow has brought to the city." I don't know if a reception was held.

After winning the marathon in Boston, Henri was greeted at the Nashua Train Station by a large crowd which included several members of the social club to which he belonged. Nashua at this time had many social clubs; usually organized by nationalities. These social/ethnic clubs often competed against each other in athletic events, so one can imagine how the members of Henri's Montcalm Club felt about one of their members winning the most prestigious race in America. A testimonial dinner was held for Henri, and a fund was established to raise money for "a suitable token of appreciation on the part of Nashua citizens (for winning) the most gruelling contest which has ever been run." (Nashua Telegraph)

Henri was able to earn some money from his victory. The owner of a Lowell theatre hired him to narrate an account of the race which was presented with slides. Henri ran in several exhibitions held prior to several New England road races. I assume he collected appearance money.

Henri was excited to be receiving attention. Years later, he told a friend that he was so excited he ran to Pepperell and back each day for weeks. However, he also said that after a few months, he was a nobody again.

Road racing was popular in Nashua during the spring and summer of 1909. The Nashua Telegraph carried many articles about upcoming races and reported results from as far away as Philadelphia. It was reported that Dorando Pietri (who almost won the 1908 Olympic Marathon) was returning home to Italy after earning $27,000 touring in the United States. Henri probably had dreams of similar riches.

A twenty mile race was held in May. It began at Railroad Square; continued on Main St. to E. Hollis; E. Hollis to the river; Canal St. to RR Square; Main St. to Lake St.; and finally, Lake St. to the Fairgrounds where thirty laps were run on a track. Henri ran in an exhibition held before the race.

Henri's popularity was so great that he starred in one of the first professional movies shot in this area which was shot in Hudson in 1909 or 1910.

The main races of the summer were held on July 4th. Anyone could enter a ten mile race (there was not post registration even then), but the big event was Henri against a relay team of three runners over a fifteen mile course. The Nashua Telegraph began its coverage over a month before the race; and the sponsor (a clothier firm) displayed the large silver bowl it was awarding as the prize in its store window next to the bowl Henri won for the Boston Marathon. Henri did not do well, however. He was never in contention, not even during the first lap.

Racing in Nashua was a male, blue-collar sport. One old time runner said that baseball and running were the only type of entertainment the poor could afford. Boys often took up running as a means to get to their jobs. If a runner was fast enough to get a reputation, a local club would sponsor him to travel and compete against other clubs. In 1910, a fund was established to send Henri to Boston a week before the marathon, so he would not have to travel on the day before the race. There were news stories of small crowds going to the train station to wish Henri luck when he left for races in Raymond and other New Hampshire towns.

Road racing was popular in the United States at this time. Americans had won the Olympic Marathons in 1904 and 1908. Henri's victory in Boston boosted local interest in running immensely.

In 1910, there was a lot less coverage of running in the paper. There was only one mention of Henri that I found. He was not as great a runner (hero) as people in Nashua had assumed. (Twenty years later, his brother told the press that Henri was not much of a runner before that one day and was not much of a runner after that day. He thought that race in high temperatures permanently took something out of him.) Local interest in racing seemed to die along with public interest in Henri. Except for small articles on the Boston Marathon each April 20th, running was not covered by The Nashua Telegraph after 1910.

Henri may have competed in the Boston Marathon a few more times. In 1910, he finished twentyúp;fourth. Other competitors who did not believe in running everyday or doing high mileage blamed his poor showing on the twenty mile run he did five days before the race. As far as I know, he stopped running and racing by 1914. His interest in active sports continued for a few years as he became a professional boxer.

After serving in World War I, he settled in Hudson and became a farmer, then a carpenter, and finally, a real estate agent. He moved back to Nashua and lived on Vine Street.
Henri's son was on the Nashua High track team in the late 1930's, but the family running tradition seems to end there. Neither of his grandchildren who lives in the area became a runner.

The silver bowl won at Boston was sold with other valuables during the depression. Henri's son tried to find the trophy several times to re-purchase it but was unsuccessful. A family fire destroyed other trophies, but there is still a scrapbook Henri's grandson has that dates from 1909.
Henri died in Nashua in November of 1957 while crossing the Daniel Webster Highway near the present Subaru dealership. He was seventy years ago and still working as a real estate agent. He was a victim of a drunk driver. He was buried in St. Louis' Cemetery here in Nashua.