Written by: Anja Hayes
For the past decade, Henry Howard has been on a mission to #FindJoy and inspire others to do the same. Aside from participating in nearly 35 ultramarathons and marathons collectively, he seeks to uplift the running community through incredible stories he writes on his website, runspirited.com. Beyond the time he invests in his own work, Henry is a personal coach with Marathon Training Academy and is committed to fostering the best in other racers. He understands the difficult path many dedicated athletes take. Having endured a bumpy start and thousands of hours of grueling training, Henry knows that crossing the finish line means more than the work before the race. Rather, strength to keep running often comes from a community. Just as he finds motivation from other ultrarunners, Henry uses his skills to bring other endurance athletes closer to finding their personal drive.
Henry launched his blog RunSpirited in 2017 as an effort to highlight members of the ultra and trail running community. As an experienced editor and writer, he recognizes the power of his peers’ stories and their ability to build momentum in others just as they do in him. “[Other runners] have overcome drugs, alcohol, or mental illness,” he explains. “Maybe they finish in the middle or back of the pack. But their stories are just as inspiring as the people in the front.” Henry quickly saw his blog grow into more than a passion project. Since launching, the blog aims to reflect the number one reason why Henry loves trail and ultra running: the people. “ I would like to see [RunSpirited] grow into something that can reach even more people,” he hopes. “The more we can raise up the community, the more the community will raise us up as well.”
Henry also aspires to shine light on the stories of underrepresented demographics within trail and road running. Henry notes that, “Finding more ways to get women involved,” in ultras and other races is crucial to the entire running world. “There definitely is a disparity, though it is getting better, of women at the start lines,” he asserts, adding that, “There is no one size fits all solution. There needs to be efforts by race directors to have women-friendly events. There needs to be better research done for women and their coaches to look at to understand training needs.” To celebrate Women’s International History Month in March, Henry sat down with accomplished USA Track and Field star Megan Roche to discuss the groundbreaking research she is conducting at Stanford University. Henry is confident that her work will break barriers and close gaps within the world of women’s athletic endurance.
The thousands of miles Henry has run and stories he has shared all began in 2011 with a simple quest to check off a bucket list item. Alongside other goals, like taking his kids to Disney World, he aimed to finish a marathon in the coming years as a way to reconnect with the lifestyle he was fond of as a young adult. “I always liked being active,” he reveals. “After college, I played softball with coworkers and random pickup basketball games with friends.” Preparations began soon after setting his goal, with a brisk mile-and-a-half jog. However, his eagerness to start was quickly replaced with fatigue: “I stopped three times, puked in my driveway when I got back, and couldn’t believe how out of shape I was.” He pushed past the embarrassing incident, unwilling to let it deter him from rediscovering the strength he first found in his youth. Within a year-and-a-half, Henry managed to check his goal from his bucket list at the Indianapolis Monumental, his first marathon milestone.
It was the independent nature of running that initially drew him. “As I got older,” he explains, “it was the individual sport appeal that got to me.” Henry also notes that his high school wrestling career likely influenced his preference for the lone road. He experienced a sudden change in view, however, around the 18th mile of Monumental, when he crossed paths with a remarkable stranger. “There was a woman out there, by herself, clapping for every runner who came by,” he recounts. “She kept saying ‘you can and you will.’” For Henry, her words of enthusiasm marked a transition of the meaning behind why he wanted to be a part of the race. Despite never learning her name, he can not forget the bystander’s graciousness. “Her, the volunteers, and the whole race community were so welcoming,” gushes Henry. “That was when I caught the bug.”
Beyond his brief encounter at Monumental, Henry has gained meaningful connections that expanded his horizons. He cites his first running coach, Angie Spencer, as one of these important influences, recalling first breaking ground with her through an unexpected workout. “Literally the first day of my training plan, she had me do yoga,” he recalls, adding that at the time, he did not understand how it benefited his training. “I thought, ‘I am a runner. What does this have to do with me?” With her help, though, Henry quickly saw the benefits of mindful movement and every lesson learned in training, running, and beyond. Later, as the two continued working together, Henry strived to go further than his role as a student and came full circle now coaching for MTA, which is owned by Angie and her husband.
For Henry, coaching runners is an important part in giving back to the community that guides him forward. Before focusing on coaching runners, he taught his sons tennis, baseball and other sports. Now, as a certified running coach, he naturally excels in mentoring runners, and loves doing so. Working with 15 or so other athletes, Henry is passionate about steering them towards paths of betterment. “I tell my athletes to dream big,” he says. “Don’t limit yourself… By showing up, you are going to achieve that goal.”
This year, Henry is also focusing on qualifying for Western States. He will soon be participating in the Zion 100k, where he hopes to gain his third ticket for the drawing into States. While his race calendar beyond Zion is unclear, Henry is certain about other goals: learning more about the community he loves and continuing to find joy in running. “Non-runners often find what we do hard to comprehend,” he mentions while describing the ultra community. “What we do is get up way before the sun is ready to rise; do hard workouts when it’s five degrees, rainy, hot, or windy. Day after day… all to get to the end of a race for a free banana and water. But that’s not why we do it. We do it to challenge ourselves, inspire others and to keep finding out what is possible.”