Running Without the Devil


Ultra-runner Henry Ward from Chandler AZ shares his running story. Please follow Henry on Instagram @runningwithoutthedevil and check out his non-profit and his new book. This is part of an ongoing effort to capture runners' stories in their own words. If you would like to contribute to a future blog post with your runner story please contact us.

My name is Henry Ward and I am a recovering alcoholic and addict who has been sober since November 17, 2008. All aspects of my life were suffering including my health, relationships, marriage, finances, job performance, attitude and outlook on life. Honestly, I should be dead. You see, for 22 years, I abused drugs and alcohol. I had numerous drug and alcohol-related arrests. I almost lost my family. I almost lost my life. So the biggest challenge of my life came when I had to finally admit my addiction and seek help. I made one of the best decisions in my life and I checked myself into Valley Hope Tempe, and have been sober ever since. That was November 17, 2008. This ultimately saved my life. My life quickly started to change. I had to completely understand that I could never ever drink again. “One is too many, and 200 is not enough” is so true. By leaving everything up to God, I was able to remove the urge to drink and use. This is a miracle!

Life was going well, but I started to become a squirrely mess. I had no hobbies, I had anxiety and literally was ready to start climbing the walls! I needed to do something with all this energy, so I started distance walking. I had this idea that if I could run I could go further! I had asked a friend that we were going to be visiting, if he was going to run an 8k race (Glassfest 8k) where he lived. In Corning, NY. He said he would run if I did. I said sign me up! I didn’t even know how far an 8k was at the time! I ran two times leading up to the big day while pushing Sebastian in his stroller, and ran with him in the race. I hated every second of the race, and vowed never to run again. Every time a runner passed me, I was more and more angry. I honestly wanted to trip and elbow all runners I saw. But when I finished, I received a glass medallion, and also had a feeling that I will never forget. A feeling of accomplishment, and happiness, that prompted me to seek out another race as we went back to the friend’s house. I signed up for a 5k, then a 4 miler the following weekend including the Race Around Waltham Series in Massachusetts! The race I am most grateful for is the Glassfest 8k, because I did not give up, I did not quit.

I loved how I felt during and after running. Well, sometimes not feeling it while running, The runner’s high, and endorphin kick was like no other. I am thankful that I found running, and it has changed my life for the better. Not only does it help keep me stay sober, it helps me feel balanced, and live life on life’s terms. I was hooked on racing, then once it became easier, I really was hooked on running.

I am grateful for my recovery, my family, and to have found running! After I started running in May 2013, I quickly started reaping the benefits mentally, physically and spiritually. I started having success and found I really liked the longer distances. Nothing in moderation for addicts! I went from 5ks, to a half marathon, to a full marathon in my 1st year running, then was hooked on marathon distance, until I found out about ultrarunning, which is anything more than the traditional 26.2 miles! I like the challenges of pushing myself beyond my perceived barriers and limits. I ran my 1st ultra in 2015 and have several ultra distance races, and have done many of my own fundraising events including 4 consecutive years of The Boston Marathon Quad (Boston Marathon course 4 consecutive times 105 miles, and official marathon was # 4), 3 Mesa Marathon Quads, two 24-hour desert runs in the summer of Arizona, 24 hour track run, 12 hour treadmillathon, and most recently Satan's Sidewalk 66.6 hour treadmillathon in which I ran for 204 miles. All of these were fundraisers to raise money for those who are suffering from addiction who cannot afford treatment and get the help the help they need.  Click here for some articles and interviews about some of those concepts.

Running helps me with staying in the moment, especially trail running. I am a scatterbrain and clumsy at times and you really need to stay focused on watching where you plant each foot. Nobody likes to stub their toes, or to fall. Everything in the desert has a sharp protective layer, so this is extra important for Arizona! It has helped me at work, as well. Here is a great example: we were very short handed at work and needed to chop 200 pounds of fruit and 200 pounds of potatoes nightly. Being a hyperactive busybody, I hate routine tasks and hate standing in the same place for periods of time. I have decent knife skills because of my years as a chef, so I decided to suck it up and do these tasks myself. I could not worry about how long it would take me to do these tasks or how my hand would feel after chopping fifty pounds or one hundred fifty pounds. I needed to just worry about how I felt at the moment and be as efficient as possible. It sucks, but if you dwell on it and keep saying so in your head you are never going to finish, and you will be hating life! This can put you in a bad mood and carry over to the next task, and the next one and ruin your day if you let it. Or, you have the suck it up buttercup attitude and just find a way you push through and finish!

The Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging to everyone and I am no different. I was furloughed twice, and we had just bought a house. Both my wife and I are not working and have not been for a year. I knew that if we remain positive, embrace the forced change we would find a way to get through. Most days I start my day with a nice run or walk with Wini, my 11-pound Yorkshire Terrier, which sets me up for a great day! I promised to be flexible from the beginning of the pandemic. Back in April when this really started to unfold, I listened to a podcast about dealing with adversity, and specifically about dealing with the pandemic. It spoke about how to react and this really hit home. Someone had said, “There is no one way to deal with this pandemic.” And the host agreed and countered that by stating that, “Correct, but there are certainly wrong ways to deal with it. One could abuse illicit drugs or alcohol, abuse their significant others, their children, mentally or physically, they could binge watch Netflix and eat chips all day on the couch, they could do all of these things and self-destruct. Or they could meditate, do yoga, fitness, run, walk, self-help, learn something new, read more, or simply do things they complained they did not have time to do before. Or they could spend more time with their loved ones they live with!” Imagine that? Be with the ones you love the most, more? I chose to take advantage of this time. I got to run more, write this book, it brought my family closer, I started a non-profit, just to name a few things. I always wished I had more time; now I have the time so I embraced it.

This pandemic is still here, and let’s face it, there could be others. This is the time to “practice and learn from this one.” The ones that do not adapt and overcome, do not get help, that are self-destructing could be descending on a downward spiral they may not get out of. Life is hard, but we need to be our best to be there for our families, and to make a difference in this world. If you are struggling with anything, speak up and do not suffer in silence. There are resources; there is help. Tell anyone, even a complete stranger. Get out of your own head; sometimes it is not a great place to go alone. You only get one chance in this life, be the best you, be the best you can. We owe it to ourselves to see what we are capable of.

Nobody saw the Covid-19 pandemic coming. God and sobriety prepared me for this past year. As hard as this year was for everyone, I already knew that if I have faith and keep listening to God, good things will come of this. God taught me in sobriety to continue working on myself, continue to strengthen my relationships, and to be the best me and be of service to others. I just continued doing this, lived in the moment, and was not as stressed as most others. I tried to live in the moment, go with the flow, and since I understand most of the pandemic is not in my control, I chose to only control what I can. I basically worked for 4 months on and off this past year, and eventually was let go from my job. I was 100% okay with that; God has bigger plans for me that I know from having faith, and that I know from my relationship with God. Without him in my life, I would be nothing.

I run and do some of the “crazy things” I do because I can. I was given a gift, and if God gives you a gift, do not waste those gifts. I applaud people that find their calling or their niche or are simply happy doing what they do. If they love or excel at knitting, chess, tiddlywinks, soccer, or crosswords puzzles, more power to them. If it makes them happy doing those things and they share their experiences, tips, and passion I applaud them. I am 50, I still love WWE wrestling, the Simpsons, Impractical Jokers. Is there something wrong with that if it makes me happy? I think not, you be you.

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