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For local man, it’s 25 Boston marathons down, one to go

Hassan Haydar, who has run every Boston Marathon since 2001, says that because of running, “I definitely have become a better person.”

Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe

Hassan Haydar, who has run every Boston Marathon since 2001, says that because of running, “I definitely have become a better person.”

QUINCY — Every Sunday morning since mid-April, Hassan Haydar has run the Boston Marathon course from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back Bay. Counting the official Boston Marathon that he ran on April 16, that makes 25 consecutive 26.2-mile runs on the route notorious for the leg-numbing, spirit-crushing Heartbreak Hill.

Only one more to go.

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Haydar, 62, wants to run 26 Boston Marathons in a row. That will be 681.2 miles, or about 1,092,000 steps, he says.

And why is he running 26 marathon courses in 26 weeks, and urging everyone else to join him for as much of the route as they can?

“It makes you realize that nothing is impossible,” he said.

So far, about 15 people — including his wife, Warde, and visiting daughter, Sue — have joined sporadically in the “26for26” quest. One week, six runners were there, other times three or four. 

But usually it’s just the slender Haydar and his friend Bill McCabe, 59, of Stoneham, who has joined him for every run and says “God willing” and barring an epic catastrophe, he plans to make all 26. 

Bill McCabe, Haydar’s running partner, kneels at the finish line and crosses himself after finishing the Boston Marathon course Sunday.

Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe

Bill McCabe, Haydar’s running partner, kneels at the finish line and crosses himself after finishing the Boston Marathon course Sunday.

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“I got roped in,” McCabe said. “I thought this was the craziest thing I’d ever heard, and I decided to do it because of the challenge. It’s an endurance test.”

“It’s taken a lot out of my body,” he added, after chugging over the yellow finish line on Boylston Street, on Sept. 23, for the 24th time. “My Achilles tendons are bugging me and my left hamstring has been hurting since mile 17. Normal people get beat up doing this.

“But not him,” McCabe said, pointing to a chipper Haydar, who had crossed the finish line almost an hour earlier, barely sweating, in a relaxed time of 3 hours, 29 minutes. “He’s a cyborg.”

Chris Baker, a Quincy resident who drives a van that takes the runners at 6 a.m. from Quincy’s Marina Bay to Hopkinton , and follows them with water for Haydar and a more elaborate smorgasbord of liquids and energy-boosting snacks for McCabe, has nicknames for both men.

Haydar is “Superman” for obvious reasons, Baker said.

McCabe is “Ironman” for his grit and determination, and because in July he did a half Ironman race on a Saturday — a 1.2-mile swim in Lake Mascoma, a 56-mile bike ride, and 13-mile run — and still the showed up the next day to run from Hopkinton to Boston.

“It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’ when we see that Hopkinton sign,” said McCabe, referring to the movie that has Bill Murray repeating the same day over and over. “When you get close to Cleveland Circle and start seeing trolleys, it does cross my mind to jump on one, or take a cab.

“But I do this for my [eight] grandchildren — to show that you can do anything if you never give up,” he said. “You don’t have to be the best; you just have to keep going.”

For their part, Haydar and McCabe call 31-year-old Baker their “secret weapon” and say the venture would be logistically near impossible without his volunteer commitment. Baker has driven the van every week, even after he lost his fiancée, who died of complications from a long illness. 

McCabe said he started running about five years ago when his doctor told him he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol and needed to go on medication. Instead McCabe changed his diet and started running. He lost 32 pounds — he’s down to 162 at 5 foot 10 — and lowered both his blood pressure and cholesterol. And he caught the running bug.

Haydar, a property manager in Quincy, first took up running in the 1980s when his daughter was on her school track team and needed a practice partner. He had played soccer as a youngster on the streets of Beirut but never was an athlete.

The first time he ran with Sue he “went about 200 feet and just about collapsed,” Haydar said. “The 200 became 300 and so on [until] finally I was able to do the 1.9-mile loop [around their Marina Bay neighborhood] without stopping. I thought I was a hero when that happened.”

It wasn’t until 12 years ago, though, that Haydar started running seriously, joining the L Street Running Club in South Boston at the urging of a friend. On the first run, a 5-mile circuit around the UMass-Boston campus, Haydar finished dead last, but was thrilled that he’d survived. He quickly discovered the joy of running, and found that he was a natural distance runner.

He ran his first Boston Marathon in 2001 and has done every one since — including two “backwards Bostons” in 2006 and 2010, when he ran the course in reverse from Boston to Hopkinton and then back again with the rest of the regular participants. He’s run numerous other races, often finishing in the top of his age group or the front of the whole pack.

He has also become an advocate of the sport, offering testimonials to its benefits to both body and soul.

“It’s amazing what it does to your thinking, how you treat other people,” he said. “I definitely have become a better person. You are pushed a little higher than daily life. And it’s improved my health drastically. I feel as good as when I was 20 years old.” 

Haydar is hoping more people will share the experience and join him and McCabe for the final run of the “26for26” so they can feel the “confidence and satisfaction” that comes from setting a goal and achieving it.

“The hardest part is putting on your sneakers,” he said, noting that he’s worn through four pairs since April. “The challenge is sticking to it. If you can do 30 minutes three times a week for three months, then you’re a runner.”

The last run in Haydar’s challenge will be Saturday and he already knows what he’s wearing: a T-shirt his daughter made him with the message “26 for 26, 681.2 miles, 0 excuses.” He also knows he and McCabe will thank God for getting them through the ordeal.

And what’s next? 

McCabe is going salmon fishing with his son, and then training for the New York Marathon in November.

Haydar will be running a marathon in November, too; he’s been invited to the Beirut Marathon in the country he left in the 1970s. Before that, he’ll do the Bay State Marathon in Lowell and run the “Clam Chowdah Challenge,” a marathon and a half on Cape Cod. 

“It’s like graduating from college,” Haydar said of the end of the weekly running ritual. “You’re looking forward to it, but when it’s over you are going to miss it in so many ways. But I’m sure this is an opening for something bigger.”

Hassan Haydar’s webpage, 26for26.com, has details on how to join him on his run.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

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