« Wearable Blanket | Home | BehindTheMedspeak: Doomsday preppers shouldn't buy Covid tests »

July 27, 2022

Running Backwards

[Raj Hathiramani cranes his neck to avoid collisions as he runs backward through New York City's Flatiron neighborhood.]

From the Wall Street Journal:

When Sarthak Malani passes other runners in a half-marathon, the astonished look on their faces gives him a little ping of satisfaction.

Mr. Malani has a clear view of those faces. He runs backward.

"People are always telling me I’m going the wrong way,” Mr. Malani said.

If so, he isn’t the only one. More runners these days are reversing direction, even on treadmills—turning around and running where they can’t see ahead. What could possibly go wrong?

Some are running backward to fight boredom, some to challenge their coordination and balance, and some, as in Mr. Malani's case, in hopes of rehabbing an injury.

He turned to backward running, also known as retro running, six years ago after a knee injury sidelined him. The injury meant that Mr. Malani, a marketing manager for a men's grooming brand in Ahmedabad, India, and devoted runner, had to take a long break.

"I was willing to try anything, no matter how silly," to get back on the road, he said. Then he read that going in reverse, because the mechanics of it were so different, might help his knee heal.

It took some getting used to. He went to a park and carefully started putting one foot behind another.

Running backward has been part of some competitive runners' training for a long time, said Raj Hathiramani, a coach at the Mile High Run Club in New York City. where he includes it in conditioning programs.

Fitness coaches like him cite all sorts of reasons why something as strange as running backward could be good for us.

"You are forced to maintain a more upright and neutral running posture, keeping your head steady, shoulders over your hips, and hips over your feet while driving your arms by your sides," said Mr. Hathiramani. "We land more on the balls of our feet than our heels, activating our glutes and calves and reducing pressure on our knees."

Another benefit: less guilt about the post-run beer. Studies have shown that running backward burns around double the calories as running forward at the same pace.

For Mr. Hathiramani, going in reverse felt kind of natural: He once was a tour guide at Princeton University, accustomed to hour-long stretches of talking to tourist groups while he walked backward to face them.

Mr. Hathiramani credits the growing popularity to retro running videos on social media.

Twitter, devotees trade stories about a hazard faced by all runners — curious dogs. "Dogs are fascinated by my retro running," said one poster. "Some give me a double-take and others want to play."

Gyms are where many people first try their foot at backward running. Gym chains including Equinox and Barry's Bootcamp incorporate it in group fitness classes.

In terms of curious stares, running backward in a group is one thing — it's another to be the lone eccentric on a treadmill who’s turned the wrong way and trying to keep upright.

Frankie Ruiz is the Chief Running Officer for the Life Time Group Holdings Inc. gym chain, but even he picks a treadmill in the far back corner of the gym when he wants to go in reverse.

Strange looks don't bother Hannah Swenson. "I'm not self-conscious about it at all," said Ms. Swenson, a sales engineer for Google in New York. "I do way weirder stuff on my strength days, like crab walks."

Ms. Swenson, who is training for her first marathon, switched directions to fight the monotony of treadmill running. She ramps up the incline to 15% and walks backward at 2 miles per hour, half the speed she would walk at the same incline going forward. The change forces her to concentrate on something other than the time and speed glowing on the treadmill screen.

When Mr. Malani, the Indian man who turned around when a knee injury interrupted his regular running, was ready to try a backward 5-kilometer race, he enlisted a group of friends to act as his eyes and warn of potholes or other hazards.

When on the road by himself, he has to rely on repeated glances over his shoulder. He alternates shoulders to keep from straining his neck too much.

Mr. Malani has made a lot of backward progress. He has completed eight half-marathons while turned around, with a personal best time of 2 hours and 30 minutes.

He also has earned a local nickname: "the madman."

So far, competitive backward running remains a niche sport. Going forward, so to speak, that could change.

A top American retro runner, Aaron Yoder of Lindsborg, Kansas, helped launch this year's first-ever U.S. Backward Running Championships, which took place on July 9 in Alexandria, Virginia and featured backward races from 100 meters through 800 meters and a retro mile.

Mr. Yoder holds what is generally regarded as the world record for the backward mile, set in the virtual New Balance 5th Avenue Mile in New York City, which he ran on September 5, 2020: 5 minutes and 30 seconds. That's faster than most people can go when turned the right way.

Given what could trip you up if you run where you can't see, the safest place to try retro running is on a treadmill or a track, said David Siik, founder of Precision Run, a treadmill training program from Equinox.

For outdoors, Mr. Siik suggests a soft, grassy area. "If you stumble, don't try to break the fall with your hands," he said. "Land on your butt."



my POV video running backwards in my yard.

July 27, 2022 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


The comments to this entry are closed.