Timothy “Just Call Me Bud” Badyna is probably the most famous backward runner in the world, He has held world records in the 5K, 10K, 200 yard, and marathon for running backward, making him the man to beat in the world of reverse running.
Yet Badyna isn’t likely going to wind up on ESPN’s prime time coverage any time soon. Most people have never even seen a serious backward runner before, and there’s an even better chance that you’ve never run backward yourself, at least not for any sort of distance. It’s a fact that baffles Badyna, a life-long runner from St. Simon’s Island, Georgia.
“Backward running just isn’t popular in the United States,” Badyna says. “There are only two backward races in the entire country, and one of them was just cancelled.”
That’s not to say there isn’t a competitive backward running community out there. Europe is crazy over the sport. Okay, not exactly soccer-stadium-riot crazy…more like moderately enthusiastic. China also has a burgeoning backward running community, and Italy is the epicenter of all things backward. They have their own backward running national organization and you can usually find two or three races a month designated solely for those who like to jog in reverse.
Which brings up an obvious question: why would anyone want to run in reverse?
“It’s amazing what running backward can do for you,” Badyna says. “When I started out, I thought it was going to be bad for my body, but as it turns out, it’s the exact opposite. Running backward is great for your muscles and joints.”
For years, professional trainers have used short spurts of backward running as a tool to prevent injuries and break workout plateaus. Doctors and physical therapists often prescribe it to recovering athletes with knee problems, and Walter Payton used to run hills backward to build his quads.
What’s more, 25 years worth of studies completed at the University of Oregon suggest running forward is only 80 percent as hard as running backward, and that running backward burns one third more calories than its forward counterpart. Runners who go in reverse improve muscle balance and prevent injuries by accentuating different muscles and using different parts of overused muscles. Reverse running also allows bones and joints to absorb shock more affectively, and works the lungs more efficiently. If that’s not enough, running backward has been proven to speed the recovery of athletes with sprained ankles, knee injuries, pulled hamstrings, and shin splints.
And at least one impassioned backwards runner believes it can even help heal the world. Christian Grolle, the French webmaster of backward-running-backward.com wrote a proposal to the International Olympic Committee asking them to include a demonstration of mixed alternative running, which involves a male/female team of two running together, one facing forward and the other facing backward. Grolle’s Olympic petition suggests that mixed backward running provides a “perfect synchronization of their movements will pave the way for a much more harmonious era for the coming age.”
The verdict is still out as to whether running backward will save the world, but experts agree that it could save your body.