Sunday 17 December 2017

My fitness secret? I run backwards...

Thinkstock Images
Thinkstock Images
John Meagher

John Meagher

Backwards runnin is unorthodox but effective

Garret Doherty has got used to the stares, the finger-pointing, the name-calling.

As one of the world's greatest backwards runners, the Dublin-based Donegal man has had to develop a tough skin.

"If you're the kind of person who gets embarrassed easily, then this type of running isn't for you," he says. "But the benefits really outweigh any anxiety about how you might look to others."

Backwards running is exactly what it sounds like. The idea is that you exercise a whole new set of muscles by running backwards, taking care to look over your shoulder frequently.

Garret is evangelical about the benefits and well he might be. He has just broken his own world record for the backwards mile. His time of seven minutes is better than what most keen runners are capable of over the same distance going forwards.

Now, he has his sights on a three-and-a-half hour time for a fully backwards marathon.

"I've been running this way for over three years and my overall fitness and general health have improved massively," he says. "Not only are you working out muscles that wouldn't normally get exercised, but you're making your brain work harder too. "I know it might sound fluffy, but your body, mind and soul are at one when you're backwards running. There's nothing passive about it -- you're living in the moment, partly because you're doing your best not to trip up."

It all started by accident. He was running in St Anne's Park, Raheny, Dublin, on a bright summer's day when his path took him away from the sun. Keen to soak up as much of the sun's rays as possible, he turned to face it and started jogging backwards.

It was a revelation. "It felt like a completely alien thing to do," he says.

"But every time I went out to run after that, I ran at least part of it backwards and I saw that it was improving my fitness while also making me more efficient, and faster, when I ran forward.

"It helped with my pronation (a word runners use to describe how the foot lands when in motion). Backwards running also tightens the stomach muscles in a way that forward running doesn't."

He soon learnt that backwards running -- or retro running, as it's more officially known -- has a growing stream of devotees worldwide.

"It's always a good idea to vary your modes of exercise," Garret says. "It keeps things interesting and most people I know who've tried retro running have enjoyed it because it's a really fun thing to do. I'd advise people to do it in pairs."

Fitness instructor Hannah Nolan (see has also noticed the benefits of this form of running. "I've been doing it since the beginning of the year and I've found it's improved my fitness and helped with toning my calf muscles," she says.

"I'll never forget the first time I tried it. My muscles ached when I went to bed."

Unlike Garret, Hannah is reluctant to take her interest in retro running to the streets.

"I'd be too self-conscious!"

Hannah knows more than most about the difficulties of shifting unwanted pounds. It took her two years and four months to go from heavily obese to the super-toned, fit woman she is today. She shed seven and a half stone over that period. "You have to be very motivated," she says.

"And when you get the weight off, you have to be very vigilant not to put it back on. That's where mixing up your routine -- throwing in something like retro running -- can really help."

For more information see Garret Doherty's website

Irish Independent

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