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This Coach Wants To Be The Next World Champion In Backward Running

Aaron Yoder is training for the world championships for backward running, or retrorunning, in Bologna, Italy.
Aaron Yoder is training for the world championships for backward running, or retrorunning, in Bologna, Italy.

At Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., track and cross country coach Aaron Yoder spends a lot of time on the treadmill. That's not so unusual, until you watch what what he's doing — running backward.

Yoder has been training for this weekend's world championships for backward running, also called retro running, in Bologna, Italy. Yoder is recognized by the Guinness World Records as a record-holder in three retro running events: the 1 mile (5 minutes, 54.25 seconds), 1000 meter, and 4x400-meter relay. Plus, he's awaiting ratification for a world record in the 200 meter, which he ran last year on the campus track.

A few years ago, doctors advised him to stop running entirely. He was a high school champion in the mile, but by his mid 20s, a chronically injured left knee led to arthritis.

Running backward, however, made Yoder feel more comfortable.

"A big difference is the stress you put on your joints," Yoder, 32, said. "When you're running backward, you don't have as much pressure on your knee because you're landing behind yourself."

Dr. Brian Ware, a podiatrist in Kansas City and a runner himself, says he understands Yoder's reluctance to give up running all together.

"With runners it's a mindset. We do not like to take time off," Ware says.

Ware also backs up Yoder's claims that running backward is easier on the joints.

He adds that there's another benefit to backward running.

"The posture is a little bit better backward running. When you tend to get fatigued in forward running, your back muscles get overused because you lean forward," Ware said.

Running backward piqued Yoder's interest during his middle school years in Peabody, Kan. He says saying he did it "because I was trying to get in better shape for other sports."

Retro running is popular in Europe, and this is the seventh International RetroRunning World Championships, which are held every other year.

Noah Smucker, one of Yoder's former athletes at Bethany, says Yoder's backward treadmill habit caught his attention at first — mostly because of how much time Yoder spent on it. It was enough to wear out and break one of the heavy-duty training center treadmills.

"I always knew he was a little different," he says. "When I saw him do that, I definitely knew he was a something different."

Aaron Yoder takes that as a compliment. Though he says he comes from a family that likes to stay active, no one else in the family ran backward.

"My mom would tell of [when] we would go out in the country — she'd have her bike — and she would time me while I did some mile runs," he said. "They just said, 'Aaron is just doing what he does.'"

But things have changed. Yoder's twin brother and his parents are now retro runners and also competing in the world championships.

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