Bethany College track and cross country coach Aaron Yoder spends a lot of time on the treadmill in the Lindsborg, Kansas, school’s cardio room. It doesn’t seem unusual unless you see what he’s doing — running backward.
Yoder has been training for this weekend’s world championships for backward running, or retrorunning, in Bologne, Italy. Yoder is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as a record-holder in three retrorunning events: 1 mile (5 minutes, 54.25 seconds), 1000 meters and 4X400m relay. Plus, he’s awaiting ratification for a world record in the 200m, which he did last year on the campus track.
Yoder’s first world record came three years ago with the mile, a distance with deep roots in Kansas; think legendary Olympians Glenn Cunningham, (1932 and ’36), Wes Santee (1952) and Jim Ryun (1964, ’68 and ’72).
A few years earlier, doctors advised him not to run, period. 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,” the 32-year-old 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, said 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,” said Ware, who also backs up Yoder’s claims that running backward is easier on the joints.
He added that there’s another other 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, Kansas, saying he did it “because I was trying to get in better shape for other sports.”
Retrorunning is popular in Europe, and this is the seventh running of the International Retrorunning championships, which happen every other year.
One of Yoder’s former athletes at Bethany, Noah Smucker, said Yoder’s backward treadmill habit caught his attention at first —because of how much time Yoder spends on it. It was enough to wear out and break one of the training center treadmills, Smucker said.
“I always knew he was a little different,” he said. “When I saw him do that, I definitely knew he was a something different.”
Yoder takes that as a compliment. Though he said he comes from a family that likes to stay active, no one else within 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, adding, “They just said, ‘Aaron is just doing what he does.’”
But things have changed. Yoder’s twin brother and his parents are now retro-running and also will compete in this week’s world championships.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.