Retro running is not lacing up in a pair of 1980 LA Trainers, pulling on the neon short shorts and hitting the roads. Retro running is running backwards, and the king is Thomas Dold. He tells us how he mastered the art.
It was a fellow member of Thomas Dold’s local running club in the Black Forest who suggested the then 17-year-old try out for the German Open Championships for backwards running. Intrigued, he gave it a go and ran 4:07 in the 1km novice race – a time six seconds swifter than the elite race.
“This gave me the incentive to carry on,” says Dold. “I trained for the next three months and got my 1km PB down to 3:36.”
Dold, now 31, owns every world record for running backwards from 400m to 10km (with the exception of the 5000m). His range is incredible: 69.56 for the 400m, 2:31.1 for the 800m and 5:46.59 for the mile. He achieved his latest record – 39:20 for the 10km – in Dresden last year.
So why his versatility so extraordinarily good?
“I’m not sure I could run 69 seconds for the 400m any longer (he posted that mark 11 years ago), he admits. “Also the 10km record was really hard for me, but the most important thing with all records is a good technique. Maybe, if you have a good technique it is easier.”
For safety reasons, Dold recommends training on a track.
There is no great secret to training for backwards running. To run faster you have to, er, run backwards – a lot. When recently preparing for a world record attempt at 10km, Dold ran around 50km a week backwards, with a further 50km a week forwards.
For safety, Dold recommends training on a track. He has a training partner when running in the parks, which offers a perfect conversational opportunity.
“As I’m running backwards they are my eyes, so my training partner runs forwards alongside me. If you like to talk when you run, this is the perfect way to do it,” he says.
And, no, he insists he has never had any major accidents running backwards because the 31-year-old is “risk aware”. Sensible lad.
Good technique is the key to be a quality reverse runner, according to the German expert.
“If you played back on video a backward runner backwards [are you still with us?], running backwards should look nearly the same as forward running,” he says.
Dold also cites self-confidence (“because you can’t see where you are running”), good co-ordination and robust core stability as other qualities necessary to excel at the art.
Another essential ingredient to mastering retro running is, of course, being a good quality athlete. Dold is a 31:27 10km athlete (proudly recorded on the Hockenheim Formula One track) and a 15:29 5000m runner, so he is no mug.
He is also just as hot running vertically as he is backwards. Dold is a world-class stair-climber and tower runner and a seven-time former winner of the Empire State Run Up.
Is he running backwards or forwards in this picture?
Dold coaches the German marathons twins Lisa (PB 2:28) and Anna Hahner (2:26). As a proud representative of retro running, he has happily introduced backwards running into their training programme and he would suggest the same for other elite athletes too.
“It's the easiest method of alternative training for athletics because the athletes already own the running shoes, so I would recommend it to every athlete,” he says. “I wouldn’t necessarily suggest running 3km at full speed, but a 1-2km session is good because it trains the muscles on the other side of the leg and it is good for co-ordination.
Dold believes its biggest benefit of backwards running for conventional athletes is injury prevention.
“I have never had an injury in my career except for some blisters, and this is probably because of the backwards running,” he adds. “So although an athlete probably can’t run faster backwards than forwards, because you will be suffering fewer injuries you will ultimately be running faster forwards.”
So does he intend to add the one outstanding global mark missing from his CV – the 5000m? Damn right!
“Yes, and I think I can do it,” Dold says. The current record 19:31.89 is held by American Brian Godsey. “That is similar to the split time I did when setting my 10km record.”
The half marathon world record of 1:35:49 is another on Dold’s radar, although he is happy to concede the marathon mark.
“The most I have ever ran backwards before is 17km, the marathon just seems too far.”