Why going backward is the new going forward

Retro-runner Garret Doherty, pictured at the World Championships in Italy.
Retro-runner Garret Doherty, pictured at the World Championships in Italy.

Carndonagh’s Garret Doherty recently won accolades at the World Retro Running Championships. He tells the ‘Journal’ why he’ll always look back.

There’s a school of thought that success in life is achieved by never going backwards.

But Carndonagh man Garret Doherty, has achieved what he terms “his purpose in life” by doing just that.

The 35-year-old is Ireland’s most famous and also most successful backward or retro runner.

He is a three-time world champion and earlier this month, achieved gold in three events at the World Retro Running Championships in Italy.

The event welcomes over 200 competitors from 12 different countries.

As well as being just one second off breaking the world record, Garret also achieved his own personal best and once again, propelled the sport of backwards running into the public eye.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this week from his home in Dublin, Garret urged people across Inishowen to “look at life from a different perspective” and see what backwards running can do for them.

Garret, a former dancer, always enjoyed running and was doing so - forwardly- in Fairview Park in Dublin one day in 2009.

He said: “It was the first sunny day of the year. I had my t-shirt off and suddenly came to a part where there was no more sun and I was in the shade.

I stopped and thought: “I want to have the sun in my face.” There and then, I decided to run backwards and it was great. I started to do it more frequently, a bit and a time and loved it. I began to experience huge benefits from it. I realised I had to keep doing this.”

When Garret began to research backwards running, he found it was somewhat of an ancient art.

“It is understood to have its origins in China but it is still largely unknown.

“It’s interesting to find that the last three World Cup winning countries are big into backward running. Many famous sports people also do it. It’s not hard to see why as the benefits really are immense and I have experienced them.

“When you’re running backwards, your back is straighter. You stand taller, improving your posture and in turn, your confidence. It is a right-brain aerobic activity, which is low impact and gets the blood flowing, burning more calories.

“It can help you live longer and potentially prevents dementia.

“It is tough to do - you will definitely feel it in your calves. Five minutes of it is plenty at the beginning and then you build it up.”

Garret told how retro-running suits his “non-conforming character”

He said: “It’s about doing what you want and not caring about Joe Public and what they think.”

He added there was and still is a “human fascination” about what he is doing.

“Everyone is intrigued by it. They do stop and look at you. But you’re able to tell them about what you’re doing and what’s so good about it.

“You have to stand up straight and be proud. People are going to be pointing at you and looking but that’s ok.”

The interest in backwards running and in Garret himself has extended outside his homes in Donegal and Dublin.

Garret has been featured on national and international media and is known, rightfully so, as the world’s fastest backwards runner.

He’s featured on the BBC, Daily Mail and India Times, among others.

Recently, he went up against Today FM host Ray D’arcy in a backwards running challenge for his much-listened to radio show.

For Garret, this publicity and the highlighting of the sport are only beneficial.

His name has become so synonymous with it, he is now teaching its benefits to children in ten schools across Dublin.

“It’s fantastic for children to learn,” he said.

“Our children are leaving school with six A’s, but they don’t know how to walk properly and stand up straight. I can see how this is giving them confidence. When you’re running backwards, you use a different part of your brain. So, it’s not only good for the body, but also the mind, which is good for development.”

He adds: “When you start to go backwards, you begin to look at life from a different perspective.

“We’re always rushing forward, all the time. Rushing forward to the next goal, the next big thing. But, why do we have to be going one way all the time? Why can we not look backwards? You rush forward with the blinkers on, Look backwards and begin to appreciate where you are and what you have.”

While Garret has experienced all the benefits of backward running, he has also branched out into other areas, including barefoot running and interestingly, nude running.

“The organiser of the retro running championships told me about that one. It turned out I’m a natural naturist. I’m now a three-time nude running champion.

“I also run with shoes and I run without shoes. People ask me why I run with no shoes and I say: “Because I run with shoes every other day.” It’s about doing what you want to do. Don’t let people and what they think hold you back. Running nude or without shoes gives me a sense of freedom.

As well as teaching retro running, which he describes as his “purpose in life,” Garret is also working as a landscape gardener.

He urges anyone who is interested in backward running to try it out.

“You won’t regret it. It truly is fantastic. It will make you physically fitter, improve your memory, give your body and mind a good workout and more. What could be better?

“I’m available to teach anyone who wants to try it out.”