For Aaron Yoder, being a coach means being an example, even if he does things a little backwards.
The 35-year-old from Lindsborg, Kansas, takes this very literally as a world record-holding backwards runner. Also know as “retrorunning,” running backwards is a niche discipline in running like joggling or dribbling miles, and it has a global following, even hosting an annual world championships.
Yoder, the head coach of Bethany College’s cross country and track teams in Lindsborg, planned to run in those world championships this year. But when it was canceled by the global pandemic, he shifted to trying to top his own world record in the backwards mile.
Officially, Yoder set it last in 2015, running a 5:54. He beat that time in 2019 with a 5:51, but that paperwork is still making its way through the Guinness World Records system. With a new outlook on training, he thought he could go sub 5:45.
“My summer focus was trying to get under a five-minute mile [running forward] and training with the cross country team to get back into shape,” Yoder told Runner’s World. “My training switched away from backward running to forward running and getting stronger in the weight room. I also switched my diet and these little things made a big difference to getting to that next level.”
With those changes, Yoder was getting faster both forward and backward. So he planned to go after his world record on September 4, the first day of the virtual NYRR 5th Avenue Mile. But he was faced with another big challenge: finding a place to run his world-record attempt. And when you’re running backwards, roads can present big problems.
“I scouted a stretch of road the day before and it was terrible,” Yoder said. “So many potholes, construction. I was not feeling great about the safety, so I found another stretch that was cleaner and a little downhill.”
With his course mapped out, Yoder was ready. Before he went to bed on September 3, he wrote down 5:39 on his to-do list for race day.
On the morning of his record attempt, Yoder met up with his friend, Jim Turner, who planned to ride behind Yoder and direct him away from hazards on the road. After running a 78-second 400 during his warmup, he felt strong.
Yoder started out fast, hitting the 800-meter mark in 2:30—about 20 seconds ahead of pace. He moved around some construction shortly after, moving slightly toward the center of the road per Turner’s instructions. Once past that, he kept his cadence with 400 meters to go, and stayed smooth for a strong finish.
“It went better than I honestly expected,” he said. “When you’re as intense as I am, it’s hard to better your expectations because mine are so high. By the time I got to the end, I felt like I could do it again. Not actually, but my legs felt like they could.”
With racing still up in the air, Yoder hopes to attempt another backwards mile record attempt later this year, this time on the track. He’s hoping for around a 5:40 there.
“If the griddle is hot, I need to keep on cooking,” he said.
Watch his entire run via drone footage below.
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