Meet the girl who runs marathons backwards

Not only did Kat Clewley run a marathon backwards – she broke the world record on her first attempt.
Kat Clewley running backwards as she trains for a marathon with her dog Vanilla
Kat and Vanilla retro running © Dale Tidy
By Dominique Granger

A challenge means something different for everyone, a first 5k, a marathon, a 100-miler in the mountains. For Kat Clewley, it was something really different: running a marathon backwards.

The YMCA manager is no stranger to challenges and long distances, but this is definitely a sizeable one.

We caught up with the 'retro runner' as she set a new record for a woman running a marathon backwards, with a time of 4h 48m 42s – that's a good time for someone running forwards! She set the time during the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon, Canada.

Feeling inspired? Wings For Life World Run will take place around the world on May 8, 2016. Find a location near you.

More: This guy ran 90 marathons in 90 days

Watch Kat running backwards here

So Kat, tell us: why do you run backwards?
I started because of my dog. She was starting to slow down on a hot summer day, so I turned around because I didn’t want to stop but still wanted to keep an eye on her. That’s how it started, but really, I’m always looking for new challenges.

You just started training this summer?
Yeah! But I have a very wide base: I was a [soccer] goalkeeper for Team Ontario and Team Canada. It’s all about movement forwards and backwards. I would end up running backwards a bit every day: I just had to build endurance doing it.

Kat in training to run a marathon backwards

Kat Clewley running backwards as she trains for a marathon
Running backwards takes some skill © Dale Tidy

What’s the toughest thing about running backwards for a long distance?
Your equilibrium goes off. You have a kink in your neck, you must try to keep yourself balanced. You end up running blind. If I sustain for more than 30 minutes, it takes about two hours for my equilibrium to come back. I have done Ironman triathlons, 100-milers, and they’re not as hard as this. It’s also hard for the calves, especially uphill. It burns!

Have you become ‘the backwards-running girl’?
Yeah, I know a lot of people here, it’s a small community. Now people started calling me 'retro Kat', Tak [reverse of Kat] and making jokes about it. But I know that with that I have inspired a lot of people to be active.

I know I have inspired a lot of people to be active

– Kat Clewley

Kat Clewley first got inspired to run backward because of her dog, Vanilla
Kat Clewley with her inspiration to run backwards © Dale Tidy

Do you have moments of discouragement? How do you get over them?
The hardest parts are my long run days, but I do it with friends in my running group. I had a really hard go this last Sunday. I stopped, put my hands on my knees, and told my friends, “This is harder than I thought!” This is like a new sport, it humbles me. I feel like I’m learning to run all over again. The people I run with inspire me, and the fundraiser I’m doing is also a great motivation.

Kat has broken the record for a woman running a marathon backwards

Last month, you completed your first backward half-marathon, breaking the backwards running time record for that. How did it feel?
It was excellent, I did it as a practice. I smoked the Guinness record, which is 2h 46m with a time of 2h 13m.

Kat runs with her dog, Vanilla


As Kat Clewley fights against her thrown-off equilibrium, Vanilla keep her focus on her newest beach find
Each one has their own focus! © Dale Tidy

And what’s next for you?
I was invited to the World Championships of Retro Running to represent Canada in July 2016!

Wait… there is actually such a thing as retro running? And there are even World Championships?
Yeah! Not in Canada, though. It’s really big in Germany, Italy… there are actually a few events in Italy. The race director heard of me, and invited me as the first Canadian.

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