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In a future world that is obsessed by not repeating the so-called errors of their fathers, there is a backwards Olympics, or Scipmylo.

All the usual disciplines are featured in reverse where it is possible to do so.

Examples

Catching the discus.

Dodging the javelin.

Low jump.

The easiest to measure and judge are the running sports. Contestants simply run backwards.

Question

Anatomically speaking, how well will the running-backwards-records rival our current forward running ones? Is there a fundamental reason why, with enough practise they shouldn't be just as fast?

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    $\begingroup$ So the martial arts like taekwondo and judo are about who cuddles the other the most? $\endgroup$ – Renan Dec 16 '18 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Judo is more about the most impressive way of helping each other up off the floor. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 16 '18 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK I think I've just wet myself. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Smeato Dec 16 '18 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ Jumping out of water onto the 5-metre platform, feet first: that's the real challenge. $\endgroup$ – IMil Dec 17 '18 at 5:23
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, This appears to be the next question in a long list of yours each even more wierd and wonderful than the last... i must say i truly hope that if you do compile these questions together into a full story you'll be sure to let us know where to get it. it sounds hilarious so far! $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith Dec 17 '18 at 8:04
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Backwards running will almost certainly never be as fast or efficient as regular running. A study back in 2011 showed that it should takes about 30% more energy to run backwards at a given speed. Why? It depends on how foot muscles respond during both types of strides. In normal running, landing on the balls of your feet and pushing off on the toes allows muscles to coil up and then release elastic energy, propelling you forward. When running in reverse, the muscles are unable to stretch and release in the same way.

Current world records in the backwards 5k and marathon are substantially slower than the corresponding forwards records: 19:31 and 3:38:27 compared to 12:37 and 2:01:39, respectively. I assume that if the strongest distance runners trained for backwards running, they could improve on those backwards times, but they'd still be at a disadvantage, from an energy perspective.

Addendum

I'm a college runner, so I figured I'd try to experiment a bit at practice today to better understand the mechanics of what's going on. We already do some backwards jogging as a warm-up drill, so I figured I'd just modify that. I ended up doing three sets of sprints on a standard outdoor track, with each set consisting of one forwards 40-meter sprint at a controlled pace and one backwards sprint of the same distance, as fast as I could go. I made some observations:

  • I ended up taking about 1.75-2 times as many steps while traveling backwards, on average; I was forced to shorten my stride because my motion felt limited.
  • While running backwards, I was forced up onto my toes more; if I tried to use the balls of my feet at all, I ran the risk of falling.
  • I definitely felt much less spring in my step when I pushed off running backwards. It was a little bit awkward, biomechanically.
  • I was able to run straight without looking over my shoulder, by keeping my head fixed on a target I was running away from. However, I was on a straightaway, and inside a lane. On a course with turns, I would be hard-pressed to stay close to the inside, like I would normally do.

Some of these could be overcome through training, especially at a young age, but I'm pretty certain that the lack of a spring in my step could be problematic. It definitely got me less bang for my buck.

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    $\begingroup$ That's an interesting 2011 article. One might wonder, if the athletes trained from an early age, would they perhaps develop a more suitable posture and musculature for backwards running? Maybe they could even develop the hard landing and soft takeoff required. I can imagine that double-jointed people would be at an advantage with this. 44wj5q2j6wo23s4mp6owjohh-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/… $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 16 '18 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK It's an interesting thought. Yeah, I do wonder how early childhood training could affect things. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 16 '18 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ I'm a little bothered that you were able to pull records for backwards marathon running... and that its enough of a thing that they keep records for it. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 17 '18 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK No matter how hard they train or how young they start, the knee will remain on the front side of the leg. :p $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Dec 17 '18 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ One could always fix the direction of view by using headgear designed for reflecting the view to the rear. Basically portable wing mirrors. $\endgroup$ – A Lambent Eye Dec 18 '18 at 14:57
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One problem for your sportsmen and women is that human vision is forward facing.

This means that it would be very difficult for them to make sure that they are running in the correct lane going backwards, for longer races judge the curve of the track etc.

Although with training it might be possible to mitigate against this to some extent, I doubt they could ever be as fast as somone running in the same direction they can see.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point. Actually I wonder if lack of vision caused some of the slowness shown up in the study cited by HDE 226868. I suppose runners could have the option of wearing backwards facing mirrors although that might cause a bit of wind-resistance. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 16 '18 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK No wind resistance if wearing "sessalg elgoog" with a mini-camera on the opposing arms, it would become a "krap eht ni goj" $\endgroup$ – KJO Dec 16 '18 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ @OJK ---- !LFOR $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 16 '18 at 23:00

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