Record-Setter Says He Won't Run Backward Anymore

Achim Aretz holds the Guinness World Record for running the half marathon, backward. But now, the 27-year-old German athlete says he's tired of doing something almost no one else does and wants to head in a new direction. Reporter Caitlan Carroll caught up with him in Hannover, Germany.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

In Germany this past week, a record-setting athlete competed for the last time, he says, in the event that made him famous - the unusual sport of backwards running. This champion now says he wants to head in a new direction. Reporter Caitlan Carroll spoke with him in Hanover, Germany and filed this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MR. SAXOBEAT")

ALEXANDRA STAN: (Singing) You make me this, bring me up, bring me down...

CAITLAN CARROLL, BYLINE: About a thousand runners pack into Hanover's Convention Center. Their ten-kilometer race will snake among the gadget booths and through show rooms of CeBIT, one of the world's largest technology fairs. Most of the competitors will run forward to the finish line. Achim Aretz will be sprinting backwards.

ACHIM ARETZ: Today, I want to stay under 50 minutes over 10k, and my world record is 40:02.

CARROLL: Aretz holds a Guinness world record in backwards running for the half-marathon. Backwards running is sometimes called retro running and has fans all around the world. The 27-year-old geosciences student discovered retro running a few years ago when he woke up with a hangover and went jogging with a friend.

ARETZ: My friend run backwards because I was so slow because I had a headache.

CARROLL: He and his friend started running backwards all the time. Then Aretz began competing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARROLL: Aretz jogs a few laps backwards to warm up for the race. He says it looks more dangerous than it is. He's only fallen once during his treks across forests and busy streets.

ARETZ: When I am running alone, I have to look back maybe every 10 meters and when I am running together with friends, they can tell me what lies behind me and they can warn me.

CARROLL: Aretz gets a lot of attention when he runs. Children and dogs like to chase him. Adults usually just ask why? He says for him it's more than a sport, it's a way of life.

ARETZ: Because it's not only the new muscles that you build, it's also mentally a change. When you run backwards for 20 or 30 kilometers, sometimes I feel that I fly.

CARROLL: But Aretz's flying days are numbered. He says this is his last competitive race as a backwards runner. He's tired of the comments and the attention. He wants to run forward like other people.

ARETZ: Maybe there will come something totally different but now, for the future, I don't need to be so crazy anymore.

CARROLL: It's time for the race to begin.

CROWD: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN POPPING)

CARROLL: The race goes quickly. Aretz clocks in under 47 minutes. He's red faced and breathing hard at the finish line. So, how does it feel that is was your last retro race?

ARETZ: It was so much fun that I don't know whether it was really my last race.

CARROLL: So, maybe he's reconsidering - or should I say looking back on his decision?

ARETZ: Yeah, somehow I do.

CARROLL: And somehow that isn't surprising. For NPR News, I'm Caitlan Carroll.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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