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North Carolina man completes backwards marathon–at almost 60

Tracy McCullen of Wilmington, N.C., who is almost 60, couldn't be more enthusiastic about his first race running backwards

Tracy McCullen, 59, a landscape designer from Wilmington, N.C., completed the Wrightsville Beach Marathon yesterday in 6:11:32. His run was a fundraiser for the Community Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington, and he expects the USD $25,000 he has already raised will likely double, now that he has actually completed what he set out to do.


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“It was amazing in so many ways,” says McCullen. “First of all, just the fact that I came up with this wild and wonderful idea out of the blue a little over two months ago and only trained running backwards for two months, and in less than two months I’ll be 60–I feel like I’m half that age most of the time… I was thinking while I was out running that I wanted to do something to give back in a big way… and I thought, oh my gosh, out of the blue, why don’t I run the Wrightsville Beach Marathon backwards for the Community Boys and Girls Club? I’ve run it three times forward. This was my 15th marathon in 10 years. I didn’t start running til I was 50.”

McCullen was guided by his friend, the accomplished ultrarunner and adventurer and author of the memoir Running Man, Charlie Engle, who helped him avoid obstacles. “I honestly don’t think I could have done it without falling down half a dozen times, if it weren’t for Charlie,” McCullen says.



(Engle is planning his own next running project, to start this summer, Entitled “Dead Sea to Everest: 5.8,” it’s a 4,500-mile (7,200K) journey from the Dead Sea to the peak of Everest (a distance of only 5.8 miles, if could be run straight up), that will involve diving, swimming, running, kayaking, cycling, and climbing.)

According to the Guinness World Records site, the world record for running a marathon backwards (male) is 3:43:39 and was set by Xu Zhenjun of China in 2004. 


“I did some research the other day, and in Chinese philosophy they are all about walking and running backwards,” says McCullen, commenting that it’s no surprise the world record for backwards marathoning is held by a Chinese man. “They see it as the yang and the yin. Moving forward is the yang, running backward is the yin. It is scientifically proven that walking and running backwards really stimulates the brain and creates a whole new sense of awareness of your surroundings.”

Photo: Courtesy of Tracy McCullen

“When I’m running backwards, you would think, your neck must get so sore. But my neck gets more sore running forwards, because I find myself so focused and looking straightforward and thinking about my form. When I’m running backwards I don’t have to spend a lot of time looking hard behind me, because I run on the beach or in neighbourhoods where there’s hardly any traffic. So I don’t have to look really hard, I just look gently behind me and then go 100 or 200 feet without looking behind me.”

“I find myself looking around infinitely more than when I’m running forward. It is really amazing. Also to run five or 10 miles backwards, naturally when I’m running I feel much more pressure in my quads and hamstrings, but when I finish my body feels amazing. I’m fortunate not to have any major injuries, just normal aches and pains, but I have no aches and pains from running backward. I did 18 miles [backwards] the week before the marathon. I felt a little tight, but it wasn’t painful by any means. I feel great this morning. My quads feel great.” McCullen says the only area that feels tight is his hamstrings.

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