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Running the Boston Marathon backward to honor his brother

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Loren Zitomersky, the Boston Backwards guy. Loren Zitomersky, the Boston Backwards guy. (photo courtesy of Boston Backwards.)

Runner Loren Zitomersky hears this a lot: “You’re going the wrong way!”

The Los Angeles resident is in training to run all 26.2 miles of the upcoming Boston Marathon – backward. He’s doing it to raise money and awareness for epilepsy research in honor of the brother he never met.

“My brother Brian passed away, before I was born, after suffering non-stop seizures in his sleep at the age of 7,” Zitomersky told me during a phone interview.

After running seven marathons and an Ironman event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Zitomersky set his sights on the 2018 running of the Boston Marathon, scheduled for April 16. When he received news of his Boston qualification, Zitomersky decided to approach the marathon in an unusual way to draw attention to epilepsy.

After checking the Guinness Book of World Records in hopes of finding an attainable record to beat, Zitomersky discovered that a runner from Germany did a 26.2-mile marathon backward in three hours, 43 minutes, 39 seconds.

“That’s a fast marathon for somebody running forward,” said Zitomersky. “It ends up being about an 8-and-a-half minute per mile pace. As I’ve been training, I’ve been getting more confident that I’ll be able to do it on April 16. By no means will it be easy.”

At the time of my interview with Zitomersky, his longest backward run was 14 miles.

“I was basically dead for the rest of the day,” he said of the effects the run had on his body. “I could barely function. Running forward impacts your knees and hamstrings. Running backward uses the opposite muscles. It’s tough on the quads, the shins and especially the calf muscles.”

Another big problem related to backward running is the inability to easily see where you’re going.

“This is very dangerous but I’ve gotten used to turning my head to either side,” Zitomersky said. “I train on trails where there are not many people or obstacles. A friend who qualified for Boston has agreed to be my spotter.”

Zitomersky says his training has not been free of injury.

“Early in my training, I took a very hard fall,” he recalled. “I couldn’t put any weight on my ankle so I went to the emergency room. When the doctor came in, the first words out of my mouth were ‘So I was running backwards…’ and she stopped me and said ‘What?’ At that point, she was more concerned with my mental health than my physical health.”

Determined to not only finish the marathon but to do it in record time, Zitomersky’s training accelerated in the weeks following our conversation. On March 5, he broke the 20-mile mark and marked it with an emotional video on Facebook.

“I know it’s going to be hard but I’m going to give it my all,” Zitomersky said in the video, fighting back tears.

Zitomersky’s website www.BostonBackwards.com outlines his story, tracks his training and offers information about epilepsy, including what to do if someone near you suffers a seizure.

“I know I can do this but it won’t be easy,” Zitomersky said near the end of our conversation. “It’s an unnatural way of running, which is somewhat of an understatement. But I need to do this for my brother and for everyone who suffers with epilepsy.”

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