We'd like to introduce you to Kamil Bąbel.
Kamil regularly competes in hardcore marathons to raise money for charity. He cycles and runs long, strenuous distances and for extended amounts of time - using simply his body and his mind as a force for positive change in the world. This in itself is worthy of recognition, but that's not why we are interviewing him.
!sdrawkcab lla ti seod eh esuaceb limaK gniwieivretni era eW
So, what first inspired you to start running and cycling backwards?
In both cases ideas came from 2 aspects: impulse due to someone else's achievement and charity background.
In 2015, I watched a video of a record holder, who ran a marathon backwards and juggled. I had been a participant of the charity action '42 To Happiness'. A group of people run marathons and raise money for prosthesis. I decided to make a bigger impact and bet with my friends: If they collect a specific amount of money, I will run a whole marathon backwards. And they did.
In 2017 I watched a video with another record holder, who cycled backwards and played violin. A few months later the foundation where I work started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a rehabilitation centre. And I bet with friends as before, but this time I promised to cycle backwards for 24 hours.
What are your motivations in practising this unexpected, niche sport?
Fun. When you move backwards, you don't know what is right behind you. Every single step seems to be like a surprise. It makes running/cycling less boring and humdrum.
Is there a big global backwards cycling/running community & what are they like? Is there one in Poland?
There is no backwards cycling community. It is treated as a freestyle trick for most cyclist. Running backwards is different. It is a sports discipline (called "Retrorunning") with World Championships. There are countries with big retrorunning communities, for example, Germany or Italy. In Poland, it is not so popular, but some people try it from time to time. For example people participating in Parkrun Gdańsk have a tradition to run 5 km backwards once a year. National Championships are also used to be organised till 2015.
From your personal point of view, what are your biggest achievements so far in this area?
Absolutely my first marathon in 2015 gave me the biggest satisfaction. Moreover, it motivated me to continue backwards running. I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 59 minutes and 28 seconds - 32 seconds before marathon time limit - 6:00:00. It was incredible luck. I think my biggest achievements have not come yet.
What did your family and friends say when you first told them about it?
In both cases (first backwards running and cycling) the same question appeared: "How?". Some of them said I shouldn't or didn't have to do it. But most of them was really excited and kept finger crossed.
What are the biggest challenges you face in running/cycling backwards?
To learn how to run/cycle backwards. :) It is not so easy, because it is something completely new. You have to learn from the beginning.
Another difficult thing is to deal with your psyche. When you run/cycle backwards, you have to be 100% focus all the time. One mistake and you fall down. Being focused for 6 or more hours is a very intensive effort for the mind.
You just went to the World Championships - How did that feel and what was your experience?
It was a very spontaneous challenge. When I've got the information about the championships it was 7 days to start. I wasn't prepared, but I really wanted to participate. I wanted to see how it looks and what I can expect. I'm satisfied I went to Bologna. It was a nice experience and now I know, what I should improve to rival with best ones.
How did you do in this race and will you return to the competition next year or continue competing in other races/events?
I started on 3 distances: 5000m, 1500m and a marathon (42,195km). I finished with 33'35"39 on 5000m (7th place in my age category and 17 open among 23 participants) and 8'17"15 on 1500m (7th place in the age category and 15 open among 24 participants). I didn't finish the marathon (as 50% participants) due to hot weather. I left the route after 25 km. I will absolutely take part in World Championship 2020 in Marseille and I will be better prepared. My dream is to connect both disciplines and set a world record in the backwards duathlon or even triathlon. I hope to try it next year.
What message would you like to give to people who read this?
Always look forward, even when you move backwards.