On Patriot’s Day in April, Loren Zitomersky will line up near the starting line of the Boston Marathon, shaking out the nerves and bouncing in his Saucony Rides. His corral will move forward and Zitomersky will take off—backwards.
Zitomersky, who lives in Los Angeles, will be trying to break the world record for fastest marathon run backwards. The current record was set in October 2004 when Xu Zhenjun ran 3:43:39 in China, according to the Guinness World Records. Zitomersky says he hopes his backwards race on April 16 will raise funds and awareness about epilepsy, a neurological disorder that his brother, Brian, died of at age 7. Zitomersky was born after Brian’s death.
“People don’t want to talk about (epilepsy),” he said. “People are afraid. Seizures are scary, but my dad found a lot of help and consolation through epilepsy support groups and we wanted to give back.” He said he started fundraising with his dad when he was 12.
“The first thing that dad and I did was in 1997,” shared Zitomersky. “We rode bikes from San Francisco to LA. We ended up doing 10 bike rides over the years. After the bike rides, we started doing marathons.” In those 21 years since, Zitomersky and his dad helped raise some $275,000. Then in 2017, Zitomersky qualified for the Boston Marathon with a 3:00:14 time at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in California.
“I said if I qualified that I would do something really big to raise money and awareness for epilepsy,” explained Zitomersky. His idea was to run backwards as part of his End Epilepsy fundraiser. His training started in December when he slowly incorporated backwards runs into his training. “It was really difficult,” he said. “I have fallen before, unfortunately. You definitely use different muscles than you do running forward. Running can be hard on your knees and hamstrings, while backwards, it’s really hard on your calves and quads.”
In the lead-up to Marathon Monday, Zitomersky said he’s logged about 450 miles backwards in training, helping him master the skills required for very unorthodox 26.2 miles. “When I first started doing it, it was really hard on my neck because I was looking over my shoulder, but now I don’t notice any pain,” he said.
In Boston, Zitomersky will have a spotter running with him. His friend, Jim Pobanz, will be “the eyes in the back of my head” so Zitomersky doesn’t have to crane his neck over his shoulder. He’ll also grab water for Zitomersky at aid stations. “On long runs, [Jim] just tells me ‘right, right, left, left,’” he said. “He’s very diligent and aware of everything around us.”
While Boston is long considered one of the world’s most prestigious races, it won’t be Zitomersky’s first to be run backwards. He’s finished two 10K races backwards and in March, he ran 20 miles of the Los Angeles Marathon backwards. “It’s fun because I’m turned around, so I’m face-to-face with hundreds of people and they’re just staring at me,” he said. “I’ve received an outpouring of support and messages and emails from people. In a way, I feel like Brian lives through them. I’m doing this in Brian’s memory, but also for all those people I’ve met. That pushes me through.”