Mike Henderson

40 years old

Deep River, Conn.

SHORT STORY

Plans to run the entire race backward. Mike Henderson realizes that what he is doing sounds a bit strange, but he is willing to endure the odd looks and the tremendous strain on his body to get his message across.

In what is partly a publicity stunt, partly an individual mission, Henderson, a personal trainer, will run the Marine Corps Marathon -- all 26.2 miles of it -- backward to bring attention to the obesity crisis in America.

"I'm sacrificing myself to get the word back to the common man or the common woman that we are killing ourselves here in America," Henderson said.

Like a Wall Street broker ticking off the latest stock numbers, Henderson rattles off statistics on this country's poor exercise and diet habits. He says 300,000 Americans died from problems related to being overweight last year and that their medical costs were $100 billion. In addition, he says, Americans spent $70 billion on diet and gym products last year.

"That's $170 billion dollars that we could be saving yearly," Henderson said. "That's $330 per American in each household."

Henderson believes there is a simple way to end this crisis: We need to start eating better and exercising more. And to drive that message home, he is running the marathon backward.

This is not the first race Henderson has run backward. He is a Guinness world record holder for being the first to run a 20K backwards. He will be only the second person to run a marathon backward.

Running a marathon backward takes more than simply turning around and facing the other direction. "The training is a sacrifice," Henderson said. "I've done an Ironman [triathlon], and this is worse."

The human body is meant to go forward. Running backward uses muscles in a way they were not intended. Rather than landing on your heels and pushing off on your toes, you land on your toes and push off with your heels. This directional change affects the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips and calf muscles. Henderson has had two cortisone shots in his knees.

"I have to run five times as much for this as I have for a regular marathon," he said. "I really have to manage my time because it takes more time to train."

To avoid as many obstacles as possible, Henderson wakes up at 2:45 a.m. each day and is at his training location by 3:30 a.m. He goes to the middle of the road where it is the flattest and follows the yellow stripe to keep him in a straight line.

"The only things that kill you are the police and the truck drivers," he said. "The police want to arrest you because they think you're nuts, and the truck drivers don't see you."

-- Kathy Orton