SPORTS that are won by going backwards. How many can you think of?
Rowing, high jump, tug-of-war and backstroke swimming. Add figure skating, in which competitors spend more time facing backwards than forwards, and you may have an exhaustive list.
If we move to the margins, to the wacky sports, we find backwards running. There is an established UK Championship and a world-record list – including 13.6secs for 100m, 5mins 46secs for the mile, and 3hrs 42mins 41secs for the marathon.
So when the Doone Run spread the word that, to mark its 30th anniversary, it would be run backwards, was it about to cross the line from serious tough run to gimmick event?
Former Doone Run women's champion Maddie Horton wondered. "Running backwards? I did think that briefly, then I realised it couldn't possibly be true," she said. Thankfully, she was right.
Everything else about the Doone Run on Sunday had backwards written all over it – it was now the Enood Run on the entry forms, race numbers and even the trophies – but running the race backwards meant only that the course would be taken in reverse.
Just as well, according to Arran Tocknell, who had returned for a stab at a fourth successive title. "I've heard that running backwards is good for you, that it strengthens your leg muscles, but it does make you look a bit of a wally," he said.
So it was traditional forward- motion running only for the 200 or so who lined up on the green at Lynmouth with a daunting 10 miles ahead of them. It was not so much the distance that was daunting as the climb – more than 2,000ft – and the terrain.
Whichever way you take it, clockwise or anti-clockwise, it lives up to its claim to be among the toughest 10-milers in the UK. Part road, part trail, part footpath, its enduring appeal lies in the beauty of its route along coastal paths and wooded riverside banks.
"I do runs all over the county and where else would you get such fantastic views?" said Paula Kingdon, a mid-pack finisher from North Devon Road Runners. Even better when the course is run in reverse. "Just staggering," she said.
They are views that John Seymour is used to. Aged 66, he is a Doone Run frontrunner, not by speed in his advancing years, but by loyalty. He knows the views well because not only does he live in Lynton, he has run the race more times than anybody else.
In fact, John has missed only one, the first Doone Run in 1983, or two if you include the unofficial version in 2001, when the foot-and-mouth outbreak prompted cancellation of the official race. Only seven ran that year.
"I don't know why I missed the first one," said John. "I wasn't running regularly in those days and I might not have been aware it was on."
On Sunday, John was the last man to finish (2hrs 34mins 33secs), while Sarah Carcillo, of Tiverton Harriers, was last woman (2-39-05). However, any suggestion that, in keeping with the reversing theme, last should be first and first last was quickly dismissed.
Race director Simon Haywood said: "The people who came last would love it but I am not sure how the winners would feel – the trophies still go to the runners across the line first."
Which meant Tocknell, of Torbay AC, carried off the men's trophy again and with it, this time, the course record for the Enood Run. At 1-10-26, though, it was the slowest of his four wins, confirming in statistics the evidence felt in the legs of most runners that the anti-clockwise direction is harder.
Instead of heading from Lynmouth along the East Lyn Valley towards Watersmeet, the runners began with an abrupt uphill on the zigzag path towards Lynton.
Having led from start to finish, and won by five minutes, Tocknell said: "It was a lot harder this way round, especially going up out of Lee Abbey. The climb out of there, to the top at the Cleave, was terrible."
Jay Horton – Maddie's husband – placed second in 1-15-50, his other half beating all but two men to take third in 1-17-44.
Both former North Devon Road Runners, the couple live in Plymouth now and were contesting the event for the first time since they won the men's and women's races more than a decade ago. Which left Maddie to take a fun-filled swipe at Jay. "You have let us down this year by coming only second," she said.
First home from North Devon was Kevin Reed, an unattached runner in fourth place (1-17-52). Having finished third two years ago, he was keen to take part in the anniversary run even though he has limited his races after coming back from injury.
"This is my third race this year and I am just getting back into it," he said."Because it was the anniversary race I wanted to do it backwards."
Did he mean run it backwards or cover the course in reverse? "At some points I felt like I was running backwards," he said. "It is definitely harder this way round."
While the race has been organised in recent years by North Devon Road Runners, it was previously in the care of Lynton-based race director John McGowan.
It was he who ensured the event's unbroken link through its history when John Greenaway, the race director at the time, cancelled the 2001 race.
"He wanted me to take it over and I said I would shadow him and see how he went about organising it," said John McGowan. "But that was the foot-and-mouth year, so we did a free one on the day it would have been run – a turn up and run."
John was one of only two locals, with Mary Smith, among the seven who ran. "Two guys who had done it every year came down from the Birmingham area expecting it to be on," said John. "There was a guy and his wife from Exmouth who had run the year before and there was a mate of mine from Oxfordshire. He brought the chairman of Kidlington Runners who was injured but drove round the course as a mobile water station."
While the Enood Run was advertised as for one year only, such was the enthusiasm for the reverse route that organisers are considering alternating.Next year it will be back to running it as normal – unless anybody is brave or wally enough to run it backwards.