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It’s the last day of January 2013, which means today is Backward Day. Similar in a way to Opposite Day we celebrated not long ago, and yet another day to rattle your comfort zone a little.

You can opt to simply have some fun – put on your clothes backward, walk backward or even (this may be a little more challenging) speak backward.

If you want to walk backwards, you should dress accordingly!(© All Rights Reserved)

If you want to walk backwards, you should dress accordingly!
(© All Rights Reserved)

Or you can take it as a serious challenge – there’s a whole range of backwards running world records to challenge. But I have to warn you beforehand – these are serious records! Imagine running the 100m in reverse, and still doing it in a time of 13.6 seconds, as Roland Wegner did in Germany in 2007. Wegner also holds the world record in the 200m, so his reversing muscles must be perfectly tuned.

At the endurance end of the scale, the world record for the greatest distance run backwards in 24 hours is an incredible 160km, run by Yves Pol from France, in 1990.

In fact, backwards running is a big thing – there are even some national backwards running associations, for example in Germany, Austria, Italy and the UK.

If you’re less physically inclined, perhaps you’d rather opt for a mental challenge. How about seeing how many palindromes (words or sentences that are spelled the same forward and backward) you can think of. What is the longest palindrome sentence you can create? As with the backwards running, people have achieved amazing feats – in 1980, David Stephens published a palindromic novel, ‘Satire: Veritas’, consisting of an incredible 58 795 letters forming a giant palindrome, while Lawrence Levine’s novel ‘Dr Awkward & Olson in Oslo’ (1986) contains 31 954 words arranged as a palindrome.

Palindromes also exist in music. For example, parts of the 3rd movement in Haydn’s ‘Symphony No 47’ are musical palindromes, where the second half of the piece is the same as the first, but in reverse. They can also be found in popular music, with bands like Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Husker Du, Stone Roses and Sigur Ros having employed palindromic themes.

To get a bit more scientific – palindromes can even be found in biological structures. To quote wikipedia, “The meaning of palindrome in the context of genetics is slightly different, however, from the definition used for words and sentences. Since the DNA is formed by two paired strands of nucleotides, and the nucleotides always pair in the same way (Adenine (A) with Thymine (T), Cytosine (C) with Guanine (G)), a (single-stranded) sequence of DNA is said to be a palindrome if it is equal to its complementary sequence read backward. For example, the sequence ACCTAGGT is palindromic because its complement is TGGATCCA, which is equal to the original sequence in reverse complement.”

As you can see, the range of applications for Backward Day is almost without limit. However you choose to celebrate it, have fun!

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