Born to run! – Coming to Running at 40, 50, 60, 70?

Mankind’s destiny

Man achieved ascendency on Planet Earth through a big brain. The big brain came from eating meat, which started from the transition from gatherer to hunter.

Archaeologists maintain this happened as a result of developing tools from 2.6 million years ago. Paleoanthropologists posit that the transition started earlier through running.

Human physiology is better adapted to long distance running than any animals, and working as a group humans can hunt their prey day after day. The community runs to follow the hunters and to share in the prey where it falls.

Daniel Lieberman is the Harvard and Cambridge educated paleo-anthropologist who together with biology professor Denis Bramble elevated the whole discussion with their 2004 paper in “Endurance Running and the Evolution of the Genus Homo” published in Nature.

We know Lieberman himself is an enthusiastic long distance runner, so are his ideas are fantasy? Well, in their paper they identified 26 traits of the human body that are special and enhance the human ability to run. From fossil records these seem to emerge at a similar time around 2 million years ago.

By Chakazul – Own work based on:Bramble DM, Lieberman DE (2004) Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature 432 (7015): 345–352Lieberman DE, Bramble DM, Raichlen DA, Shea JJ (2009) Brains, Brawn, and the Evolution of Human Endurance Running Capabilities. In Grine FE et al. (eds.) The First Humans: Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo: 77–92. SpringerCarrier DR et al. (1984) The Energetic Paradox of Human Running and Hominid Evolution. Current Anthropology 25 (4): 483–495Jablonski NG (2006) Skin: a natural history. University of California Press, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In considering human development running was regarded only in relation to speed. Human performance in this area is relative weak compared to much of the animal kingdom. When endurance is taken into account, however humans become preeminent.

These days so many people run and it is reasonable to assume that we know a lot about it and have done so for a long time. But this is not right. In my youth women were restricted in competitive running. The Olympics Games opened some events to women in 1928, then quickly banned them from running more that 200m. It was only in 1960 that women were allowed to compete in the 800m. In 1972 women protested about discrimination in the New York Marathon.

Why this prejudice against females? Clearly there was chronic ignorance about human physiology and running. We now know that as races get longer women’s performance increases relative to their male peers. There’s now a number of long races, much longer than the marathon, with women winning the number one spot.

The book ‘Born to Run‘ from journalist Christopher McDougall exposes many of the myths and misunderstandings about running. He provides a great story about the search for mythical indigenous runners from Mexico and their eventual exploitation in sports in the USA while dispensing pearls of wisdom and insight into the human physiology of running, the correlation between use of trainers and injury and running technique.

There’s nothing here about how to train – just a great yarn; a page turner which inspires and leaves you ready to plan your training.

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