5 June 2018

We Were Born To Run

There is so much about our physiology that has evolved over 2 million years for us to perfectly run with great endurance and go the distance. The first quality we possess, we are incredible at sweating! When our body starts to overheat, unlike many other quadruped mammal, we can cool our bodies down without stopping. Every pore in our body can secrete micro molecules of liquid so that when they evaporate we cool down, that’s what sweating is. Unlike dogs and horses who can’t do that simultaneously, we can control our heat while moving. The only way a dog can reduce its temperature is through panting, and it cannot pant while it runs. Despite them being able to run faster than us over short distances, we would always catch up to them because we can go the distance. And that’s not just for dogs and horses. We have the capability to all do a marathon quicker than them because of their need to control their heat through breathing.

Despite having had the same body for the last 200,000 years, we are all part of the same species that’s been around for 2 million years. Our earliest fossils can be found in the fertile crescent and much of our time as this species was spent in the plains of the Savannah. As the climate changed and forests began to disappear, there would be empty plains and long grass between them. This caused us to move over hundreds of thousands of years from quadrupeds (on all fours) to bipedal movers (two legs). This would allow us to see any predators over the long grass. What it also did was allow us to radiate heat more effectively through our body. By being bipedal movers, we were able to expend less calories per mile than any quadrupeds, including our primate relatives. On less food we could move further. These journeys could be dangerous running across the plains, not knowing what predators were around. We are the descendants of the genes that were strong enough, fast enough, and had the endurance to survive that danger.

In long distance running, men and women hold an extremely close gap of athletic performance, unlike most other sports. But here’s a really incredible fact about running: the University of Utah did a research study where they tracked the progression of marathon times over the course of men and women’s lives. The conclusion they reached was that if you started running a marathon at age 19 and kept training, then you’d become quicker and quicker every year until you peaked at an average age of 27. Slowly your time would drop back to the same speed you were running when at 19 years old. Now that seems quite obvious, doesn’t it? Of course after a certain age the level of your running is going to start decreasing to the level you were at originally. Most people would guess that would take perhaps 8-10 years after hitting their peak; so in your late 30s you’d be back to where you started. Nope, it actually takes 45 years… people classed as old age pensioners, 64-year-old men and women are running marathons at the same speed as teenagers.

There are particular theories that are based around why we seem to be born to run. Why is it that even people in their 60s can run the same speed as teenagers? Why is it that women can run the same speed and have the same endurance as men? In short, it’s because we went hunting as a pack. The best way to describe our species (homo sapiens) especially more than 2,0000 years ago, is that we were WILD and depended on each other to survive. Like a pack of wolves, we would need to hunt together in order to feed each other. We were hunter gatherer nomads and didn’t have many possessions, we’d simply move where the food moved. This required all of us. The older men who’d been hunting the longest would be the best teachers, the 19-year olds would be the students learning to hunt, and the middle age men would be ready to make the actual kill as they’d be the most effective.

The two times we most need animal proteins in our lives is when we’re an adolescent and a nursing mother. It’s pointless for 27-year olds to be many miles away when the people who need that protein the most are back in a camp. The same goes for the older runners – these men would be the expert trackers, knowing which antelope to pick out etc. It wouldn’t be helpful if they were 10-15 miles behind everyone else. So, what were we doing and how were we killing bigger and faster animals when we didn’t have weapons? It was our endurance. By being able to chase animals over extreme long distances as a pack we were able to run that animal to exhaustion.

Another reason we were born to run: it feels good. 'Runners high' is a well-documented experience. Remember, we get rewarded when we carry out certain evolutionary processes. When we’re running we release a series of endocannabinoids which are the same chemicals released when people smoke marijuana. Running also increases the number of receptors for those endocannabinoids, so not only do we release a flurry of chemicals that feel good, but by having more receptors we can feel an even stronger high.

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