The Running Man Part 2

Posted by in Nugget from a Book

In Born to Run McDougall explains the role that running may have played in our evolution.

Classic evolutionary theory considers our bodies to me little more than a weak container for our big brains and dexterous hands. After all, we’re weaker, slower, and less capable at climbing than almost ever other animal, including our own primate ancestors.

Everything can outrun us, and so the idea that we evolved from apes in order improve our running ability is surely laughable. As one of the scientists quoted in the book puts it “we evolve due to our strengths, not to improve our weaknesses”, but undoubtedly we exhibit several biological adaptions that are exclusive to other running species and absent from walkers.

The interesting part is that in one critical way, animals are worse than us at running and that is STAMINA. Humans have two unique adaptations that allow us to run faster than other mammals over long distances :

1. Our ability to sweat combined with our hairless bodies means that we are able to lose heat as we run. As long as we keep hydrated, we need never stop to cool down, whereas all other mammals are forced to stop and pant before they can run again.

2. They need to stop because whilst a human can arbitrarily set the ratio of breaths to steps, quadrupeds are biomechanically forced to breathe exactly once for each step they take.

Animals may be able to run superficially faster, but we can run aerobically faster and further. Chase an antelope and it will race away, but after a short distance it will have to rest, and we’ll catch up before it’s fully recovered. It’s enough to follow for 15 miles and the antelope will collapse from exhaustion. It will literally drop dead!

It’s called Persistence Hunting, it’s what separated us from the stronger Neanderthals at the end of the last ice age when the big game disappeared and the faster food had to be run down on foot.

We have evolved to run, and that’s why it feels so damned good.