The human skeleton amazes anthropologists.
We are not the fastest runners. Many other quadrupeds leave us behind when running short distances.
Yet, we are remarkably skilled in endurance running. Apart from accounts of endurant horses and camels, bred selectively for endurance, very few other species are able to run farther.
Bushmen are known to run quicker than duicker, stenbook and gemsbook during the rain season. They outrun wildebeest and zebra in the dry season. Tarahumara Indians chase deer through the mountains of northern Mexico until the animal collapse from exhaustion, as narrated by Christopher McDougall in his iconic book.
Paiutes and Navajo of the American Southwest are reported to have hunted pronghorn antelope (one of the fastest of all mammals) in the same way. Aborigines of north Australia hunt kangaroo with the same technique.
So while walking on two limbs deprives us of maximum speed and agility, our bipedality (and lack of body hair) gives us an exceptional ability to dissipate running heat and run farther than any other mammal.
As far as we can go, running is one of the defining characteristic of humans.
This is what makes you and me human.
This is what differentiate us from the dog, the horse or the lion. They are all beautiful animals, but ultimately we can outrun them.
This is one of our most sacred talent that we all get at birth.
Many tell me about the pain. Difficulty breathing, heavy legs, painful feet or stressed ankles. Surely runners are sadomasochists? Yes, running comes with pain. But so does most things in life.
It also comes with pleasure. It’s freedom, leaving behind you all worries of modern life. It’s a wholesome connection with nature. It’s feeling alive, with awakening of the heightened senses as well as meditative calmness. It’s also the unique moment of the day where I get to reset, away from the whirlwind of life.
But it’s not just the joy and endorphins. A Stanford study followed 538 middle-aged runners for 20 years. Over the 20 years, the runners were half as likely to die (15% compared with 34%). The runners suffered fewer cardiovascular fatalities, and also suffered less from cancer, neurological disease, infections and other fatalities. The runners did get injured, but on average 16 years later than the non-runners. Endurance athletes also have a higher life expectancy compared to team or power athletes.
In other studies, running has a profound anti-aging effect, with less DNA damage.
If you’re looking to get into running, I would recommend:
- Running is one of the cheapest and most accessible exercise, anywhere or anytime. You don’t need expensive gear. A pair of sneakers, a T-shirt and a pair of shorts are ok to begin with. Look at a training plan such as Couch 2 5k. 5k is a nice motivational goal, even if you’ve never run before.
- If you are already have a good base, look into a local race, such as a 10k or a half-marathon. A race give you a serious challenge, and gives an interesting direction to weekly runs. It will introduce good changes to your diet, sleep schedule, and overall well-being.
- If you cannot find local races, aim for a performance time, such as running 5 kilometers under 20 minutes. I do this challenge during the winter and it makes my training plan clear.
- Running is not just stressful races or challenges. You can also run for fun. You can run for meditation. I run in various trails and it quiets my mind, especially in fall season. Other run to reconnect with their body and their environment.
- If running is painful, if you are out of breath, or out of energy, pause, breathe. It’s ok. Walk around a bit. If it gets better, run a bit more. Otherwise recover for a day.
- Evolution of human walking by C. Owen Lovejoy
- Dennis M. Bramble1 & Daniel E. Lieberman. Endurance running and the evolution of Homo. Nature 432, 345-352 (18 November 2004)
- Brains, Brawn, and the Evolution of Human Endurance Running Capabilities
- Running slows the aging clock, Stanford researchers find http://med.stanford.edu/news_releases/2008/august/running.html
- Exercise May Slow Telomere Shortening, Aging http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/ExerciseFitness/17221