Mankind and the Run: You Were Made for It


© Cristina Annibali –

These days, most people only need to run when they are dashing through an airport or chasing after a wayward child. Sure, many people incorporate running into their daily exercise routines. Millions take part in marathons or other competitions.

In fact, today running is so popular that it is no longer viewed as a sport for just the young and fit. People of all abilities are discovering the benefits of running and competing—and aging is no longer considered a deterrent

But, the actual need to run is a rare event. That’s too bad because a look back into our history suggests that your body is made for running.

Way, Way Back When

When, out of necessity, humans shifted from hanging around in the trees, eating fruit and vegetables to on the ground meat eaters, amazing physical changes began to occur which are still evident in the body you use today. The first hunters had to be successful without using weapons, except for stones and clubs, and to catch up to prey, they had to run after it. The human body started changing to become a more efficient hunter. Humans developed the ability to regulate their body temperature through sweat. Muscular changes began to occur. The legs became ideal running machines, with springy tendons and short fiber muscles. Shorter toes, more efficient for running, replaced the longer toes of earlier hominids.

Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman and University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble published a landmark study in the November 2004 issue of Nature magazine. Their research indicates that the human body was made for endurance running and running was not just a byproduct of walking upright. Bramble believes that natural selection favored running. Had it not, we would, in his words, “still look a lot like apes.”

Running as Communication

Horse pulled chariots were invented in approximately 1700 B.C., but before that time and for sometime after, communication between villages was done using running messengers. The marathon is said to commemorate the classic tale of the running messenger Pheidippides. Legend has it that in 490 B.C., Pheidippides ran 22.5 miles from the Battle of Marathon to Athens with the announcement of victory over the Persians. After delivering the news, Pheidippides promptly died.

Running as Sport

Historians are unsure about when the first running competitions were held. They believe that running contests first appeared during religious festivals and celebrations in various parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, Egypt and North America. The Tailteann Games, a festival in Ireland celebrated since 1829 B.C., is the first recorded competition. Ancient Greek festivals commonly held foot races and foot races of varying distances were the only contests in the early Olympic Games. It wasn’t until the fifth century that the long jump, discus and javelin competitions were added.

After a historical record disappearance, running competitions were revived in 12th century and 15th century England, only to be quashed again by the 17th century Puritan rule. By the 19th century, however, foot races and running competitions were back. English schools were instrumental in developing different types of races and encouraging participants. By the mid-1800s, the United States was also on board and the sport never looked back. It’s something humans are built to do.

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