The crucial question of human evolution: Have we evolved to run?

By Ethan Narimatsujayne

Staff Writer

Running is the most basic form of athleticism. Many scientists believe that we humans actually evolved to be runners. Scientists believe we evolved to be the greatest long distance runners. Essentially we evolved to run far not fast. There are several indicators of this such as, how long we stay good at running, how we acquired so much food to grow our brains, our ability to sweat, and the anatomy of our feet.

In 2018, I stepped up to the starting line at the San Juan Bautista half-marathon. I would be running with my friend, Dave Miller, who at the time, was 67 to my 12. We finished in seventh and eighth place at a race with over 100 people. Dave was the second oldest runner while I was by far the youngest.

Can you think of any other sport where the second oldest and youngest athletes manage a top 10 performance? This is because we remain very good at distance running for a long period of our lives. 

A biologist professor, Dr. Bramble (who, with the help of his then student David Carrier, would construct the theory that humans were born to run), said, “We monitored the results of the 2004 NYC marathon and compared finishing times by age. What we found is that starting at age nineteen runners get faster every year until they hit their peak at twenty seven. After twenty-seven, they start to decline. So here’s the question- how old are you when you’re back to running the same speed you did at nineteen?” Try to answer this question for yourself because I guarantee you will be surprised. The correct answer is 64! This means grandparents are running the same speed as they did when they were teenagers. In general we as humans stay good at running for a long period of our lives

It is a commonly accepted fact in the scientific community that at some point in history early humans got reliable access to lots of protein. This allowed our brains to grow like crazy into what we have today. 

Our brains kept growing until they were seven times larger than the brains of a comparable mammal,” Louis Lieberman, an evolutionary anthropologist who became Dr. Bramble’s partner in the now dubbed the Running Man theory, said. He was able to find the exact moment in history when our diet changed due to the extremely rapid growing of our brains. The real question is how they got that protein. “The bow and arrow is twenty thousand years old. The spear head is two hundred thousand years old. But the Homo erectus is around two million years old. That means for most of our existence- for two million years- hominids were getting meat with their bare hands,” Mr. Lieberman said. Some people may say that we throttled or clubbed an animal to death. However this would not work because injuries would be constant and a broken ankle back in the day could mean becoming lunch yourself. One day when Mr.Lieberman took his dog on a walk, he realized something. After five to six miles in fairly hot weather his dog lay down in the shade and refused to get up. Mr./Dr. Lieberman thought back to his time in Africa doing fossil research. He remembered the tall tales of people running deer to their death. This question crossed his mind: “How long would it actually take to run an animal to death?” 

Running an animal to death is actually called persistence hunting. Louis Liebenberg was a mathematician who would eventually run an antelope to death. In the early 1980’s, he was majoring in applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town. He wanted to find out how we started to get wildly complicated thoughts such as emotion and humor. He thought the answer would lie at the origin of our species. So at 22, he dropped out of college and went to the Kalahari desert to live with the Kalahari Bushmen. The Kalahari Bushmen are a tribe that refused to give up their traditional way of life. One morning four of the bushmen invited Luis on a special hunt. There they actually ran a Kudu to death. “It takes a lot of attempts to get a successful hunt by bow…Only a small percentage of arrow shots are successful so for the number of days hunting, the meat yield of a persistence hunt is much higher,” said Louis Liebenberg as he reflected on the efficacy of the persistence hunts. This proves that it is indeed possible but most importantly effective to run an animal to death for hunting. This explains how we got all off that protein and how we might have lived 2 million years ago.

The final piece of evidence in the Running Man Theory is actually our anatomy. Specifically two things: our ability to sweat and some key features we share with the runners of the animal kingdom. Sweat actually grants us a kind of superpower. We are the only animals in the world that can breathe freely while running. For example, cheetahs breathe while running because its internal organs essentially slam into the lungs forcing air out. When the organs retreat back, the lungs suck air in due to the next stride. This gives them extra lungs power in exchange for something pretty crucial to long distance running. Cheetahs and all other quadrupeds are limited to one breath per stride. There is one exception: us. “When quadrupeds run, they get stuck in one breath per locomotion cycle. But the human runners we tested never went one to one. They could pick from a number of different ratios , generally preferred tow to one,” Dr. Bramble said. This is because we have the ability to sweat. All animals with pelt have to use their breathing as their primary way of cooling off. Scientists at Harvard measured the internal temperature of a cheetah and found that once its internal temperature reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit the cheetah “shut down and refused to run.”

Dr. Bramble split the Animal Kingdom into two categories: runners and walkers. If humans evolved to run, we should share many features with other running animals (dogs, horses, etc), and not share features with walking animals (chimps, pigs, etc.). We share 95% of our DNA with chimps (our closest living relative) and they are a classic example of a walking animal. So Dr. Bramble started to look for features we didn’t share that would benefit running. He found many differences. We have an Achillis tendon, we have short and straight toes (which only benefit running), a nuchal ligament and finally a “Hefty gluteus maximus, chimps have virtually none.”  All of these features would benefit runners while walkers would have no use for them. These features are all present in our bodies today but were not present in our ancestors anatomy. Nuchal ligaments are used for keeping the head stable when moving at high speeds. “Big buts are only necessary for running. (See for yourself: clutch your rbutt and walk around the room sometime. It’ll stay soft and fleshy, and only tighten up when you start to run. Your butt’s job is to prevent the momentum of your upper body from flipping you on to your face.)” . Achilles tendons have no use for walking however can be used to conserve energy with its springy tendons while running. “A mystifying but unmistakable timeline was taking shape: as the human body changed over time, it adopted key features of a running animal.”

“Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re also denying who you are.” said Dr.Bramble. So get out there and start moving your legs. Be who you evolved to be

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