Is Running Innate to Who We Are as a Species?
Running is a great sport and beneficial in many ways to the human body. As 60 million Americans and over 600 million around the world will tell you that running is a lifestyle.
Especially now and over the last year during this stressful time with COVID-19, there are more runners taking the roads and trails. I just joined that pack only eight months ago, and have since run over 600 miles and two half-marathons.
This brings us to the question, is running innate to us as a species?
Let us go back to an archaic time to see how we evolved as an ancestor to run.
Running was a survival method to hunt prey and chase down that swiftly, moving target for the next sumptuous, meal. Our ancestors not only ran barefoot but did so without any clothing and just a loincloth.
They were always outside their habitat, if not to hunt they walked many miles through fields of swamps and bramble to find fruits, vegetables and grains.
Unbeknownst, their resilience and mental strength made them exceptional athletes.
But what gave them this physical ability we might ask?
A fossil study from National Geographic indicated that “humans were born to run” and our Achilles tendon is what gives us that edge to go the distance.
When compared to our quadrupedal neighbor, our ancestors’ bipedal movement allow their bodies to stay cooler with less exposure to the sun. This helps them with the ability to sprint.
Yet, contrary, we as humans are considered downright, awful runners compared to other animals. But if you put us in a long-distance competition, we will outpace them every time!
To put this in perspective, here is a statement from the fossil study:
“If we were chasing down an antelope or a zebra, they would leave us in the dust over the first few hundred meters. But because we’re able to lose heat much more efficiently than a quadruped, we became more effective hunters over longer distances. Having a nervous system that can produce pain-killing endorphins also helped”.
In addition to our Achilles tendon, “We have a nuchal ligament which restrains cervical spine reflection” said, Vybarr Cregan-Reid, author of Footnotes — How Running Makes Us Human.
A nuchal ligament is the large tendons in the back of the neck from the occipital bone that is connected from the head down to the lower vertebrae. This helps to keep the neck up, from thrusting forward as we run.
The theory is that our human body form was derived from walking upright into the ability to jog. Then, eventually, running became a byproduct of this adaptation for survival.
Let us go back to free play when we were children.
How many of us remember the days when our parents were outside playing with us, at the park or in the yard? How many of us went outside to play with the neighborhood kids when we got home from school?
Unknowingly of the benefits, many of those outside play mostly involved a movement of some sort. Mine entailed running races from one corner of the block to the next.
Today, only 26% of parents say their children play outside. Life does not allow us many free instances growing up anymore because, our children are on an organized, schedule, after school. A schedule that is not free play.
Now with COVID-19 hindering the little time that is left for children’s free play, a more sedentary period has kicked in.
A National Geographic research indicated that free play allows children to develop a strong sense of themselves and to learn social skills, while at the same time, problem-solving.
The fact is, when children play without adult supervision, they make their own rules, like the head of the corporation. Others follow, like workers then they switch and let the leader becomes a follower and the follower becomes a leader who takes the lead and makes new rules.
Children engage in problem-solving to a high degree when one of them is having difficulty they stop, come together and ultimately solve the issue.
I remembered when running as a child, I fell on the road and gashed my left knee. Everyone ran over to me and helped to pick me up. Together they soothe and calm my tears.
Yet we were are having fun and will gladly go back out the next day and pick up where we left off. Rather, we look forward to going outside each and every day because it was free-play.
As adults, free play becomes free time outside.
Running is an amazing sport. We are thrilled about the many miles accomplished and calories burned. We prepare for our next goal whether that is a marathon, a half-marathon like me. Or just to get to the next marker on our tracker.
We enjoy listening to our news podcasts or music while we train our bodies to go faster, competing with our own time, and revel when we beat our Personal Best (PB).
When I step out the door and take the roads, it is my time and I become my childhood self. I share my hour with the turkey vultures grunting above my head. They follow me to tell me this is their space, and I look up from my podcast and smile as the morning choir welcomes me.
Today, we must take free time outside, and running is not only for a healthy lifestyle, it is part of who we are as a species.