Every sport you play, every physical exercise you do, will always require you to have endurance. I’ve learned this after twelve years of soccer, nine years of ballet, seven years of ice skating, five years of track, and three years of tap. Even as an athlete, I still dread running; however, I can’t deny that all that running is what put me in the best shape of my life. And that’s because running is the sport we, as humans, were born to do. The proof is in our evolution.
When you look at our prehistoric ancestors, they didn’t have grocery markets at their convenience whenever they wanted food. Instead, they had to gather and hunt for their food, and they didn’t do it in cars. What made this possible, according to a team of scientists from the University of Arizona in Tucson and Harvard, were the shape of their heel bones. The Achilles tendon, which stretches taut to connect the heel to muscles in our calves, acts like a spring that stores and releases energy with every step.
Now, in present day, this spring action is what allows runners to run a marathon. The first time I ever participated in a marathon, I was out of shape. I didn’t train properly and I gasped the entire way to the finish line. Afterwards, I used the excuse that I’m a sprinter, not a distance runner. Except I am a distance runner… we all are. The problem wasn’t with my capabilities because, as my coaches always said, running is a mental game. The real problem was that I had no stamina, and I discouraged myself for the entire distance with thoughts of giving up.
Truly, we are more capable of outlasting any other mammal when it comes to distance running. Take, for example, the annual Man versus Horse Marathon in Wales, where, just recently, humans defeated the fastest horse on two occasions. Dr. Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biology professor at Harvard, studies the evolution of the human body. In an interview with the New York Times, he explains why we are more adept at running than other animals. Humans contain special features in their necks which stabilize their heads when they run, thus helping us avoid injury and falls.
Even if we don’t run fast, we can out-run other animals with persistence. Have you ever noticed how much dogs pant? Whenever I take my dog out for a walk, she immediately tries to drink from the first puddle she sees. That’s because we can dissipate body heat faster than large mammals. Panting involves very short, rapid breaths to keep animals, such as dogs, cool, but it also interferes with their respiration. It’s the first rule of thumb I learned when I started playing sports to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. By keeping an even tempo and pacing, our ancestors were the champions of “persistence hunting,” and they could chase down any animal until it eventually exhausted itself.
Although we don’t run for the reasons we used to, we are still made to run. If you hear someone calling running unnatural, it’s because there is less emphasis on the sport for survival than an exercise for physical fitness. Often times, runners that are injured from running most likely did not start running until their later adult years. Similarly, the surfaces and gear you run with could also factor into running-related injuries. The human ability to run long distances should not be taken for granted. Running is what makes us human. Or, better yet, we are human because we can run.