Submit your own Neatorama post and vote for others' posts to earn NeatoPoints that you can redeem T-shirts, hoodies and more over at the NeatoShop!

Humans Evolved to Be Long-Distance Runners

Tara Parker-Pope writes in The New York Times about the conclusions of some medical researchers that long-distance running is a major evolutionary advantage for humans. The ability to remain cool by sweating instead of panting and a foot structure ideal for running helped early humans hunt:

Most mammals can sprint faster than humans — having four legs gives them the advantage. But when it comes to long distances, humans can outrun almost any animal. Because we cool by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals. On a hot day, the two scientists wrote, a human could even outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon.

Why would evolution favor the distance runner? The prevailing theory is that endurance running allowed primitive humans to incorporate meat into their diet. They may have watched the sky for scavenging birds and then run long distances to reach a fresh kill and steal the meat from whatever animal was there first.

Other research suggests that before the development of slingshots or bows, early hunters engaged in persistence hunting, chasing an animal for hours until it overheated, making it easy to kill at close range. A 2006 report in the journal Current Anthropology documents persistence hunting among modern hunter-gatherers, including the Bushmen in Africa.[...]

There is other evidence that evolution favored endurance running. A study in The Journal of Experimental Biology last February showed that the short toes of the human foot allowed for more efficient running, compared with longer-toed animals. Increasing toe length as little as 20 percent doubles the mechanical work of the foot. Even the fact that the big toe is straight, rather than to the side, suggests that our feet evolved for running.

Link via Instapundit | Image: U.S. Secret Service

Quote: "Because we cool by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals. On a hot day, the two scientists wrote, a human could even outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon."

Not disagreeing with the idea of humans as long distance runners but this statement does not support the theory.

Like humans, horses cool by sweating, not by panting. And they can easily do distance as well.

Endurance riding is an equestrian sport that involves very long distances. The Arabian horse breed is noted for being ideally suited for it. From a quick google search I see that the 2008 winning 100 endurance race time was 9:53 and the US record for the 100 mile ultra marathon is 12:27. Not only is the horse faster than the human for 100, it's carrying a rider as well.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I'd have to disagree, the bipedal limbs we have are incredibly inferior to many other species on this planet, since we aren’t so much walking, but perpetually falling instead. I only think that we are only superior to the inchworm. You know the thing that has to lift its upper body and then throw itself forward just to get somewhere... ya.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Our whole human bipedal evolution seems to be pointed at the one-day-in evolution point that humans would have to drive cars and fly aeroplanes. For that, we humans are built exeptionally well- In fact one could even see some form of Divine engineering of the human species that this species maches so well with those machines. So my guess is that Darwin must be wrong after all.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I agree with this article that man evolved toward endurance running, but I agree with the others that we are not even close to being the champions in the animal kingdom.

I would imagine the only advantage we have is our versatility. What animal can run, jump, swim, and also climb as well as we do?
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Ah, to be an academic who relies on theory instead of personal experience.

Rather than theorizing why don't they go out and see what they can accomplish by hunting on their feet? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to long distance run after a deer on uneven terrain? Or any animal out in the wild? They're fast for a reason. This article, while nice speculation, is the usual Utopian theorizing. Go out and try it in reality/actuality and see what you can accomplish.

I'd suggest we'd have to trap, look for tracks which would allow us to hide, ambush, and then ferociously SPRINT after the animal and hope to wound/kill it as fast as possible in the few seconds we have before it gets away.

Long distance running would give us away because we'd be LOUD cracking branches, etc. A deer merely jogs up rough/terrain and then peers back at us while we try to catch our breath.

Again, go out and try for yourself and see how effective long distance running is. Perhaps, to position ourselves in another area, but we'd have to employ many diverse strategies in the wild and long distance running would only be a minor one.

Also, a long distance runner has excellent endurance, but lacks the overwhelming strength necessary TO KILL. I think you'd have to have moderate endurance and above average strength. Too much endurance erodes strength.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
"What animal can run, jump, swim, and also climb as well as we do?"

Bear, Mountain Lion, to name a couple off the top of my head.

The skills of the Mountain Lion are unbelievable.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I am curious about your comment, “Our whole human bipedal evolution seems to be pointed at the one-day-in evolution point that humans would have to drive cars and fly aeroplanes”.

Isn’t this statement saying you accept evolution? If so, then I am puzzled that you say Darwin is wrong?

Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)

Darwin is not infallible. Scientists overwhelmingly believe in evolution because of the evidence and logical analyses, not because of a figurehead.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
there is more evidence of our long distance running prowess if you look at energy expenditure vs speed plots. we are far from fast in a maximum velocity sense but if you look across phyla from horses to humans to cheetahs you see that we have a huge advantage in "trotting" speeds. we walk with a fairly low energy cost but sprinting is much much more taxing to us then horses or cheetahs. at a trotting speed though, which is about what youd get if you were a true long distance runner, we are far and away more efficient then most other animals. Hyenas and wild dogs have a similar advantage. The african bushmen that track animals over days of terrain finally succeed due to this evolutionary advantage in efficiency. more proof of this is if you actually look at animals that try to trot or jog, horses have to be trained to do so simply because its just so out of there natural condition to do so.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I wish people would do some research before commenting. "Only superior to an inchworm." Really? Please.

This idea is taken from the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall, which I just finished about a month ago. It was a great read, with a really in-depth look at the Tarahumara, a tribe of runners in Mexico's Copper Canyon. For anyone who is intrigued by this idea, McDougall makes a very convincing argument based on many, many sources.

Deer and other animals run quickly for short amounts of time, but humans can, and do, frequently run 100 miles or more in ultramarathons without stopping. Eventually that deer, tuckered out from constantly running away from a group of runners, will collapse to the ground. This hunting method is still used in parts of Africa.

The thing I hate most about blogs is how everyone thinks that their opinion, when completely unsupported by research, is a valid part of a discussion. It's not. It's actually irrelevant and obnoxious.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Horses do not have to be trained to trot, they do it naturally. Endurance horses trot the vast majority of the 100 mile races as it's a very efficient gait.

Horses have 4 natural gaits: the walk, trot, canter and gallop. Foals will often trot within a couple days of birth.

IMHO horses should be considered an endurance animal rather than a sprint animal. When horses were the only means of transportation they were often expected to move all day (often at a trot) and were able to do it with little trouble.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Ronald Darwin has worked out the principle of unguided or undirected evolution. I merely seem to point here at the strong evidence of guided evolution- ney dare I say - guided and prethought development. Imagine- All that energy of about 15 billion years of planetary evolution and then about 1,5 billion years of evolution of life Júst sparked and corrected to make humans so perfect that they can use these cars and aeroplanes...! Incredible...! That whole bipedal walking-thing is just a moment in our development- a fad that soon will dissapear because now we are reaching our directed evolutionary destinies: Segway, Car and Aircraft.

Just incredible that Deity. Just incredible...

Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Foreigner, are you that dense?

Machines, airplanes, and automobiles were MADE BY HUMANS. It's not like technology has always existed in the universe, and humans MAGICALLY (ie: divine intervention) appeared in the world able to "fit right into them".

You do realize humans came first.. right? We created cars... to FIT OUR BODIES. If we were shaped like octopuses, the cockpits in our airplanes would obviously be different, buddy.

I can't believe you actually cannot grasp that. Wow.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)

I guess you were referring to yourself when you said "Ah, to be an academic who relies on theory instead of personal experience."

Before 'theorizing' that it's impossible do some little research. Here's one for a start or this or this video .
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.
Click here to access all of this post's 14 comments
Email This Post to a Friend
"Humans Evolved to Be Long-Distance Runners"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More