(reading time: 9 mins)
What’s a long distance to run? 10,000 metres? A marathon? A 100 mile ultra-marathon in mountainous terrain, barely stopping through day and night for 20 hours?
There is a growing understanding that the human body evolved to run for several hours and cover tens of miles daily. Over long distances humans are the fastest animal on the planet because we lose heat efficiently, making us the supreme ‘persistence’ hunters, and our ancestors pursued our prey to collapse for an easy kill. Humans have only made tools for around 200,000 years, so for the first 1.8 million years of human evolution, the ability to run long distances was a probably a key factor preventing our extinction – before large brains and the ability to change our surroundings really gave us the evolutionary leg-up.
Long distances used to be shorter
In 1972 my father watched an athletics event in Edinburgh, where a mix of Olympic hopefuls and lower ranked amateurs were competing. In the 10k the slower runners came in long after the podium places had been decided, but everybody stayed and cheered the stragglers home, feeling that anyone finishing a 10,000m run was achieving something special.
At this time distance running was to the general population a bit eccentric and unnatural. It was the same for many scientists, Continue reading…