Thursday, 8 April 2021

Designed to Run

Sitting here at my desk I watch as two runners are jogging past my window.  They are happily chatting as they stride along in their colourful running gear.  Their running shoes are the best on the market and colour coded with their clothing. They make it look so easy and I have an urge to lace up and join them. The sport of running has become a multi-million dollar business, but have you ever wondered about running and the history behind this sport?

Running has not always been a sport, although it has been around for millennia.   For early humans running was essential for their survival.  As hunter-gatherers they had to cover long distances in search of food.  Although there has been many debates about whether humans were made for running, especially when compared to faster land animals, research has shown in fact that we are uniquely designed for running.  Especially longer distances.  Even though many animals, including the elephant, are faster over short sprints, humans can outrun them over greater distances.  In fact every part of our bodies features designs made to sustain long distance running.

One such a design is the Nuchal ligament, which is only activated during running, and helps to keep our heads stabilized.  Humans also have longer legs compared to their body mass and this results in more energy economy while running.  Our shorter toes and the lack of fur, as well as the ability to regulate our temperature, are also designs which aid us in running longer distances.

So when did running become a sport?  Well, first, running is inborn and is a natural part of movement.  You just have to watch a baby learning to walk.  Not long after they find their footing they start taking quicker steps to get to a shiny object, their bottle or anything else they should not be touching.  It is simply amazing how fast they can run on those wobbly little legs, and no one taught them to run, it just happens!

Now let's talk about ancient.  How does 3100 BC sound?  It started in one of the oldest civilizations, Egypt.  They held the Sed Festival.  Thirty years into a Pharaoh's  reign he had to complete a race every three years until his death.  It is theorized that the reason was to determine whether he was still fit to rule. Then there are factual records of when the first "sporting" event happened.  It dates back to about 1000 BC when the Tailteann Games were held in Ireland.  These were in honour of the dead.  In 776 BC, Olympia in Greece hosted the first Olympic games, where the only items were running.

Most people running for recreational purposes have some or other goal in mind, and although many  proclaim that they only ever just wanted to run 10 km maximum, most of them actually have greater goals in mind, such as a half marathon and even a full marathon.  There is something alluring about the marathon distance.  I think a lot of it stems from the legend of Pheidippides who ran the distance of about 42.195 km in 490 BC.  The story has it that  he ran from the battlefield near Marathon, a town in Greece, to Athens to deliver the news of the Persians' defeat.  After delivering his message, he fell over and died.

Over centuries running has evolved from a necessity for survival to what it is today, a highly competitive sport or simply a means to stay healthy or a chance to socialize and de-stress from life's demands.  Whatever your reason is for running, just enjoy it. 

 I leave you with this quote by Kristen Armstrong, runner and author:

"There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further it transcends the mind.  A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.

Happy Running.


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