|Amy Byard, on a training run|
Amy knew it was important to exercise regularly so she joined the local gym and did weight training, the elliptical machine and the treadmill. Exercise was not something she enjoyed but she discovered the exercise she minded the least was running, so she started running more and eventually signed up for a 5K (3.1 miles). The first few 5K's were very challenging and at the end, Amy still didn’t love running.
Fast-forward five years. Amy is now about to embark on her 6th half-marathon (13.1 miles). Somewhere between her starting point and now, she’s grown to love running. She’s noticed that she doesn’t quite feel right if she doesn’t get a few good runs in every week. Running reduces her stress, makes her more patient, and provides a sense of peace. It’s a time for her to get out of the house and take care of herself. It’s her “me time.” Her family and running buddies are supportive of her new hobby (and addiction), which helps provide that extra push she needs to run up a tough hill or complete the last few miles of a race.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you think running for 13.1 miles is not the ideal way to spend a Saturday morning and you don’t think humans are meant to run such long distances. However, some recent studies are beginning to show that part of the human evolution is specific to running- the ability to sweat, front facing big toes, spring-like ligaments and tendons in the feet, and the largest muscle in the human anatomy- the gluteus maximus- are all designed to help humans outrun their prey. Tara Poker-Pope, in The Human Body is Built for Distance, an article in the New York Times, notes: “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.” The two scientists, Daniel E. Lieberman and Dennis M. Bramble, authors of The Evolution of Marathon Running: Capabilities in Humans wrote, “a human could even outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon.”
A story by Popular Mechanics supports this statement as well. In The Animal Kingdom’s Top Marathoners, they listed the top six land animals, and humans came in at number 5, before horses (#6), and after sled dogs (#4), camels (#3), pronghorn antelope (#2), and the ostrich, which came in at number 1.
In May of 2012, National Geographic published an article called, Runners High Hardwired in People---and Dogs. In the article, Nat Geo looked into a recent study of the “runner’s high,” or a release of endocannabinoids, a natural chemical that makes you feel good. The study suggests that athletic animals, like humans and dogs, receive more of a psychological boost from exercising, while non-athletic animals, such as ferrets, do not receive the same psychological benefits. One of the study’s authors, Greg Gerderman said, “If our physiology evolved for us to be effective exercisers, that may be why our cardiovascular health, our metabolic health, and our mental health depends on it.”
So the next time you think that running isn’t your thing or that you aren’t built for it, think about the thousands of years of evolution that honed humans to become one of the best long-distance runners in the animal kingdom- and give it a shot! You may find, like Amy did, that it’s a great stress reliever!
By: Kayla Murphy