Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Evolution for Distance Running


            Runners always seem to be prone to injury.  Shin splints, strained muscles and tendons, and other small maladies seem to plague the marathon runners of the modern world. Some coaches and trainers will even go so far as to claim that running itself causes these injuries.  According to an article in the New York Times, however, the human body evolved for distance running.
            The article, entitled “The Human Body Is Built for Distance” and published in October of 2009, states that general wisdom seems to agree that “distance running leads to debilitating wear and tear, especially on the joints.”  However, several new articles, from journals such as the Sports Medicine and Current Anthropology reveal that the human body appears to have been made for endurance running.  Christopher McDougall, a runner who had been plagued with injuries, wrote a book (“Born to Run”) discussing the debate on distance running.
            One of the main arguments for the evolution of the human body for endurance running is the history of the genus Homo. Around two million years ago, hominids were hunter-gatherers, and are thought to have caught their prey by persistence hunting.  A group of hunters would follow their selected prey, chasing it across their habitat, until the animal could not elude them any longer.  In order to be successful in this attempt, the hominids needed to be able to outrun their prey.  Traits such as cooling by sweating rather than panting, little amounts of body hair, and short toes, as well as a narrow waist that is able to rotate, all suggest that the human body was, indeed, adapted to distance running.
            “So if we’re born to run, why are runners so often injured?” The New York Times makes a valid point in asking this final question.  The best answer, according to the article, is a combination of factors.  Most people do not begin to run until later in life, when muscles and tendons which are used for running are already developed and are not accustomed to running distances.  Artificial surfaces and the high-tech shoes which are so popular also increase the risk of injury.  All these problems, however, are easily corrected by running early in life on natural surfaces, and staying away from complex running shoes.

Here’s the article:
And here are a few papers/studies which are referenced in the article:

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