Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I run because I am a caveman..

One of my favorite books is 'Why We Run: A Natural History' by Bernd Heinrich. There are countless books out there that provide guidance around training, training plans, nutrition, and all of the minutiae involved in preparing for a race. Heinrich's book contains none of this.

Heinrich is a zoologist and a passionate runner. His book takes a close look at human evolution and how running played a critical part in our evolution. Originally titled, 'Racing the Antelope', Heinrich posits that we are natural runners. We were born to do it and do it for LONG distances in large part out of evolutionary necessity.

Eons ago, we were knuckle dragging troglodytes living in caves. We were gatherers and hunters. Every day was laborious, exhausting, and sometimes not entirely fruitful. It was an undoubtedly primal and savage existence.

Hunting was an incredibly challenging task. We're not a species known for speed. Antelopes clock about 61 MPH. Gazelles hover around 50 MPH. Even rabbits blow humans out of the water at 35MPH. In stark contrast, the fastest human (today) can clock about 27 MPH (for roughly 1/4 of a mile).

There's no possible way we could keep pace with our prey. Another approach was required. An approach that required persistence was needed. An approach that required patience, planning, and pacing was the only way. The first form of hunting (persistence hunting) was not terribly different from training for a marathon (or an ultra marathon).

Heinrich's description of persistence hunting immediately struck a chord with me. I was reminded of my first experiences becoming a runner. Not having any idea what I was doing, I simply went out and tried to run. Quickly, I found myself gasping and exhausted. My idea of running was limited to the 1/4 mile (or less) that I typically covered playing soccer or tennis.

There's no way I would survive running at this pace. It was through running with my cross country team (aka-tribe) that I learned a pace that was sustainable. I discovered my inner persistence hunter, my inner caveman who somehow knew intuitively what pace was sustainable for the number of miles I was trying to cover.

Each hunt enabled me to hone my abilities as a hunter. I came to know what speed I could travel for 5K assuming it was a good day and the weather complied. A 10 mile hunt required a different approach.

It's not too hard to see that through this planning for the future, marshaling of resources, and pacing how humans became better hunters and eventually began the climb up the evolutionary ladder.

Today there are countless devices, gadgets, and applications that one can leverage to manage your running and improve your performance. Seemingly everyone has a GPS watch, a heart rate, monitor, and/or an application they use when they run. I've even had some people tell me they 'can't' run without the aforementioned.

I'm guilty of using devices to aid my running. But, to do this exclusively is to ignore our past. We wouldn't be runners at all were it not for the caveman.

Every time I throw on my shoes and head out the door in some small way, I am paying homage to those who made it possible for me to do so. I honor the caveman and I run for him because I am one too.

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