Marathoning: Is it in Our DNA?
Some scientists believe the modern human body evolved to run
Lindsey Konkel • October 31, 2009
A string of recent running deaths have some wondering whether humans were meant to dash long distances. Can our bodies take the miles? The answer is yes, according to Daniel Lieberman and Dennis Bramble, biological anthropologists at Harvard University and the University of Utah, who contend that humans evolved as distance-running animals.
Flash Animation: Paula Radcliffe, 2008 NYC Marathon winner, shows off some of the traits that make humans the species to beat when it comes to endurance running.
And believe it or not, humans are pretty great endurance runners compared to other animals. So we don’t have the speed of a cheetah, but we can trot with the best of antelopes, or even horses, for that matter. Lieberman and Bramble believe this is anything but coincidence. Their research shows that certain traits, such as big butts and springy tendons, make the human body perfect for running.
Early humans may have had to track down their protein on the African savannah, running it to death, or, at the very least, hustle to scavenge meat from a recent kill before other animals could pick the bones clean. This early access to protein may in turn have fueled the evolution of our big human brains, complete with goal-setting tendencies. We are, after all, the only species that will run an entire marathon just for fun.
This idea is also supported by the running performance of some of the indigenous people around the world. Some members of the Tarahumara people in Mexico can run the equivalent distance of 3 or 4 marathons at a time.