Friday, September 13, 2013

Biology...and Ultrarunning

I once read that humans and canids (wolves, foxes, dogs) are the only trotting carnivores ever evolved on the planet.

I don't know enough evolutionary biology to evaluate that statement, but I did just read this recently, about why humans can run long--long enough and steady enough to outrun horses--but can't outjump a cat:

At first glance the annual Man vs. Horse Marathon, set for June 9 in Wales, seems like a joke sport brought to us by the same brilliant minds behind dwarf tossing and gravy wrestling. It was, after all, the product of a pints-fueled debate in a Welsh pub, and for years its official starter was rock musician Screaming Lord Sutch, founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. But the jokiness is misleading: When viewed through science’s clarifying lens, the funny marathon is one of the few sports that isn’t a joke.
The oddsmakers would have known better if they'd been following the work of Harvard anthropologist Daniel Lieberman and University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble. They jointly proposed in a 2004 paper that we're superlatively endowed by evolution to go long. Our long-striding legs are packed with springlike tendons, muscles, and ligaments that enable us to briefly store elastic energy as we come down on a foot and then recoil to help propel us forward. Tellingly, the most important of these springs, our big, strong Achilles tendons, aren’t found in early human precursors such as Australopithecus—it seems that the high-end tendons evolved along with other adaptations for distance running in the genus Homo when it appeared on the African savanna about 2 million years ago.

So there you have it: we are actually designed for long-distance running.  It's not just a sport we pick up for the hell of it.


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