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Natural born runners

March 13, 2010

Humans have been running ever since the prehistoric persistence hunters of Kalahari ran down game in epic runs. Today we run marathons “because running is rooted in our collective imagination, and our imagination is rooted in running”…”Running was the superpower that made us human–which means it’s a superpower all humans possess.”

Louis Liebenberg was studying philosophy of science at the University of Cape Town when he started wondering about the Big Bang of the human kind. He believed the answer was out in the deserts of southern Africa. “I had a vague gut feeling that the art of animal tracking could represent the origin of science itself.” At twenty-two Louis dropped out of college and decided to test his theory with the bushmen. He found a renegade band of bushmen still living the way of their ancestors, and stayed with them for four years, learning their art of animal tracking, which included persistence hunting where they work as a team to run down a chosen animal, even going into the mind of the prey: “speculative hunting” or “mind-throwing”, a deadly talent on the Kalahari plains.

I’m still reading Christopher McDougall’s truly inspiring and enlightening odyssey “Born to Run” where he trace the lost art of running and discover that he too is a runner, despite what the doctors had told him. In his quest for the origin of running, McDougall finds not only that the Tarahumara indians, who live in isolated mountain areas of northwestern Mexico, aren’t the only remaining running people in the world. We are all runners, descendents from the running men of Africa – genetically and historically. When we run we actually perform a ritual connected to the evolution of mankind.

This thought fills me completely when I run back home after making tracks in the wet spring snow with the sun setting in the west hiding behind orange clouds. Running is deeply human, thus natural for us. Hmm. It’s like this thought makes me run the right way. Relaxed, smooth, light on my feet, pulling an imaginary sled with my waist. Running barefoot-style, just like I would without shoes. The shoulders fall down. Chest up. Chin up. I feel the air in the palm of my hands, holding it like it was time slipping through, caressing it gently with my fingertips, tasting it while rolling down the slushy trail. Smiling. Loving it. Every second. Every step. Every breath. I wonder if running has ever felt this good.

By the way, did you know that a runner’s peak is at age 27? And that you’re 65 when you are back to running the same speed you did at nineteen. “There’s something weird about us humans; we’re not only really good at endurance running”, says Dr. Bramble, professor in evolutionary biology, “we’re really good at it for a remarkably long time. We’re a machine built to run – and the machine never wears out.”

You don’t stop running because you get old, the Dipsea Demon always said. You get old because you stop running.

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