Posted by: 4pack | April 12, 2009

“Ideal Shape”: Modern Man Evolved As “Endurance Runners” Says A Current Theory In Book “Born To Run”; Could Modern Man Be “Unsuited” For Sustained Prosperity?

GET OFF YOUR BUTTS OGGIES…THE HUMAN BODY HAS POSSIBLY EVOLVED TO BE IDEALLY SUITED TO ENDURANCE RUNNING…I.E. RUNNING DOWN PREY AS HOMO ERECTUS MOVED AWAY FROM HOMINIDS…THE INTERESTING POINT HERE TO FOUR PACKS IS THAT AS WE GET LAZIER AND LESS DISCIPLINED WITH DIET AND EXERCISE WE ARE GETTING FATTER AND FATTER AT AN ALARMING PACE….COULD IT BE THAT OUR BODIES JUST ARE DESIGNED TO LIVE IN TIMES OF FOOD ABUNDANCE GENERATION AFTER GENERATION?….ARE WE “UNSUITED” FOR SUSTAINED PROSPERITY?

borntorunChristopher McDougall came up against this very conundrum in his spirited book Born to Run (Knopf, May 2009). McDougall, neither anthropologist nor biologist, is a journalist originally given an assignment for Runner’s World that morphed into a consuming fascination with feats of high mileage, particularly with that of the Mexican Tarahumara Indians, reclusive canyon dwellers reputed to be the best endurance athletes on earth. Wearing shoes fashioned from tire strips to cushion their feet, the Tarahumara cover up to 400 miles in festive, multiday events drawing runners and spectators from multiple villages. They are also the picture of health, enjoying almost total immunity to cancer and the diseases that plague modern society. For McDougall, the Tarahumara seem to confirm what Lieberman has been arguing all along, that humans are built for running. To find out why, McDougall inevitably found his way to the Harvard researcher, who shared with him an intriguing theory.

Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, Matt Carpenter. These are the megastars of ultra-distance running, athletes who pound out not just marathons, but dozens of them back-to-back, over Rocky Mountain passes and across the scorching floor of Death Valley. If their names are unfamiliar, it’s probably because this type of extreme running is almost universally seen as a fringe sport, the habit of the superhumanly fit, the masochistic, the slightly deranged.

But a handful of scientists think that these ultra-marathoners are using their bodies just as our hominid forbears once did, a theory known as the endurance running hypothesis (ER). ER proponents believe that being able to run for extended lengths of time is an adapted trait, most likely for obtaining food, and was the catalyst that forced Homo erectusto evolve from its apelike ancestors. Over time, the survival of the swift-footed shaped the anatomy of modern humans, giving us a body that is difficult to explain absent a marathoning past.

Our toes, for instance, are shorter and stubbier than those of nearly all other primates, including chimpanzees, a trait that has long been attributed to our committed bipedalism. But a study published in the March 1 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, by anthropologists Daniel Lieberman and Campbell Rolian, provides evidence that short toes make human feet exquisitely suited to substantial amounts of running. In tests where 15 subjects ran and walked on pressure-sensitive treadmills, Lieberman and Rolian found that toe length had no effect on walking. Yet when the subjects were running, an increase in toe length of just 20 percent doubled the amount of mechanical work, meaning that the longer-toed subjects required more metabolic energy, and each footfall produced more shock.

We know that roughly 2 million years ago, Australopithecus, with its tiny brain, hefty jaw and diet of rough, fibrous plants, evolved into Homo erectus, our slim, long-legged ancestor with a big brain and small teeth suited for tearing into animal and fruit flesh. Such a transformation almost certainly involved a reliable supply of calorie-laden meat, yet according to the fossil record, spear points have been in use for 200,000 years at most, and the bow and arrow for only 50,000 years, leaving an enormous stretch of time when early humans were consuming meat without the use of tools. Lieberman believes they ran their prey to death, often called “persistence hunting.”

 

In the book, McDougall recounts the Harvard researcher’s eureka moment, which happened on a five-mile jog one summer afternoon with his half-mutt border collie, Vashti: It was hot, and after a few miles, Vashti plopped down under a tree and refused to move… As he waited for his panting dog to cool off, Lieberman’s mind flashed back to his time doing fossil research in Africa…Ethnographer’s reports he’d read years ago began flooding his mind; they told of African hunters who used to chase antelopes across the savannahs, and Tarahumara Indians who would race after a deer ”until its hooves fell off.“ Lieberman had always shrugged them off as tall tales…but now he started to wonder. So how long would it take to actually run an animal to death?

http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/the_running_man_revisited/

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