Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From Apes to Marathoners

Bipedalism, opposable thumbs, and a giant brain are the big three differences that separate us from the rest of the food chain. The benefits of the latter two for tool making, hunting, etc. are obvious, but the first isn't totally understood. Usually it is attributed to one of the myriad of benefits that is associated with walking, but there are some that believe running is the real evolutionary driver behind bipedalism.

This is an argument that has been around for a while but recently has gained some strength in scientific data, particularly with a recent article in the Journal of Experimental Biology showing the benefit of short toes (a trait specific to humans) for running. Specifically, while shorter toes provide no measurable reduction in energy usage during walking, they do cut it by 20% for running.

This efficiency wouldn't help much with pure speed, but it provides a great benefit for running endurance, a trait that humans are particularly well suited for. How would this help hunter-gatherers? One of the authors, Daniel Lieberman, points to persistence hunting.

Basically you chase an animal over dozens of miles, slowly wearing it down until it collapses either from exhaustion or overheating. No need for sprinting, just a long, steady, fast gait. This practice is rare now but it was one of the earliest forms of hunting (predating even simple tools like spears).

So contrary to what you people continue to tell me, it turns out that humans may be designed to run marathons after all.

some more running nerd lolz

1 comment:

Jane Dough said...

I have long toes. That must be why I can't run fast.