The marathon has been an integral event of the modern Olympic games since the first games were held in 1896. Running — mostly long-distance running — has been a fixture in school sport programs and public life since at least the 19th century. Yet the history of human running reaches much further back in human history. One could almost say that human beings were designed to run, and run long distances at that.
Barefoot Running- An Old “Fad”
In premodern times, tribal peoples such as the Tarahumara (also known as the Rarámuri) — a Native American people of current-day Mexico — regularly ran up to one hundred miles per day. The Tarahumara did this as a method of hunting, and also as a method of rapidly moving between widely-spaced settlements. The Tarahumara still still follow the same long-distance running practices today, running at frankly incredible speeds over staggering distances. Although other human activities such as mining, development and tourism have affected the life of the Tamahumara people profoundly — starting from the Spanish colonial period and continuing into the present day — their culture still revolves partially around these feats of running prowess, including races which they run for sport and entertainment. The Tamahumara people are also notable because they run almost barefoot, wearing only simple sandals known as huaraches. They seem adapted to this after many generations of running in this way. This Podiatrist from Manahawkin, NJ doesn’t feel that barefoot running is for everyone in modern times. The sports author Christopher McDougall has written extensively on the Tarahumara people, in his popular sports philosophy book Born to Run. Although McDougall devotes a lot of the book to his philosophy of barefoot running, he also closely investigates the scientific theory known as the “endurance running hypothesis.”
Long Distance Running
This hypothesis is also useful to those who seek to explain and examine the health benefits associated with long-distance running. The scientists who proposed this hypothesis believe that certain human characteristics — such as the biomechanics of certain tendons and ligaments, the shape of the foot and ankle, body shape, and other biomechanics concerns — can be explained as an evolutionary response to the need to run long distances. Early humans (and human ancestors) needed to run long distances. They did this because they needed to obtain food, or because they simply needed to cover long distances in order to travel. In many cases, our human ancestors needed to run until the animal they were hunting was exhausted — in much the same way that the Tarahumara still do.
Building up the foot
What can a potential or current runner gain from this information, from these theories? Human beings are supposed to run, and we (as a species) are supposed to run long distances. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any given person reading this should go out and run (or try to run) a hundred miles a day, just because certain long distance runners can do that after a lifetime of training. Yet, given a large amount of appropriate training and the right support, many healthy people with functioning joints — and a lot of grit — have the ability to work their way up to running long distances, regularly. Every human being, at least genetically, was born to run.
Always check with your foot doctor
Every runner or potential runner reading this should remember to take things slowly. It is important to consult with a physician before undertaking a new exercise or training regime, especially a long-distance running training program. Take things slowly at first, and stop if something feels strange. Yet taking those concerns into account, those who are considering taking up running for fitness should ask themselves what is stopping them. Although many things may hold you back (hopefully only at first), biology isn’t one of them.