Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Looked Over Jordan and What Do I See

One of many reasons I enjoy distance running is that I imagine it's an activity that humans are made for, that's all tied into culture and intelligence and that helped separate us from other primates. There's a bit of romance to the hunter-gatherer ideal, and I often ponder this while running, though I have yet to eat a deer while on trail (although I did once catch a rabbit with my bare hands; I didn't hurt it, and surprisingly I didn't catch hantavirus). Hence, my impassioned polemics against the "distance running is bad for you because it runs afoul of our evolution" school of fitness might not be so surprising.

It's poignant that East Africans - the people who never left the cradle of the species, the evolutionary Holy Land in which I will soon fulfill my dreams of going for a run - are notoriously over-represented among elite distance runners. Given the small sample size and the movement of human beings around Africa for the past hundred thousand years or so, to suggest a meaningful association would be profoundly unscientific. Still - take a look at this picture from a New York Times article about how culture has helped direct evolution - yes, it's from a Kenyan highland pasture:

I've never wanted to go running in a photograph so much. No wonder this countryside produces great endurance athletes.

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