13 July 2011: Running can bring us together

Running can bring us together

In Born to Run, which has become biblical for many runners, Christopher McDougall relates the story of Louis Liebenberg who, with a renegade band of Bushmen, ran down an antelope in the Kalahari Desert in Africa. It wasn’t though for sport, but to test his theory.

“I had a vague gut feeling that the art of animal tracking could represent the origin of science itself,” Liebenberg told McDougall.

Liebenberg was in pursuit of the Big Bang of the Human Mind, how we leaped “from basic survival thinking to wildly complicated concepts like logic, humor, deduction, abstract reasoning, and creative imagination.”

Hunters needed to learn to move beyond tracking by tracks to a “higher state of reasoning known as ‘speculative hunting,’” which draws on the same skill set, including visualization and abstract thinking, used for “mental engineering in science, medicine, and the creative arts.”

In short, we’re here because we, Homo erectus, not only could run but also outran the Neanderthals. It’s the Running Man theory, hence the title for the book: We were and are born to run.

Distance-wise, humans can outrun any animal. Several developments in the evolution of the human body aid in that: a hairless, porous skin that allows heat to escape; the nuchal ligament that serves to hold the head steady while running; the ability to huff and puff while running; an Achilles tendon, short toes, and an arched foot, an “architectural marvel,” among them.

But as soon as we figured out how to hurl projectiles, precursors of nuclear missiles, to take down a mastodon, our brains began whispering sweet-nothings into our ears: “Why run? It consumes energy, and besides, once you’ve developed a strong arm, you’ll make untold wealth pitching major league baseball.”

First we fashioned sandals to soften the impact on the soles of our feet, then high-heels to keep women from running away. In 1972 Nike developed the super-padded, modern running shoe, and we quit breaking Olympic records but succeeded in creating a society of overweight, immobile sluggards addicted to weight-inducing carbs and sugar that not only fatten the body but also the brain.

Succinctly put, “If there’s any magic bullet to make humans healthy, it’s to run,” says Dr. Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, and if you haven’t figured it out, this series of articles—services offered by CCC providers two weeks ago and our obese society last week—is all about making us more healthy, thus happier.

That or pay the piper, in this case the health-insurer-complex or HIC for short.

“Running is rooted in our collective imagination, and out imagination is rooted in running,” Liebenberg told Dr. Dennis Bramble, professor of biology at the University of Utah. “Language, art, science, space shuttles, Starry Night, intravascular surgery; they all had their roots in our ability to run.”

“Running, he added, “was the superpower that made us humans—which means it’s a superpower all humans possess.”

I credit Beth Luther for being one of my two inspirations in becoming a runner—the other being my 74-year-old sister with six marathons under her belt.

With Beth’s encouragement, I ran my first Bolder Boulder in 1999, and then followed up with the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half-Marathon.

Both were grueling, but over the years, a 10k has become a minimal run with half-marathons a regular staple of my running competition diet.

In our community lives an incredible human being who owns the record for running from San Francisco to New York City in the 50-year-old-plus age bracket: Marshall Ulrich did it in 52 days, averaging 60 miles per day and tells his story in his new book Running on Empty.

Last year, John Prenguber, who has finished over 300 races including nine marathons, ran the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half-Marathon on prosthetics after having both legs amputated due to infections, the result of complications from diabetes.

Race director Stephan Andrade shared John’s story in an email.

“I had no desire to sit in a corner and do nothing,” Prenguber told Andrade. “I used to run, and I was going to keep running, and that was that.”

Right on, John. As McDougall points out, “the reason we race isn’t to beat each other, but to be with each other,” and in so doing he insists, it can make us better people.

Note from Linda Trenbeath: The GT to Idaho Springs Half-Marathon is offering Clear Creek Residents a $20 registration fee for the race. Simply call Public Health’s at 303-567-3148 and speak clearly, spelling your name and leaving your phone number. The list will be given to the race director.

How cool is that? And by the way, John says he’ll be running again. Totally cool. I’ll see you August 13 at the starting line where I hope to meet him.

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