“What does running mean to me?” I asked myself while coming up with a topic for my blog post. In short, running is a way for me to relax after a long day while also getting in that “dreaded” exercise. It’s also a chance for me to escape life for a bit and enjoy some true freedom; I run as far as I want for as long as I want. This passion of mine has led me to ponder the best method for running and how running has changed throughout time, a question I didn’t even know if there would be an answer for! Isn’t there just one way to run? Your feet go from moving slow to moving fast and that’s running, right? Well yes, but it’s a lot cooler than that!
From my research, I discovered two main characteristics that make running such a unique experience for humans based on our evolutionary anatomy. The first is gross but also inspiring – sweat (I’ll make you wait to hear the second one)! As someone who has lost a lot of weight, partially attributed to walking/running, I say sweat is “fat crying” so I always like changing out of my sweat-drenched jogging attire because it makes me feel proud. Why is sweating unique? Well, it’s not, but humans are really good at it. Humans have sweat glands all over our bodies, which aren’t as hairy or furry as other mammals that sweat.
This allows the sweat to stay on top of our skin and cool us off anywhere on our body without getting soaked up by fur. Also, because sweating is a natural process we can do it nonstop! We can sweat while running! Sounds pretty lame but other animals, like dogs, have to stop running so they can pant and cool off. The unique human ability to cool off without stopping running makes us able to outrun almost any animal in the world! Cheetahs are fast but we have endurance! Evolutionary speaking, this trait has allowed humans to hunt animals mostly by running after them until they die of heat stroke or wait until they have to stop and cool down. After learning this I felt like it must mean that humans are basically born to run! It’s how our ancestors have survived for thousands of years and I’m simply continuing the evolutionary process.
Okay so, I made you wait to hear the second reason why human running is unique and here it is: we used to run barefoot! Back when our human ancestors were hunting game in the grasslands thousands of years ago, you couldn’t find a good Nike store anywhere! This meant they had to hunt and run with no foot support. After doing some research, I found a tribe, the Tarahumara, that has been unchanged by Western civilization for hundreds of years. They can run about 200 miles a day to get supplies, deliver mail, etc. for their tribe. The secret to their running is going barefoot or wearing very thin sandals made of deerskin or old tire rubber. This allows the runner to land on the front of their foot and follow through down on the back of the foot.
Running shoes on the other hand have a large cushioned heel so the runner will land on the back of the foot first. Of course, I wasn’t going to trust research for something I can test myself so I took to the sidewalks to see what’s up. I opted to continue wearing shoes and just try to land on the front of my foot because actually running barefoot can be dangerous. It was difficult at first to get myself to run in the “barefoot way” like that and I kept switching back and forth between this and the “running shoes way”. My calf muscles got really sore which I wasn’t expecting. I realized the “running shoes way” works the thighs and the “barefoot way” works the calves.
After a couple of weeks of still doing both ways I’ve come to a conclusion. First, I want to mention that I actually really like running both ways because I’ve found that when my calves need to rest, I switch to the running shoes way and back to the barefoot way when my thighs need a break. I say this because it may have effected my results. I found I’m able to last longer jogging without needing to take a break when using the… “BAREFOOT way!” I thought this was such a cool conclusion to come to! It totally makes sense that I’d be evolutionary more likely to want to run this way so it made me feel somehow connected to my ancestors. However, I will stick to switching between the running shoes and barefoot because going back and forth allows me to last longer than when I would use just one style over the other.
If there are any other running fanatics out there who would try this experiment I would love to hear what y’all thought! In my opinion, we live in a world that looks to the past for inspiration about how to improve the future. I think a really awesome running shoe could be made with this in mind and then we wouldn’t have the great debate about to run with shoes or to run away from shoes. And next time you start sweating, instead of putting on deodorant and complaining about it, think about it like your body crying out that muffin from breakfast (also put on deodorant though).