Here’s an interesting theory that humans evolved for distance running:
Modern humans and their immediate ancestors such as Homo erectus sport several adaptations that make humans, instead of some ferocious, furry, or fleet creature, the animal world’s best distance runners.
Specifically, we developed long, springy tendons in our legs and feet that function like large elastics, storing energy and releasing it with each running stride, reducing the amount of energy it takes to take another step. There are also several adaptations to help keep our bodies stable as we run, such as the way we counterbalance each step with an arm swing, our large butt muscles that hold our upper bodies upright, and an elastic ligament in our neck to help keep our head steady.
Though those adaptations make humans and our immediate ancestors better runners, it is our ability to run in the heat that Lieberman said may have made the real difference in our ability to procure game.
Humans, he said, have several adaptations that help us dump the enormous amounts of heat generated by running. These adaptations include our hairlessness, our ability to sweat, and the fact that we breathe through our mouths when we run, which not only allows us to take bigger breaths, but also helps dump heat.
This ought to settle the long-standing distance running vs. sprinting debate I recall from high school track. We distance runners can just wait for a hot day and then persistence-hunt the sprinters into submission. However, as much as I like this theory, I have to question this statement from its proponent:
“Humans are terrible athletes in terms of power and speed, but we’re phenomenal at slow and steady. We’re the tortoises of the animal kingdom,” Lieberman said.
Um, surely the tortoises are the tortoises of the animal kingdom?