If you happen to be a distance runner or a quadruped, there's an article that may interest you in the May 2011 issue of Outside magazine.
The article is titled "Fair Chase" and subtitled "On the plains of New Mexico, a band of elite marathoners tests a controversial theory of evolution: that humans can outrun the fastest animals on earth," and you can read it right here.
The framework for the article — let's pit some fast marathoners against a pronghorn antelope and see if they can't pursue the thing until it overheats and falls over — is a little gimmicky, but fun. And I won't give away the ending here.
The underlying idea is the theory that, as Outside explains, "our ancestors evolved into endurance athletes in order to hunt quadrupeds by running them to exhaustion." (This is called "persistence hunting.") Harvard's Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist, is among this theory's most visible proponents.
Well, with all due respect to Dr. Lieberman and his fellow experts: I think you're close, but not quite there.
My own theory is that our ancestors did indeed use running to hunt — not by running animals to exhaustion, but by cornering them in social situations and talking to them about running until they collapsed of boredom.
At which point the runners could surround the quadruped and devour it at their leisure, using the calories to fuel more long runs and speed workouts, which they could then describe at agonizing length to future quadrupeds, who would then collapse of boredom, etc.
You know. Circle of life.
A typical scenario might play out like this, at a gathering of our australopithecine ancestors, one of whom has buttonholed an obviously uncomfortable antelope by a crude, stone punch bowl:
* * *
Australopithecine ancestor: "Me been runner for long time. Me not training for anything right now. Maybe spring marathon. Whatever 'marathon' is. And 'spring.' You run? You have four leg. You probably run."
Australopithecine ancestor: "Me bet you run fast. Me no run fast. Me more of jogger. Ha ha. But at least me out there. Me try to do many short run most time, then one long run some time. Also Yasso 800."
Antelope: [eyes dart nervously, looking for an out]
Australopithecine ancestor: "You barefoot runner? Me into barefoot running. Change life. Just seem more natural."
Antelope: [snorts, shudders]
Australopithecine ancestor: "You know where me like run? Savanna. Flat, pretty. Me feel like me can run forever on savanna. Me perspire, but that okay. You perspire? No? Ha. You look like you want perspire now. Anywaaaaaay… Me tell you about time me hurt leg?"
Antelope: [twitching, panting, scratching at ground]
Australopithecine ancestor: "Me try to run through hurt. No work. Hurt spread! Look, me show you where pain go…"
Antelope: [falls over, unconscious, bored out of its skull]
Australopithecine ancestor, to others: "Dinner ready!"
* * *
…Like I said, this is also just a theory. Maybe someday I'll test it. As soon as I finish that crude, stone punch bowl.
Attention, Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Area Runners!
If you're running this weekend's Lehigh Valley Half-Marathon and 5-K — or, heck, if you just live nearby, come meet a few Runner's World staffers at the race expo this Saturday:
Amby Burfoot, signing copies of The Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life
Budd Coates (9:00 – 5:00), promoting CoreSliders and signing copies of Run Your Butt Off!
Sarah Lorge Butler, delivering a talk on Run Your Butt Off!, at 9:00, then signing copies of the book afterward
Charlie Butler (10:00 – 5:00), signing copies of The Long Run and delivering a talk on the book's subject, Matt Long, at 2:00
Mark Remy (10:00 – 2:00-ish), signing copies of The Runner's Rule Book and The Runner's Field Manual
Where: Holiday Inn Allentown, 904 West Hamilton Street (click here for details and map)