Born to Run?

I received an email the other day from a reader Cynthia Kuni who has some different ideas about running. She makes good arguments that I think deserve consideration. I’ll save my comments for after.


I’ve enjoyed your blog since I discovered it at the beginning of this year. I really like your approach and appreciate the amount of time it must take you to put together your posts. When I realized that you also share our (hubby’s & mine) political philosophy of individual liberty, I became an even bigger fan.

I hope you will do me the honor of reading this letter. I do appreciate your time. It’s rather long, and I apologize for that. I have put off writing it for over a month, but I cannot stop thinking about it. The dogma about which I am writing to oppose keeps popping up. This letter is my first foray into proposing an alternative viewpoint.

If you think I have a valid point, you might have a way to spread the idea since you are a "player" in this nascent paleo / lowcarb / Taubes movement (will refer to as LC hereafter), with a voice and an audience. Maybe you would reprint my letter, or part of it. If you think I’m wrong, I will thank you for your time and move on.

I had been trying to eat paleo for a couple of years when I discovered Jimmy Moore and low carb in January. That was when I began to realize how addicted I was to carbs, even though I was getting them from massive amounts of fruit (especially dates & bananas). I also believed in Cordain’s "lean meats" recommendation and, along with the high fruit intake, I was starving for the right macronutrients and gaining weight on the wrong ones. I immediately set forth to change my diet and it’s been an incredible 3+ months! I’m sold. 🙂

As I have been reading (and listening) to everything I can get my hands on about low carb living, something keeps popping up that is bothering me. I don’t have a blog or a podcast, so I really don’t have a public voice, but I keep thinking I need to say something to someone or I’ll go nuts. I decided to try you first because I relate to you and perhaps am less intimidated because you feel like a friend. It’s not that you have offended me in any way, it’s more that I see you as a person with influence who might be sympathetic.

It’s about… running. (Endurance running, not sprints.) Specifically, it’s about the anti-running sentiment that seems to exist so prevalently in the LC community. At the same time that I was discovering this wonderful new way of eating, I seemed to be surrounded by voices denigrating something I loved to do. But their logic just didn’t hold up.

Please believe me, that I am not asking anyone to become a runner. Really, I’m not. I only want certain facts to be considered by those major LC figureheads before they go out bashing running as a sport/hobby. I also am not claiming that running will make people thin, a goal which brings a lot of people to the many LC blogs and podcasts. Thirdly, I am not denying the benefits of strength work, which is a vital part of my fitness routine.

What I do want to share with you are the reasons I believe running is a healthy and natural activity for humans and is part of our paleolithic heritage. Anyone who rails against bread being the "staff of life" on the basis of evolution, but refuses to examine the evidence I am about to share, has cherry-picked their philosophy just as much as the runners who have embraced "evolutionary running" but still cling to their high carb diets.

In 2004, two scientists published a paper in Nature describing their findings regarding humans as runners, based on the fossil record. ) Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman enumerated a list of characteristics that separate the genus Homo from our primate ancestors, and that are specifically adaptive for endurance running.

Bramble and Lieberman showed that we humans have our current shape and physiology not because we walked upright, but because we ran. Not sprinted to escape (absurd – just try to out-run a tiger), not sprinted out of bushes to capture prey (such a survival skill would actually make us look less like we do and more like the big cats, with huge haunches) — but ran, at easy paces for long distances.

I am no match for the authors who have presented popular, layman’s summaries about the Bramble / Lieberman paper, so I will list their articles below. But here are just a few of the traits that distinguish us from our primate predecessors, traits which we would not have if "Grok" had not been a distance runner:

We dissipate heat by sweating and lack of fur. We have long legs & ligaments, most notably the Achilles tendon (a liability for merely-walking animals). Along with other stabilizing adaptations, we have large gluteals to stabilize a running gait (check out the tiny butts of primates at your zoo). Mere bipedalism does not require the stabilization traits abundant in humans. We have numerous "anti-bobble-head" adaptations, such as our unique inner ear structure and, in sharp contrast with Australopithecus, a shallow groove in the skull for a nuchal ligament (only present in running animals). We, unlike all running mammals, can take breaths that are not in sync with our steps. Other running mammals must breathe in a one-step-one-breath pattern. This incredible adaptation is what enables us to continue running when we reach the over-heating point, and together with our furless, sweating bodies, make us "the best air-cooled engine that evolution has ever put on the market." (Bramble, interview in Born to Run, Christopher McDougall)

Until Bramble and Lieberman published their research in Nature, the image of human-as-runner seemed as ridiculous as the current anti-running LC bloggers portray it to be. Our lack of speed prevents us from being competitive as predators and doesn’t exactly protect us from becoming prey. So why would natural selection favor adaptations for running? Because, we did not sprint out with spears and surprise the antelope. Nor did we outrun it like a cheetah. We out-endured it. It is called Persistence Hunting, and it is still practiced today by a very few hunter-gatherer tribes (

I am condensing dozens of pages of reading here (see below for some full text sources). I just want to provide enough information to explain why I feel the LC world is missing a crucial piece of the puzzle.

I don’t have a blog or a podcast and no one knows who I am, so I don’t really have a voice. But if I had one, my message to the LC community regarding runners would be, "Lay off." Or if you must criticize, go with the truly viable paleo argument – that we can and should run on low carbs. If people don’t want to run, fine – don’t run. But if you are going to bash it, you’d better have a better argument than "it’s not paleo."

I have never told another person they "should" run, nor will I ever do so. I only say, we humans are built for distance running. To the LC icons (trying not to name names here) who are vocally anti-running: let me enjoy my marathons in peace, stop trying to discourage people who love running, and get your facts straight.

The other arguments against running that pop up in the LC world usually have to do with negative medical consequences. I’m sorry, but no one has ever conducted a valid, long term study of the effects of running on health, because no one has EVER had a big enough population of runners eating a species-appropriate diet to make a valid sample, free from the influence of a toxic diet.

One LC blogger begrudgingly said that diet might have something to do with health problems among runners… Might? MIGHT?!?! The enormous and horrendous health problems of our nation can be linked directly to the crappy USDA food pyramid diet, and runners are the worst carboholics! In Advanced Marathoningby Pete Pfitzinger (one of the most popular distance training books), there is a section entitled "Hope You Like Carbs." An entire industry exists to provide runners with little packets of sugar-gels they can suck down every 20 minutes. It’s insane to study these people as a model of runners’ health! You might as well study heroine addicts to determine the health effects of wearing denim. I suppose they could study the tribes that still practice Persistence Hunting, but instead they insist on sticking sugar burners on treadmills.

Well, I’m getting worked up enough to resort to typing in caps, so I had better wrap this up. Thank you, Richard, for hearing me out and for your time. I truly appreciate it. The references below represent quick links to summaries of the Bramble & Lieberman research. Additionally, I would particularly recommend chapter 28 of the book, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall (Knopf, 2009), which goes more into the history behind B&L’s research and the reasons why we would have benefitted from this evolutionary shift to running. Like Taubes’ GCBC book, the concepts I am discussing have the truth of ages, but are only recently published.


So there you have it. I personally don’t run. I walk a lot (60-90 minutes per day, on average) and I sprint now and then. I used to run way back when, in college, and for a few years after that. The only time I really enjoyed it is when, somehow, that "runner’s high" would kick in where one feels to be able to go forever. That usually happened when I was living in the Pacific northwest and it would be raining or misting out. I liked running in the rain but always hated running in the heat.

But that’s me. The last time I really ran any significant distance was a few years back when my wife & I signed up for a 23 mile power walk. At times during the walk I couldn’t help but to just start running, so I’d do so for a couple of miles, then return to walking until irresistibly drawn to running again. It was quite enjoyable.

It is interesting about those bottled of glucose syrup. It was during that power walk where I saw them for the first time — folks with their little belts & pouches carrying bottled of syrup, and of course, the organizers had the little packets of what I assume is the same thing at every station along the route, along with fruit and sugar drinks. She’s right: it was a total carb extravaganza and at the finish line, it was basically fruit, bagels, beer & soda pop.

I think Cynthia is definitely talking about something other than what we commonly refer to as "chronic cardio." Here’s a video that explains some of our evolutionary adaptations in the context of the Persistence Hunt. Highly recommended. Seven minutes well worth it. Getting out and running a few times per week on a proper diet, keeping it real so as to avoid injury, is probably fine if that’s what you like. And I doubt those persistence hunters were out there day in, day out, running their asses off.

Update: Long time reader, commenter and fantastic blogger in his own right, Methuselah, points out in comments that he recently covered the same topic. Go take a read.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Dexter on April 13, 2010 at 13:11

    Cynthia, Thanks for your very thoughtful letter to Richard.

    Yup, you are right, the paleosphere does not embrace long distance running at all. Over at
    PaleoHacks, there is this discussion:

    Several anecdotal personal accounts of folks knowing someone who keeled over and died after finishing a session running or jogging.

    Now the real question is, did the running/jogging kill them or was it the SAD that so weakened the heart when put under stress, it just gave out?

    have subsequently learned that runner, author of running books, guru, Jim Fixx, who died at age 52 after a morning jog did have a family history of heart disease. Did the diet of his family cause his father and subsequently himself to die from a heart attack?

    Dr Kurt Harris also has the following: still not yet born to run

    where he outlines studies of elite runners with perfect lipids have arterial calcification.

    If you went in today and had a CT scan would it show you also have arterial calcification from your years of eating SAD?

    Who seems to always win the marathons her in the US. Usually the Ethiopians or Kenyans who I suspect while growing up, did not eat SAD.

    And I suspect those elite runners would all do very well on a heart CT scan.

    Thanks for your thoughtful letter to Richard and thanks to Richard for thinking that your letter really has merit!.

    • Steven S on April 13, 2010 at 13:52


      You make some very good points. I posted on the paleonu article, “still not born to run” making many of the same. Of course, I had to sign up first and was a few days late to the party. I think the distinction that many people are making about the pace required to keep an animal in your sights versus the pace required to win a marathon may be valid too.

      It was always my belief that we evolved with the body we did because it is well suited for travelling long distances (relatively) quickly, but that been met with some resistance in the paleo community. It’s good to see that I’m not alone.

  2. O Primitivo on April 13, 2010 at 17:25

    I’m a frequent runner, and I love it! You may enjoy this “Stone Age Stride”, Canadian Running –

  3. Ryon Day on April 13, 2010 at 19:55

    I have to preface this by saying that I’m a martial artist and Jiu-Jitsu fighter, and running is among my absolutely least favorite activities.

    It’s always seemed to me to be silly to assume that humans were not adapted to running as an activity or means of locomotion, as did the notion that humans never did it. However, I think it’s pretty clear that we weren’t adapted to running as competitive sport, or any other activity that hones task specificity to a fine edge while compromising overall health. The fact that chronic running is so deleterious to the human body gives it a bad rap, but then again chronic anything is bad; ask the BJJ fighters with torn ACLs and MCLs, or weightlifters with herniated discs.

    People tend to conflate running with marathons or other competitive distance events. Sprints and mid distance running can definitely be “part of this complete lifestyle”, although compared to intense, interactive intellectual forms of exercise *cough jiu-jitsu cough* it seems to offer little to nothing in terms of a return on time invested. Even so, who hasn’t gotten the urge to just get up and run with no destination in mind?

    • Juan on April 13, 2010 at 20:13


      Nicely said. Ultimately, that’s probably the best view: that doing nearly anything to a chronic level is probably going to compromise something or other, and often in a catastrophic fashion. I suppose much of the anti-running, or anti-distance running sentiment comes as a response to the widespread Conventional Wisdom that marathoners, etc., are super “fit”. And then this notion, in turn, equates to “healthy” — not always a valid assumption.

      I imagine that most of the folks who have adopted an evolutionarily based, or “paleo” approach to their life are more interested in health than anything else. Luckily, there are side benefits to it such as improved performance in many sports as well as in everyday life. As Robb Wolff might put it; how we “look, feel, and perform” is usually enhanced. Some ultra, extreme, or just plain elite athletes, may need more of what is actually bad for them: i.e., carbs, cardio, etc.. I think it was Pavel that said somewhere, “do you want to be strong, or do you want to be healthy?” (speaking of the unspeakably strong powerlifters or something). A similar phrase might be said of the chronic distance runners.

    • Dave C. on April 14, 2010 at 06:28

      Running barefoot over a dense wooded trail strewn with sticks and tree roots is a very mental activity. Zoning out is not really an option unless you purposefully want to destroy your toes. Ideally, running should be incorporated with other play type activities like climbing, lifting, and jumping, although most people probably don’t do that.

      Running is often seen as an all encompassing fitness method, but I see it more typically as one component of a rounded fitness program. To say running offers a less complete exercise system is accurate, but then it should never be compared to something like a holistic martial art. In reality, the various aspects of JuJustu are all related, but have some distinct differences and limitations that would make them less useful independently.

      As well, your training specificity usually dictates your response. I’ve trained in Nisei Bujutsu and Judo, and have a great deal of respect for practitioners, but that training alone won’t help much when trying to flee an attacker. Just as the running won’t help you to fight the attacker like JuJutsu will.

  4. Scott on April 13, 2010 at 20:10


    Those who are using or looking into Vibram Five Fingers: I do have a pair of KSO’s and like them, but I’m learning I kinda like more of a moccasin, non-skin-tight thing for just everyday wear and for running. If that’s you, consider some Feelmax shoes for about the same price. Here’s some commentary on them for running.

    Still waiting on my first pair to arrive, but apparently they have indestructable soles and get their “grip” from your toes being able to dig into the ground through the thin soles.

    I’m sure I’ll still wear my Virbrams, but my turning point came when I wore them on an overnight hike in March. Had to cross streams, etc. which I’m OK with. But having to pull those wet Virbams onto my bare feet first thing on a 40 degree morning…I decided I needed something I could put a pair of Gore-Tex sock into if the situation called for it. So I’ve been experimenting with cheap aqua socks to see if I like the feel, and I do, so I’m dropping the $80 for the Fee.Max shoes.

    Just thought I’d share since so many are interested in the barefoot running approach and it seems I only hear about the Vibram products on these various blogs.

    They have multiple styles…some that will work for casual dress so my wife doesn’t have to suffer the embarrassment of people gawking at my “ape feet.”

    I’ll echo others: I’m glad you have created the environment where people like Cynthia feel free to post thoughtful opinions. And Cynthia an other commenters – thank you. I love well-reasoned opinions and comments, no matter the topic.

    Scott W

  5. Svenna on April 13, 2010 at 11:50

    Good post! I believe that running is what makes us human.

  6. justin on April 13, 2010 at 12:02

    I, too, have noticed the runner-skepticism in the paleo crowd and I don’t think it makes much sense. Clearly human beings would be doing all types of movement “in the wild.” That would include slow running as well as sprinting — all mixed together. I could even see humans running long distances every day to cover their territory, scope out prey, etc. That said, I don’t think you have to go with the persistent hunting theory to say that human beings evolved specifically to run. Seems it’s enough to say that humans evolved to move about upright, and that movement involved running.

    The way I see it, so long as any chronic cardio is sufficiently low-intensity as to allow your body to burn fat stores, it’s probably not harmful. Walking clearly is “chronic cardio” in this *healthy* sense. I’d guess ultra-runners who don’t care so much about times might also meet this criteria.

    The bottom line is really this: if you’re having to routinely load carbs to do any activity over any period of time, it’s almost certainly NOT in step with our evolutionary backdrop. Conversely, if you can do chronic cardio/endurance efforts without carb-loading, then it’s just a question of “is this healthy in the long run?” And I don’t think we really know the answer to that.

    In short, the answer is probably somewhere in between — between high-speed marathon running being “bad” in the sense that it requires unnatural amounts of carbs to maintain and low-speed walking being “good” in that our forbears certainly engaged in lots of low-intensity, fat-burning movements.

    Just my take!

  7. Jeremy on April 13, 2010 at 12:02

    I think more research is needed here on ‘persistence hunting in humans’ and the possible evolutionary dichotomy of being able to run long distances rarely and needing to run 100 miles a week.

    I am trying to get back into running after not running since high school. Competing in the Warrior Dash in a few week. Very excited!

    Great letter!

  8. aroumell on April 13, 2010 at 12:07

    Localized adaptation? Some people are definately wired to run, they want to. Others move less and tend to move things around them more. Lakota Sioux were know as great runners, they hunt/hunted on open plains, same with so many African groups. I currently live on Baffin Island, and I can tell you, Inuit have no ass. They don’t run, it can kill you in the cold, frozen lungs and all. Could explain the absence of glutes, even with all the walking they do it’s more of an amble modified for walking in snow without using too much energy. I consistently over heat and start sweating walking around here because I can’t walk like they do, it’s like always walking in sand. It doesn’t seem to bug them.

  9. Mike on April 13, 2010 at 12:16

    A question for those more knowledgeable: Are these running adaptations specific to distance running, or are they simply adaptations that enable us to run in general (regardless of speed or duration)?

    • Dave C. on April 13, 2010 at 12:42

      Form my understanding of Lieberman’s research, many of the adaptions apply to the ability to sustain running, ie. sweating to cool down, variable breathing rates and uncoupled diaphragmatic pumping for optimal oxygen intake. Other adaptions seem to affect running efficiency specifically, ie. numerous large tendons for elastic energy storage (think achilles tendon). Personally, in my opinion what I think is most important is the “meta-adaptation” of being generally capable in all manners of running. Humans have so much variability that they were able to adapt and thrive in just about any environment.

  10. JoddeHaa on April 13, 2010 at 12:18

    I love how the hunter in the video David Attenborough – African Kalahari Desert Kudu Persistence Huntis using shoes, but obviously has learned to run without them and steps down with the front of his feet..

    • Organic Gabe on April 13, 2010 at 15:27

      Yes, that was indeed quite interesting. Great video.

      Running on the sandy, soft terrain is much better than running on hard surfaces… there were no paved roads, no highways in paleolithic either.

      And finally, yes, you CAN run on a low carb eating style! Yes, you can have good endurance on low carbs! I never had a problem with endurance on low carbs, anyway, but it is possible that others truly feel the need to eat carbs when running.

      That is fine, just do what you are comfortable with, if a long walk is something you enjoy, do it, if you like running, run…

  11. Jim on April 13, 2010 at 12:26

    Excellent, and something I’ve been mulling over for a long time. I started off as a barefoot runner, and didn’t get into paleo until someone sent me a link for “more of that caveman shit you’re into.”

    The only thing I would add is that there’s a HUGE difference between speed/effort on a persistence hunt (Mcdougall says 10 minute miles in ‘Born to Run’) and today’s marathon approach. Trotting after an animal, just fast enough to keep it in your sights, wouldn’t get you up into the ‘chronic cardio’ level at all. That’s worlds away from sucking down bagels and spaghetti and running at 85% for 5+ hours in a day.

  12. Dave C. on April 13, 2010 at 12:34

    I agree with the sentiments regarding the use of carb loading. If marathon running at a fast pace is not possible without having industrial carb gels laced to your body like a bandoleer of ammunition, then I doubt that paleolithic humans operated at that kind of level. I am quite certain that the human body was adapted to running as a way of surviving and gathering food. There is however plenty of room for debate on what kind of running they did (distance, speed, frequency, etc.)

  13. Richard Nikoley on April 13, 2010 at 12:38

    Wow, now I’m really glad I posted this. So many excellent and insightful comments in what, just the first hour?

    When I finally got around to reading Cynthia’s email late yesterday afternoon I new almost immediately it should go up, but I wasn’t sure if it would be of interest because running is just not something I address very often.

    Anyway, thanks for weighing in, all.

  14. Melissa on April 13, 2010 at 12:40

    I think it’s important to get your diet right before you start doing any major exercise myself, whether it’s resistance training or running.
    Lately taking up running in running groups seems to be a big thing with some of my friends but they eat awful, they think running will make them lean because some other lady ran and lost lots of weight on a calorie restricted diet.
    Whatever you decide to do your base has to be that your health is balanced. You have to make sure your digestive system is absorbing nutrients proper and doesn’t have parasites that make it impossible.
    Any type of exercise that is overdone can cause stress hormones to be released and if your diet doesn’t make your adrenal glands healthy, you could be doing more damage.

    I’m not against running, I use to do it but it never worked for me, in fact I sustained more injuries from running like twisted ankles and pinched nerves from swelling. Now today I might try it and it would be different because I’m balancing my nutrition better- who knows, but I say if it gives you a sense of well being and your not damaging yourself than go for it!

  15. mrfreddy on April 13, 2010 at 12:41

    if someone could absolutely guarantee me that running on a regular basis isn’t doing a number on my joints, I might consider taking it up again. I kinda miss that runner’s high sometimes.

    I don’t miss all the time I wasted “doing cardio” tho… sometimes two plus hours a day, if you count getting ready, recovering, showering, etc. etc.

    I find that one or two brief HIT style weight training sessions give me all the fitness I need. I feel great, I can surf for a couple of hours, I can ski for several hours…

    • Dave C. on April 13, 2010 at 12:44

      If you run improperly, I guarantee you running will do a “number on your joints.” Just like eating the way humans were adapted to is beneficial to the body, so it is with running. The first clue is to look at shoes.

      • Jim on April 13, 2010 at 13:00

        You GOTTA get rid of the shoes. This isn’t just some Vibram FF hype. I tried running a good 3-4 times throughout high school and college, and I’d huff and puff around the track twice and come home with my shins begging for mercy. I lost the shoes about 2 years ago and finally felt like a runner. Haven’t had a problem since. If you’re really concerned, go with some Nike Frees or something…

        Just my two cents…

    • Aaron Curl on April 13, 2010 at 17:02

      Just research barefoot running….with a slow aproach…it is less damaging on the joints, tendons and ligaments than shod running. Heres a good link to start…..

      • Steven S on April 13, 2010 at 17:08

        Excellent link! I’m actually going to be writing my Masters thesis on barefoot running (still trying to narrow down my hypothesis and how I’m going to test it), so I appreciate this resource.

        I do most of my running either in my vibram five-fingers or barefoot and, personally, I love it. Sort of off topic, but has anyone tried the Terra Plana Evo barefoot shoes?

  16. zach on April 13, 2010 at 12:48

    Chonic cardio is not good for you. There is lots of evidence of this now. Check out Dr. Harris at panu blog for a few sources and discussions.

    And if you think about it, it makes some intuitive sense. Things that burn hotter and faster or are subject to higher pressure wear out faster. Just like things that are never used can get stiff.

  17. James on April 13, 2010 at 12:52

    We are born to run, but we’re not supposed to be carrying 20, 30, 40 or more pounds of excess bodyfat when we do it, which can harm hips, knees, ankles and feet.
    Walk until you get lean, then it’s safer to run.

  18. John FitzGibbon on April 13, 2010 at 12:55

    where the link to “born to run” video by the boss?

  19. Jimmy Moore on April 13, 2010 at 12:57

    Cynthia, that is so cool you’re learning about your body and that what you’ve always heard may not necessarily be true. Keep educating yourself and consider starting your own blog. This was FANTASTIC! THANK YOU Richard for running her e-mail.

    • Cynthia K. on April 14, 2010 at 07:42

      Jimmy, thanks so much for your comment. I have learned so much from listening to your show since discovering it at the beginning of this year. (Downloaded heaps of shows from your archive and have listened to most of them while running – naturally! lol) After listening to a show I particularly like, it always leads me to more research and information. My whole family has benefitted from the doors you have opened for me. Fantasy future… if I start my own blog, maybe I could be on your show someday! Sincere thanks, Cynthia K.

  20. Robert M. on April 13, 2010 at 13:31

    I think that paleolithic humans probably run-walked a lot. I have a fair amount of practice at barefoot running now and I find it really improbable that we did continuous endurance running near the anaerobic threshold. The skin simply isn’t up to the task as it abrades too easily, so there would have to be consider down-time to allow the calluses to form and build up. That seems contrary to running a lot of mileage. Walking with intermediate sprints (200-400 m) is more practical from this point of view.

    I feel that our soft feet are designed to be quiet; that’s one thing I noticed immediately when I switched to bare foot running was how little noise I made. I can imagine a human alternating walking after an animal, punctuated with little sprints through light brush to get close to an animal. Even if the prey couldn’t be caught, just getting close would create quite a stress response in the prey and exhaust it more thoroughly than loudly plodding after it like a diesel locomotive.

    OTOH, if I didn’t grow up with shoes maybe I could find endurance running in bare feet more practical. Certainly the Kenyans can do it, although not on pavement.

  21. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later on April 13, 2010 at 13:34

    Richard / Cynthia – very timely post for me – something I have been thinking about a lot recently, and in fact wrote a post on myself yesterday.

    There’s Running and there’s Running

    There is such a massive range of circumstances and approaches surrounding running that to try to make any sweeping statements about ‘running’ is almost pointless. I think this debate will run and run 😉

    • Richard Nikoley on April 13, 2010 at 17:16


      That was good. I added an update to the end of the post with a link, in case some don’t get to the comments.

  22. MC on April 13, 2010 at 13:44

    I’m sure we ran plenty, but it would also be interesting to take other things into consideration.

    -Since we hunted in packs, and had those large brains of ours, we could have “trapped” animals by cornering them from different sides. Like flanking them or something.
    -I’m not 100% sure, but I’m sure there are some animals we can out run. Like pigs.
    -Did we use other weapons, blow darts, arrows, boomerangs? I’m sure those would help us not run as much.

    I doubt it was all persistence hunting. I’m sure our running came in handy for tracking prey and following herds of animals as they never seem to stay in one place, but I don’t think it was necessarily a guy running for 2 hours until the animal collapsed all the time.

    Not really sure, but I see nothing wrong with running. Just don’t kill yourself doing it. It should be at least somewhat enjoyable.

  23. Dave, RN on April 13, 2010 at 14:00

    “At times during the walk I couldn’t help but to just start running, so I’d do so for a couple of miles, then return to walking until irresistibly drawn to running again”.

    And there we have it. That’s the type of running I believe we’re made for, and that naturally manifested itself on his walk. Mostly walking interspersed with a jog for a short distance.

  24. Chris on April 13, 2010 at 14:11

    Superb timing. I just went for a run and got back to read this! I recently added one short weekly run to my routine. 20 minutes, 30 max. I do feel better since I started a month ago. However, I used to run 50 miles a week and in my experience, that was not good. Niggly nagging injuries, vague persistent hunger. I’ve yet to notice any downside to one short run a week though. I’m very pleased this topic was brought up.

  25. Dr Dan on April 13, 2010 at 14:12

    I posted a video about some hunter gatherers hunting an antelope using persistence hunting. Here is the link:

    I think she has a point.

  26. Grant on April 13, 2010 at 14:35

    The problem with using the existence of persistence hunters as proff that humans are evolved to run is that while yes, the ability to run long distances is an essential component of that activity, another – and far larger – essential component of persistence hunting is intelligence. The intelligence required to not only make better decisions about when and where to take short breaks, minor variations in route, concealment, etc – but also the self-awareness required to know when you are getting discouraged and to remain motivated, despite overwhelming physical inducements to stop (which any other animal would give in to), is the biggest reason why humans are able to hunt through attrition.

    So if that’s the case, then that begs the question: from whence did our superior intelligence come? The answer is a physically larger brain (at least in proportion to our bodies) – and the answer to where that came from is the consumption of lots of fat.

    So why did we consume lots of fat? Because that’s most of all that was left once the other, physically-superior hunters were done with their kills. We were originally scavengers – just as most primates today are mostly herbivorous, and only consume protein and fat occasionally.

    And then the next question arises: So, if our first exposure to animal foods was through scavenging, why begin hunting? The reason is that the extra fat grew larger brains (instead of larger muscles – like all the extra protein did for the other hunters). Once we developed larger brains, when we did hunt (which was still relatively rare), we did so in organized, “intelligent” ways – and in short, quick bursts.

    So then we had first-pick to both fat and protein. Not only did our brains begin to grow, but so did our muscles. This gave us extra capabilities that, while nice, were not essential to the survival of the species. Capabilities such as a strong heat and lower body able to run long distances…

    I don’t think the people who think that distance running comports with an evolutionary approach to diet and exercise understand the paradigm correctly. Our bodies and minds have developed the ability to do all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean that – if the goal is optimal health and longevity – we should do them. The focus on “evolution” in this lifestyle should be on the most basic things – hormones, metabolism, basic kinesiology – and not on the larger things that are ultimately optional; and that only have an effect on those two core goals through secondary things like existential impact and psychological health.

  27. Matthew on April 13, 2010 at 14:58

    In terms of evolution an activity does not have to happen every day to modify an orgamism through selection. As an example gazells have evolved to run very fast to escape predators such as leopards and yet any individual gazelle would rarely have to escape a leopard.

    For example if the ability to persistant hunt once a week enabled our ancestors to gain a little more additional food it could give them the edge over others and better runners would be selected for.

    • pieter d on April 14, 2010 at 06:45

      great point! thanks

  28. Juan on April 13, 2010 at 15:10

    Thanks for posting that one, Richard (you were great on Jimmy Moore, by the way).
    Many good comments and I’d agree that humans are definitely adaptable to a number of ways of hunting, rather than having evolved because of one way.

    First, I’ll bet anything that one or both of the authors of the paper, Messrs. Lieberman and Bramble are distance runners. They are clearly not looking at the ancient Cro-magnon or even Aussie aboriginals who do not persistence hunt (so far as I know). And the Inuit have already been mentioned.

    My point — and it’s strange that this is rarely mentioned — is that the human race evolved to *walk*. The fact that we can persistence run, or any other kind of run, is kind of a side benefit of walking. Of all the peoples in the world, and of all the various hunter gatherers that have been “discovered” by Man during the historical period, only the tiniest percentage of them show as persistence hunters. But, they all walk perfectly well. And, they use their large brain and tools to make up for any physical shortcomings as compared to some of the more apparently well-armed predators out there.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 13, 2010 at 15:15


      “they use their large brain and tools”

      Yes. Yes. Yes.

      That is exactly the proper response to those morons who say we can’t have a bent towards carnivory on an evolutionary basis because we don’t have claws & teeth.

      Our brains are our primary offensive weapon.

  29. Stu on April 13, 2010 at 15:11

    One thing that doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough (though has been mentioned several times here already) is that there is a big difference between persistence hunting pace and marathon running pace. As Jim mentioned above persistence hunting pace is something like 10 min / mile, whereas I believe an average marathon pace is something like 6 min / mile, which is a huge difference in terms of physical strain.

    Regarding studies on running that show negative health effects, I’m all for looking down on marathon running, based on studies that have been done on marathon runners that show negative health effects of marathon running. But marathon running pace isn’t persistence hunting pace, and those studies shouldn’t be generalized on to all forms of running.

    And as has been been mentioned already, if running causes injuries you should look at your shoes and your form instead of assuming that there is some inherent flaw in human biomechanics or musculoskeletal structure that precludes humans from doing large amounts of running.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 13, 2010 at 15:21

      One could also add, Stu, that there’s a big difference to maybe running a marathon 1-2 times per year with a brief workup, non competitively, and being a pro at it, like Sisson was.

      • Skyler Tanner on April 14, 2010 at 10:10

        This is how my Fiance` does her running. She runs 1 marathon a year, a 10k, and a half marathon (with the half marathon usually being part of the work up to the marathon). She runs no more than 3 days a week and uses a run/walk/run method espoused by Jeff Galloway. Her mile times run in the 9 minute range.

        So basically, the speed of persistent hunting.


  30. Spencer on April 13, 2010 at 15:18

    Take a look at the second page(1st column) of

    The persistence hunters definitely ran pretty far, but their pace (6km/h – 10km/h) should be pretty easy to maintain, even for non-elite runners. That said, the conditions under which they ran is another issue.

    I don’t think most of the bloggers you semi-refer to had anything against running per se, especially at such a slow pace e.g. the argument at PaNu mostly goes against competitive style running, i.e. fast pace, long distance. Most of the arguments made against chronically running at a pace slightly below the anaerobic threshold for extended periods of time. Also, as many people have pointed out, it’s not as if these persistence hunters were running 3-5 times a week like some cardio-nuts do..

    But I definitely won’t disagree that some people have taken this out of context.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 13, 2010 at 15:26

      Took the words out of my mouth. Our comments crossed electrons.

      I think that’s a huge point: running for fun or intermittent exhiliaration vs. competitively, and all that goes along with it in training to be competitive.

      And in that regard, it’s those I’ll suited to running much genetically who are at the most risk because they often try to make up for the natural talent through [over] training.

      • ToddBS on April 13, 2010 at 17:43

        it’s those I’ll suited to running much genetically who are at the most risk

        That’s a good point. My ancestry is Scandinavian. I don’t consider myself a runner and I don’t really see much enthusiasm for running in my Swedish relatives (who are still in Sweden). I don’t think that “we” as humans are meant to be runners. I think certain people have a natural affinity for it. My 5 years in the Army proved to me that I am not a runner. I almost always had either a foot or ankle problem. Of course, the Army being the Army, I mostly just ran through the pain – which only further soured my opinion of running.

        And even Sisson, who is against chronic cardio and has personal experience to back it up, would probably tell her to go ahead and do it if it is something she enjoys to do.

      • Adam | SEE on April 17, 2010 at 20:08

        There are some very famous Scandinavian runners and coaches (Gosta Holmer comes to mind). If you count the Finns, you have even more famous runners Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen.

        Ill suited to running genetically…Q: I thought that genetic differences across humans as a species were slight. If you discuss epigenome effects, you have differences in gene expression, but not a different underlying genetic structure.

        I am thinking of the pictures of the German twins that Art Devany and others have posted. Different training techniques…different gene expressions…same underlying genetic predisposition.

  31. Michael on April 13, 2010 at 15:27

    I used to be a distance runner but developed IT band syndrome after a few years. It is a chronic condition. The main reason I got in to paleo was because of my inabilities to handle distance running and asking myself the question, “why is my body failing me?” After learning about “chronic cardio” through a paleo lens I tried segueing into slow paced ultra running but my body couldn’t even handle that. My IT band doesn’t flair up when I sprint, do barbell training, or go on long hikes though. So in my case my body developed the inability to handle distance running.

  32. TrailGrrl on April 13, 2010 at 17:36

    I am a primal eater of lots of meat and fat. And I LOVE running. I did change the way I run though. I switched to minimal Vibram Five Fingers and I stick to trails or dirt whenever possible. I was always fitted for motion control shoes and after the first marathon (also the LAST, I might add) got plantar fasciitis and some piriformis issue. Triathlon training was just as bad. What I found was key for me was the idea that I wouldn’t let anyone tell me how to eat or how to work out, that I was the only person who knew how I felt and what worked for me. So I don’t do gels or sports drinks or worry about that kinda thing. I just run when I run and I enjoy the hell out of it. I do not TRAIN for anything, as I found I was not willing to follow someone else’s program or get in shape for an event. In fact, I got fatter running the marathon, but I’m guessing the Gu and Gatorade mighta had something to do with that. I try not to worry about how long I run timewise or distancewise. I also do the MovNat sort of thing where I do my strength training while on my trail runs. Sometimes I sprint, sometimes I don’t. Nothing has to be all or nothing, but I think we get into that mindset. I used to not work out at all if I couldn’t get in a 50 minute run. Now that my brain isn’t all sugared up, I do what I feel like. Usually a half hour. Sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more. Early on I knew I had good endurance. I focus now on fitness for living and doing the things I enjoy and also with the thought that if I had to rescue myself or someone else would I be able to do it? Or would I have to be carried out? Personally, I want to be able to move on my own. So that’s how I see it. I don’t get into “chronic cardio” because I am not bothered by skipping days, or slowing down or speeding up. I love to run and may do it several days in a row, and then n0t do it for a few days. I also love weights and trying to climb and exploring. So that is what I try to do, and I don’t worry about what other people think or say. I like determining my own course, and that is why working with a trainer or going to classes or group sessions doesn’t really work for me. I have the freedom to determine how I will stay fit and how I will eat. Somedays I make crappy choices, but giving myself this freedom means that I just pick right back up with exercise and eating primally without missing a beat. I think that some of that “uncertainty” is what makes it work in terms of my body composition. My take on it is “it’s your thang, do what you wanna do.” Personally, I HATE sprinting… sometimes I will do it though. What works for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for me or you. So, get out there and RUN.


    • ToddBS on April 13, 2010 at 17:48

      I switched to minimal Vibram Five Fingers and I stick to trails or dirt whenever possible

      I’m going to have to try these at some point. While I overall despise running, I have to admit that trail running was always something I enjoyed. But then, most people are trail running for 26.2 miles at a time either.

      Some of my favorite running was on “fitness trails”. Where you go to a station, do some pullups, run to the next station, do some dips, and so on. I used to live by one that was on a dirt/clay trail and wound through the woods. That was an awesome workout.

      • ToddBS on April 13, 2010 at 17:55

        most people are trail running

        Should be “are not”.

      • TrailGrrl on April 14, 2010 at 15:53

        Yep that’s the ticket, ToddBS. Pavement sucks. When I visit family in STL there is a nice park up the street with all the little stations. I’m not tall enough to do the real pullup station, but I use railings and stuff and do pushups and dips too. If I could get a way with running up and down a small dirt and gravel driveway in our neighborhood where they keep the equipment for taking care of the golf course, I would do it. I got a lot of weird looks like I was actually on the golf course, though. We have park trails within five minutes of driving that are really nice. Not very long, but I’m not ultrarunning. Trail Running isn’t just marathons or 50km or 100miles. I find a patch of dirt and it is MINE.


  33. Aaron Curl on April 13, 2010 at 17:41

    My brother and sister inlaw both run. I started running last october and within the last couple of months began barefoot running, so I haven’t been running very long. I run on sundays with my brother and sister inlaw and they just can’t believe how I run without eating carbs. I don’t know if running causes them to eat carbs ( because they heard thats what they are supposed to do) or if they run to burn the carbs off. It’s a vicious cycle. They try to run 20-30 miles a week, while I run about 7-10. I’m not bragging but I am much more lean and more muscular than them because of my paleo lifestyle. My body is an example of good nutrition and not obsessive cardio. I enjoy running but find it pointless to run excessive miles for health. Just my 2 cents.

  34. Marc on April 13, 2010 at 18:08

    You know how I eat…
    Recently started running. I enjoy running 5k races. But I only run about once a month on race day.
    I do some sprints here and there..but that’s it. I’m able to hang pretty good with the “real” runners.
    I don’t at all train like them or eat like them.
    I think running overall is fine…just not to often.
    Thanks for sharing that email.


  35. In on April 13, 2010 at 18:21

    I remember Bass talking about this guy Maffetone who touts the benefits of a lot of low intensity aerobic exercise I haven’t looked in depth, but some of his ideas are interesting and they are consistent with the idea of persistence hunting.

    Just an anecdote contradicting the idea that ancestral humans would have eschewed running. I’ve lived in the country for most my life and frequently had to walk from place to place. Ever since I could remember, the easiest way to get around relatively quickly would be just break into an easy trot. Its faster than walking, but not intense enough to be uncomfortable.

  36. Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 09:35

    “The fossil record is hardly edifying in this regard, either. ”

    The fossil record is quite clear, in fact.

    Lieberman’s original piece is here:

    “Judged by several criteria, humans perform remarkably well at endurance running, thanks to a diverse array of features, many of which leave traces in the skeleton. The fossil evidence of these features suggests that endurance running is a derived capability of the genus Homo, originating about 2 million years ago, and may have been instrumental in the evolution of the human body form.”

    Persistence hunting is recorded as a technique all around the world, not just from the Tarahumara. The conquistadors report that the South Americans did it regularly and easily. Eskimos did it. North American Indians practiced it. The Africans, obviously, invented it.

    Endurance running has a long and notable history in Europe and Asia, obviously the original run from Marathon to Athens, the Spartathalon (based on a 152-mile run during from Marathon to Sparta), and running races were a part of the original Greek Olympics. The Roman legions’ conquered the world at a “forced march”, or slow run. Read Ceasar’s first-person writings of how fast the Romans could travel in a day.

    Most, if not all, early civilizations used runners to communicate.

    You say: “Early Man, similar to the more recent aboriginals living in plains regions around the world prior to European contact, probably did most of their killing by stealth, trapping, roping, spearing, shouting, surprising, and when they could, running (fast) hundreds of prey animals over a cliff. Hardly persistence techniques.”

    Early man had no tools, traps, ropes, spears, or, probably, complex language for 1.8 million years. Yet they ate a lot of meat. Your theory explains the last 200,000 years, but there’s a lot of time before then.

    One of the more famous examples of persistence hunting was the case of Alexander Selkirk. He was an English sailor left on an island for 4 years, and when he was rescued, they found him chasing down goats barefoot, his powder gone and shoes having worn out. This story was the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”.

    I suggest you familiarize yourself with the research that has been done, and the history supporting the notion, before dismissing it.

    There’s no compelling evidence to support the extreme notion of “Chronic Cardio”, and it’s unfortunate that many in the Paleo community feel so tied to this idea given the lack of any factual basis.

    I will point out that many of the great running coaches observe the danger of overdoing cardiovascular exercise, and that pushing oneself too much in anaerobic running can lead to health problems. So this much of it is true… But that’s far from saying that humans shouldn’t run long distances at all.

    • pfw on April 14, 2010 at 12:16


      I think it’s important to note that amongst the !Kung tribesmen observed persistence hunting, the ones over 40 typically did not participate in the long part of the hunt because they couldn’t cut it anymore. I’m sure you’ve already read it but I put the link to the article below. Contrast this with people in their 40s and 50s and 60s running marathons.

      It’s the “chronic” part of “chronic cardio” that turns off the paleosphere and which is both outside the evolutionary experience and unhealthy. Actual persistence hunters do not train 6 days a week year round to run marathons. There’s a substantial difference between persistence hunting as a lifestyle and the chronic cardio fitness crowd that exists today.

      It’s that gap which I think causes a lot of confusion and discord over this issue. The people arguing for persistence hunting as an evolutionary force (I’m actually one of them) are not claiming that we’re built to participate in long distance competitive running. They’re claiming that we evolved to execute a particular kind of jog-run-walk, hence all the adaptations you noted. On the flip-side, the anti-chronic cardio crowd is not saying that humans never ran anywhere. They’re saying that the human body can’t handle the stress placed on it by the training regimens adopted by marathon athletes. Well, at least Kurt Harris is saying that. He’s usually quick to point out that he often goes on trail runs, which goes to show that he’s not anti-running. He’s anti-chronic pounding stress.

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 12:48

        @pfw: I agree with you, except some of the paleo guys are saying that persistence hunting is bogus, and we’re not cut out for endurance running.

        Mark Sisson: “They call it persistence hunting. I find the idea – that this behavior led to some specialized human evolution as distance runners – to be preposterous on several levels.”

        I don’t agree with Mr. Sisson on that. He’s a smart guy, I suspect he’s just not read all the evidence.

        This is a pretty interesting study. Clearly even if you’re older, running is good for you.

        “Running slows the aging clock, Stanford researchers find.”

        I do agree that it’s possible that you can over-train, over-exert, and injure your health. Unfortunately in practice it’s tough to seperate this from bad dietary habits, and there’s no way to say exactly where the line is for an individual, except to find it the hard way.

        I’ve not seen any credible evidence that endurance running is bad for you as a general statement, or that it’s OK when you’re young but not a good idea as you get older.

      • pfw on April 14, 2010 at 13:28

        Kurt’s posts on chr0nic cardio are pretty good evidence that cardio, at best, fails to protect you against anything, and can reasonably be postulated to cause harm. Diet is only a confounding factor if the people you’re comparing the runners to have good diets – and in both studies he reviewed, they’re all eating crappy diets. In fact, the second one compared people already in a heart clinic for heart disease screening with marathoners – that’s selection bias in the control all right, but it’s towards less healthy individuals!

        Maybe if you define your terms as to what you see as “endurance running” I can establish a baseline as to whether or not I disagree with you 🙂 . Maybe in terms of weekly miles run or something like that.

        Your study showing health benefit could simply be putting the cart before the horse – healthier people might tend to run more often, and it’s no surprise that healthier people do better over the long term than unhealthy people. The fact that they’re running might be a consequence of their health and ability to run (and prodding by conventional wisdom), not the cause of their health.

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 13:39

        “…healthier people might tend to run more often, and it’s no surprise that healthier people do better over the long term than unhealthy people….”

        Yes, but your point (and the original point of the scientists who did that study), is that running is bad for you. If that’s the case, you would expect even healthy runners to decline faster than their non running peers. That’s the result the researchers expected to find. Instead, the runners continued to do better.

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 13:49

        I’ve read Kurt’s posts. They’re not very compelling, actually.

      • pfw on April 14, 2010 at 15:34

        Come now, that’s hardly a rebuttal. People on the extreme end of the cardio sport spectrum show elevated signs of mild heart attack versus sedentary age-matched people in one study and in another marathoners are compared to people already in a cardiac imaging center because of heart disease suspicions, and the marathoners lose out on risk factors.

        Invoking “carb culture” is not a very good answer. Yes, diet is a confounding factor, but the “carb culture” of athletes isn’t all that different from what normal people eat all the time. More importantly, the second study used a control group which was characterized by suspicion of heart disease – you can’t claim that the control group was eating healthier and thus would naturally score better than the carbaholics if they were in a cardiac imaging center for screening after showing symptoms of heart disease or already failing one test for it.

        Two other points:

        1) Again, I don’t know if we actually disgree or not. What sort of activity level are you talking about when you say “endurance running”? Depending on how many miles per week you’re talking about I might completely agree that humans can tolerate it without issue.

        2) The fact that we evolved to persistence hunt does NOT establish that endurance running is healthy. Paleo is not a principle that one uses to test hypotheses, its a heuristic for making dinner and to help generate hypotheses. You then have to test them. I agree completely that humans probably evolved as persistence hunters. Whether or not that means running for hours every week is healthy for an organism shooting to live for eight decades is an entirely different question.

        Finally, no, I would not expect running to destroy healthy people unless they were training for marathons all the time. The study either proves that healthy people can run into their 90s or that running into your 90s makes you healthy – or both. No causal relationship has been established and which way you draw the arrow (if you draw one at all) depends on your biases.

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 16:19

        If you put the study quoted by PaNu together with the Stanford study, the result you’re left with is that running increases your risk of heart disease, but cuts your chance of dying by all causes in a given year by half.

        I’ll take that trade.

        There’s still no evidence that there’s *any* level of running which is *too much*.

        I’ll point out that even PaNu acknowldges that the result he quotes is not “statistically significant”, that is, it’s not meaningful.

        To take Sisson as an example, after he burned out he stopped exercising as much and changed his diet. Now he feels much better. But why? We don’t know. For all we know he could have changed his diet and kept running, and he would feel fine.

      • pfw on April 14, 2010 at 16:58

        In the second study, of the three categories measured, one was statistically significant. Given the sample size, though, one can’t make a solid claim either way. That the result was obtained at all is what was surprising. I expect there will be more done in this vein in the years ahead.

        I don’t think you can combine the PaNu studies with the Stanford study. The PaNu studies looked at people actively training for marathons. The Stanford study just looked at runners. That’s a potentially significant difference. Also, the Standford study did not establish that running causes you to be healthy. It may well have just established that healthy people tend to be more likely to be runners. Everything we’re dealing with here is association. Maybe people who have silent heart disease are more likely to be runners?

        The full text of the study, for those interested, is here:

      • Juan on April 14, 2010 at 14:32


        Well put, particularly the last paragraph.

    • Juan on April 14, 2010 at 14:30

      Thanks for the link to the article. I had a quick look at it and, obviously, Mr. Lieberman is thorough. I ‘d like to give it some more time, though. Looks good. I’m not in some kind of complete disagreement or saying that humans somehow cannot do ER (endurance running). Even after skimming the paper, I am hardly convinced that it is some kind of quintessentially human activity, which kind of seems to be the confirmation bias coming through of the ultramarathoner author.

      I was, indeed, talking about modern Homo sapiens sapiens, not early humans. Still, where are Homo sapiens neanderthalensis in all of this? Some speculate that we have more in common with them and I cannot imagine an argument can be made that their anatomy is suited to distance running. And, they are fully human!

      As far as research goes, I wonder why your seemingly thorough review of the literature didn’t locate references to extensive tool use by Homo habilis (handy man) or tools and many weapons use by Homo erectus? Hell, even chimps use tools. So I’m not sure where you’re going with that. Then you go on about Romans and Greeks? Wha?

      Perhaps your admonishment to me to “familiarize myself with the research” meant, “read the damned book’? If so, well then, yes, I should and intend to do so; you are right. Otherwise, do you mean that I should watch movies and the Nature channel as you suggested to someone else? If that’s what you mean, then I’ve seen plenty of documentaries in my life and I have, over the last 35 years at least, read numerous accounts of early European contact with native peoples and I’ve taken some university courses in anthropology and archaeology. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not made a full-on study of this.) Nevertheless, I cannot remember encountering, nor my professors stating, anything about persistence hunters in human HG groups other than the !Kung. We may just have missed all of those bits of overwhelming evidence but most probably, we just weren’t looking for them. The Eskimo?!! Conquistadores? C’mon! Somehow I missed all of that obvious information.

      This brings me, again, to confirmation bias. It’s as though a proposition is suggested by either the researcher, or by something in the fossils (the fossil record does not prove a thing — so far. There are only a few thousand bones — if that — from early man in existence, let alone skeletons), or from whatever source and then one goes out and neatly fits all of the evidence into that hypothesis. We’ll see. I am probably as guilty of that as I am accusing Mr. Lieberman of being. I’ll read the book before I comment on it again.

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 14:41

        Lieberman’s not an ultrarunner, he’s a regular recreational runner who now runs barefoot or in Vibrams, and is doing his first marathon at London this spring. I doubt the fact that he’s a runner has had any influence on his research.

        Neanderthals are not fully human. I have no idea if they could run like we can.

        Other folks have already posted in comments here links to some research showing that persistence hunting was common all around the world.

        You seem to see confirmation bias everywhere you look. It must make life difficult.

      • Juan on April 14, 2010 at 15:09

        Sorry, I think I am mistaking Lieberman for the author of “Born to Run”. If not him, then early on in this endless thread it was mentioned and I must have latched on to it.

        Yes, I see confirmation bias everywhere, because it is there and, no, it does not make life difficult. Why would it? It makes one less credulous and even less sure of one’s own stance, or at least, more honest about it.

        Neanderthals not human? But habilis and erectus are? Or what exactly do you mean? Homo sapiens makes them human. Homo sapiens neanderthalensis makes them different kind of human. Most anthropologists use Homo neanderthalensis without the sapiens, so there’s definitely no consensus. But they’re a lot more “human” than the Australopithecenes methinks.

      • Juan on April 14, 2010 at 19:39

        Very good, Dave! I’m not sure, however, if your link demonstrates how much you know about the subject or how little. What do the skull comparisons have to do with anything? Sure, they’re different looking in many ways, but what does that prove?

        I’m sure one could easily demonstrate major differences between, say, the skull of a !Kung “bushman” and that of a Swede “viking” (although, of course, both would clearly be the same species). But, so what? Does that mean they are different species? (No. But we already know that.). As regards Homo sapiens and Homo (sapiens) neanderthalensis — the earlier humans — there are many anthropologists who feel that Neanderthals are really a subset, or another kind, of Homo sapiens (or we are subset of them, even!) and there also many — probably more — who think not. But in any case, it isn’t as obvious as just showing me a picture and saying, “oh, look, these are so different; so it’s obvious they are not human”. They are WAY more like “us” than is, say, Homo habilis.

        Anyway, to use the vocabulary of others on this thread; maybe you should read more of the literature. LOL

        Just the same: cool pic. Thanks for posting the link.

      • Dave C. on April 14, 2010 at 20:18

        The differences between a nordic human and an african bushman would be microscopic in level, or mostly cosmetic differences (assuming no congenital defects). The difference in skull size and bone density between Home sapiens and Home neandertal far exceeds the ratio of variance between different regional populations of Homo sapiens.

        Your analogies aren’t very compelling. There is ample commentary to the effect that neandertal is acknowledged to have been an earlier branch on the hominid tree, and recent suppositions as to its relation to Homo sapiens was likely the result of contamination.

      • Juan on April 15, 2010 at 05:26

        Dave, my point in bringing Neanderthal into the discussion is really that they are a lot closer to us than many might suppose and, as you allude to, we share a common ancestor somewhere down the line. I, like you, did a Google search, and I see that there is still plenty of controversy over the subject and that the contamination issue is hardly a slam dunk. There is a recent find in Portugal of a Paleolithic human teen who seems to have a number of shared Neanderthal/Human traits which I think is fueling this in a big way. Anyway, I don’t care about it one way or the other, frankly, but would not the fact that assimilation between Neanderthals and Humans is even being considered make the two species a lot closer than is normally thought? That’s what I was trying to get at.

      • Cynthia K. on April 15, 2010 at 11:42

        I’ve been trying to follow your arguments as respectfully as possible, but your “confirmation bias” claim seems to be a purely ad hominem argument. Confirmation bias certainly occurs, but is countered with the facts, which the biased researcher overlooked or denied, as in: “Dr. X’s running hobby caused him to disregard Y.”

        The Bramble & Leiberman research was not published in some crappy fluff article in Runners World, but in a peer reviewed, scientific journal. It would be one thing to say, “Lieberman’s running hobby caused him to ignore X number of running species who do not present of nuchal ligament.” But you’re just saying “He’s a runner! He must be biased.” Ad hominem.

      • Steven S on April 15, 2010 at 11:54

        You beat me to the punch! Let’s flip it around a little bit: how many paleo eaters recommend a paleo diet? Just because someone practices what they preach does not make their preaching invalid. On the contrary, would you rather follow someone who preaches one thing and does another? Or follow the person who also practices what they preach.

        I understand the claim about confirmation bias, but ignoring the facts to make that claim just shows that you fall into the same pitfalls that you accuse of others. Ultimately, the facts must decide the issue. If you have problems with their facts, elucidate them.

    • Cynthia K. on April 15, 2010 at 11:59

      Thanks for the great post, Tuck. And dang – I paid for interlibrary loan when I could have gotten the article free online! 🙂

      • Tuck on April 15, 2010 at 12:28

        Thank you for starting this thread.

        I think the paleo diet and community is great, I was just a little surprised to find this antipathy to “chronic cardio”. Endurance running in the most paleo activity out there…

      • Cynthia K. on April 15, 2010 at 19:26

        Re: hearing the phrase “chronic cardio” for the first time, and discovering the accompanying attitude…. It was very upsetting to me for a while. I felt like my “new friends” were calling my passion a disease.

  37. Robert on April 13, 2010 at 21:07

    A couple things I don’t see people mentioning we also evolved to do. Before everyone takes timed marathons or persistence hunting as the only way for everything, there are tons of reasons why we run.

    1. run away from things that could eat/hurt/hunt us (we weren’t always top of the food chain more like middle), and yes sometimes we needed to run both fast burst and slow… because some predators are also persistence hunters! And not only would we have to outrun the short bursts of some attacks, but also slow and steadily draw away from things wanting to eat us.

    2. to get to the kill before other scavengers (on the plains you can see the buzzards circle from miles away), also sometimes scavengers in numbers can drive off the animal who made the kill, but again you have to get there fairly quickly.

    3. get back home after the hunt/gather, with your food (Human babies are helpless for several years almost, someone needs to take care of them full time while someone gets sustenance)

    4. follow the food/water (in most places with seasons, especially dry/wet you follow the water and the animals you eat also follow the water. if the herd moved in the night 20 miles you need to catch up or get fairly close proximity for reliable food.)

    by the way a large part of our air conditioned brain is also just for throwing things at and hitting a target, which definitely helps coupled with the running for gathering/hunting.

    but yes modern day running has almost nothing to do with running in those times, except it was faster than walking most of the time.

  38. Walter Norris on April 13, 2010 at 22:21

    Appreciate the link above. Does anyone else have alternatives to vibram fivefingers. My 2nd toe curves so they are not an option for me.

    • Mark J on April 13, 2010 at 23:00

      Ok, not trying to shill for SoftStar but if Vibrams aren’t doing it for you (and I do like my Vibrams but to be honest it is HARD to get a perfect fit) there is a small company based in Oregon that HAND MAKES their shoes that is coming out with a running shoe/mocassin later this month. So far reviews have been very good for it from the people who are testing it.

  39. Chris on April 13, 2010 at 23:44

    Love God and do what you will, as the old saying goes….If some really enjoys running, knock yourself out, I say. As a former competitive distance runner, Soccer is now my sport of choice.

    Having said that, I’d love to see one study, just ONE, that shows a cluster of centenarians that engaged in distance running at ANY point in their lives. Okinawans in Nikes?

  40. jon w on April 14, 2010 at 00:28

    wow, a lot of good thoughts here. for me a jog or “airborne shuffle” is the best way to eat up the miles when I want to get somewhere, whether it’s hiking, getting to school (a mile away from home), or whatever. when I get out of breath, I slow down to walk, but running just feels more natural.

    a couple times a month I like an orienteering or hash-run event. I like to think of this as a hunting workout. there’s a group of people, a route to follow, so competition kicks in and there’s a lot of maximal effort in varied terrain with obstacles, interspersed with some slow spells where you have to figure out where youre going.

  41. William on April 14, 2010 at 01:31

    One of the great common sense tenets of libertarianism, is that you mind your own business. Therefore, as a libertarian, I simply don’t care if others run for distance, or not run. My reason for not running distance is purely practical: I am simply not built to be a distance runner. At 6”4”, my torso is too long, shoulders too wide, chest too big, legs too short and the large gluteals to stabilize a running gait, mentioned by Cynthia is practically non-existent. My weight, even at my goal weight of 205, I am (will be even then) much too large to pound pavement, which in turn pounds the hell out of my joints and ligaments.

    There are a couple of things I have noticed over the years however. One is, when I have moved furniture from house to house with long distance running friends, I notice how they get out of breath easily, and fatigue, while I continue all day breathing normally, and actually pick up steam as the day progresses. I guess this has to do with the fact that these distance folks are not used to carrying heavy loads, therefore the constant motion for several hours of carrying a heavy object is not the same as gliding effortlessly without restriction on a running trail. They simply have not adapted to this sort of workload, which is a departure of their usual, efficient use of motion. The can run like hell for distance, but they can’t walk fast as if they are being chased by demons from hell, while toting heavy objects. I certainly could not cover the same distance, much less keep up with them while distance running. Conversely, they complain that I am working them into the ground. So I guess the question is this: Who has the best use of cardio efficiency?

    Also, once upon a time, I was a race walker. For about eight years, I race walked eight to twelve miles a day, for six and mostly, seven days per week. During this time, I ate a high carbohydrate diet which consisted mostly of beans. Seems there wasn’t a meal where beans weren’t served. Pinto beans, red beans… I was a bean eating race walker! And what a race walker! A race walker who felt high all the time. My endorphin levels were apparently at an all time, well, high. But what I notice in retrospect, is that I didn’t have the same symptoms which have plagued my body since those RW days. No painful joints, no racing heart; my weight remained at 205 for those eight years, but as soon as soon as I stopped, those described symptoms geared up with a vengeance that sustained itself for twenty years. A few years ago, in an attempt to lose the weight gained during the previously mentioned twenty year period, I started race walking again. My weight of 275 remained constant, even though I was back to eight and sometimes ten or twelve miles per day. The 275 mark didn’t budge till my discovery of primal/paleo/evolutionary (choose your language) eating over a year ago. So, the obvious question here is: Is it possible lose weight from distance work, or do you need to drastically change your diet, then go back to eating more carbs after the weight loss, but only when you start a sensible distance program that works for you?

    And just when I think I have all this stuff figured out, along comes my life long friend of about forty years (we are both 55) who is a long distance runner and cyclist. This guy had a spinal fusion over thirty years ago, and still runs and cycles distances that keep me in awe. Weird thing is, with all the running and cycling he does, his back and knees are functional, despite the spinal fusion. But then, he is slow twitch as opposed to my fast twtich state, and is 5’8″ and around 140 pounds; a natural build for distance work.

    So, I suppose in looking at different body builds, slow twitch vs fast twitch etc., my position is one of a pragmatist about distance work.

  42. Cynthia on April 14, 2010 at 02:38

    (different Cynthia) Thanks, Richard, for your open-mindedness. I’m quite sure that running is a natural activity, and that in paleo times we would have been doing it since early childhood, effortlessly and easily, burning fat for fuel and not needing carb loading (what a ridiculous notion). It would help that they weren’t heavy unlike us sedentary modern humans. And I’m pretty sure people would have been quite pragmatic about it, being careful to avoid injury and not wasting energy by overtraining. One problem with competition is insufficient rest and recovery, which leads to injuries and perhaps stress and hormone imbalances. Still, I think people should be able to enjoy some friendly competition and training if that is what they enjoy, without criticism from paleo-dogmatists. For modern humans who may be overweight and out of shape, running may seem hard, but once you practice it, it is easier than walking, even if you are more drawn to sprints and explosive movements. A nice walk is good, but I find myself bored with long walks (unless pretty hilly) because they don’t give me my endorphin fix (I’m not a real fast walker though). The mental/psychological component is important too, and some people are more drawn to the meditative rhythms and sense of freedom than others. So running isn’t for everyone, but just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it is bad.

  43. pieter d on April 14, 2010 at 06:44

    Really a lot of interesting comments. Maybe one thing I’d like to add.

    You don’t have to run to be fit and healthy. There’s no need to do the chronic cardio. But you can run if you like (expecially barefooted/VFF style on trails, with tempo changes and variety…), and still be healthy and fit.

    So if you’re looking for time effecient workouts, you’re better of with the high intesity workouts (being sprints, weightlifting, bodyweight circuits, …). But if you enjoy running, and feel good, go ahead.

    I have noticed that this difference has opened a lot of eyes (especially in females, torturing themselves on the treadmills): you don’t need to do ‘cardio’ to be healthy, fit and lean.

  44. Eric on April 14, 2010 at 07:09

    I think part of the problem is that we are getting mixed messages from the paleo anti-running and the running community in general: The former seems to be basing its opposition on the fact that running at a high percentage of one’s heart rate for long periods of time, coupled with the almost inevitable use of a high-carb diet, is certainly not a healthy, let alone very “paleo” option… The latter, on the other hand, is still living in a closed bubble of conventional wisdom where, for the most part (I know Cordain and Friel, among others, are a world apart here…), it is believed that cardio health (thank you Dr. Cooper) is the only “real measure of health”, and the only way to achieve optimal health is therefore to work towards increasing aerobic capacity. This principle, very often, is also combined with a low-fat, high-carb diet…

    It might be more important however to see training and lifestyle in terms of how much emphasis we actually place on Performance vs Health/Longevity. In general, I think Richard does an excellent job of this on his blog…

    Ultimately, it becomes an issue of competency or aptitude in various modalities, physical adaptations and metabolic engines. I would go out on a limb and say that to be “fit”, one should have a good balance between all the “engines” that drive human activity: the ATP/CP pathway, glycolytic, and aerobic paths. If we focus too much on one of these, it will be to the detriment of the other energy paths, and potentially of general health as well, especially, I believe, if we start pushing the aerobic capacity envelope, as the latter has very little carry-over (while the opposite is not true). It is simply the nature of the beast. Always keep in mind the SAID principle: “Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands”… This is why the paleo anti-running people tend to focus on the use of anaerobic training to develop the aerobic pathway, so as not deter as much from peak power production.

    Basically, training for the sake of performance and training for the sake of health/longevity might be two different things. Training regimens like the ones revolving around the ideas of DeVany or Crossfit (when done appropriately and scaled to the end-user’s capacities…) sort of blend the two together, by ensuring fitness remains “broad, general and inclusive”. With this in mind we can then use that model to increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Combine this with the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum, and you are then able to quantify fitness and also balance your efforts towards achieving a higher level of health.

    Keep in mind: when work capacity reaches zero… we’re dead! A model like this can thus serve to guide one’s training in that anything that decreases one’s work capacity across broad time & modal domains MIGHT be at odds with health & longevity. But, too much work can also be detrimental to the latter…

    For what it’s worth, I was a college-level middle distance runner back in the day, so did my fair share of “intense aerobic training”… I also hold a masters in exercise physiology 🙂

    If you run because you like it, that’s all that matters really. If that’s what’s keeping you moving then, by all means, keep at it. I think most other “anti-running” people out there would tend to agree it this statement. Do, however, keep in mind the implications of your actions and try to incorporate your activity of choice within the realm of a comprehensive healthy lifestyle…

  45. Cynthia K. on April 14, 2010 at 07:26


    Thank you very much for posting my letter. And thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments. I am still undecided about replying to individual comments here, since I am not by nature a debate-oriented person, and because – thanks to Richard – I have had my say in the fullest way I could have hoped for.

    Best wishes to all,
    Cynthia K.

  46. John Paul Tan on April 14, 2010 at 08:19

    I like to put my two cents regarding this wonderful topic.

    A little bit about my background. I’ve done marathons using Vibram Five Fingers. It freak the hell out of everyone just like the way I like it. Anyways on the subject of running.

    This is how I train for marathons. I train six days a week for five months. Monday to Friday is spent doing the original Tabatas. 20 secs sprints then 10 secs rest for 4 minutes. I repeat the whole thing 6 times. Saturday is spent doing long distance running (10 km).

    Results? Perfect run on marathon day. Everytime my slow twitch muscles get tired, my fast twitch muscles take over. The two keeps on switching like a team which results into me having the same pace the whole run.

    Conclusion? SPRINTING is a very EFFECTIVE way to train for long distance endurance running. It builds up your endurance real quick compare to running for hours at the treadmill. It also trains your fast twitch muscles which are crucial because they will allow your slow twitch muscles to get enough rest to take over again. It’s like your leg muscles never get tired. One thing I notice is compare to hardcore runners, I actually look healthier since my legs are more muscular due to sprinting and I do not look sickly due to the paleo diet.

    Paleo Diet? It should be the only DIET for long distance runners. The protein will repair your muscles which will enable you to train. Get your energy from saturated fat. This carbo loading is nothing but a crack pot of bullshit. This is the reason why most marathon runners look so sickly.

  47. Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 08:29

    Great post, and fascinating comments. I came to the “paleo” concept after reading “Born to Run” and doing a great deal of reading about its premise.

    The scientific evidence is pretty overwhelming that we did indeed evolve to run down our prey. The notion that we were scavengers or berry-pickers is roughly akin, to me, to the vegans’ argument that we didn’t evolve to eat meat. The scientific evidence is completely to the contrary.

    All the mega fauna disappeared from each continent as humanity reached each continent. The cause is pretty clear, they got eaten by humans. And we weren’t ambling along. Sisson has a post where he dismisses the “persistence hunting” of the Tarahumara as a cultural adaptation unique to them. This is wrong on two counts. First, the best evidence for persistence hunting comes from the Bushmen of Africa, not from South America. The Bushmen in fact still do persistence hunting. So arguing that people don’t persistent hunt is completely counterfactual. Moreover Sisson’s argument that the Tarahumara rely on carbs for running is partly untrue. The Tarahumara “wonder food” is chia, which is actually the richest vegetable source of omega-3 oils! Their running is fueled, in part, by fat.

    One of the commenters above notes that we got enough fats because the primary carnivores would leave the fatty bits behind. The primary carnivores are quite partial to the fatty bits themselves. Liver is crucial to lions, for instance, they’d eat that and leave the rest for the scavengers. Weston Price similarly found that the fatty bits were prime food sources for primitive humans. Eskimos fed the lean meat to their dogs, for instance.

    According to the anthropological record, running came before large brains, which we probably evolved to help us track down the animals we were running after. Large brains also depend on large calorie and fat inputs, so in the 1.8 million years after our ancestors started hunting but before the invention of tools, we had to have a way to kill our prey. Persistence hunting explains how we did it, nothing else does. We didn’t ambush animals, because we had no way to kill them. We had to run them into exaustion. And the notion that we out competed vultures for carrion doesn’t make sense. We”re not fast enough to cover a few miles after we saw vultures circling prey, by the time we got there there would be nothing left.

    PaNu’s post about running and artery calcification is unimpressive. There’s much more evidence pro-running that contra-running, and the study he cites is simply an observational study that notes a correlation but provides no evidence of causation. I find the argument that they have calcification because they’re aggresively following a low-fat, high-carb diet, as most runners I know do, a lot more compelling.

    So in my mind, the paleo community’s antipathy to “chronic cardio” is ill-founded.

    That said, I do agree with Sisson that pushing past the fat-powered metabolism into the sugar-powered metabolism for long distances is probably not a good survival strategy. Bonking in the Serengeti would leave you as a tasty treat for some large predator. The Tarahumara do carry carbs along on their long runs, and do not “train” for thier running. But they’re running all the time as a part of their life.

    Endurance running on a fat-based metabolism is a big part of the discussion in Bernd Heinrich’s “Why We Run”. Heinrich is a top zoologist, and a world-record holding ultramarathoner. He trained to maximize his fat metabolism, and consumed a bit of carbs, much like the Tarahumara.

    I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the topic.

    • Juan on April 14, 2010 at 09:13

      Interesting view, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, it seems that nearly everyone who tries to “prove” that humans are natural distance runners is himself, or herself, a distance runner. It’s confirmation bias reaching a high degree of development. How can anyone think that a few isolated tribes living on highly marginalized land, chosen out of all the hundreds of hunter gatherers encountered since the Age of Exploration, could somehow provide “overwhelming evidence” of anything at all? Madness. The fossil record is hardly edifying in this regard, either. So, looking at extant H-Gs or the more recently extirpated/changed groups such as most North American and Australasian aboriginals, I count two that are persistence hunters: the !Kung and Tarahumara. Maybe there’s another, but I don’t know. I don’t study this. Clearly overwhelming, though.

      The Great Plains of the Americas and the Savannah of Africa are not meagre, hard lands like the deserts and semi-deserts where these persistence hunters dwell. Early Man, similar to the more recent aboriginals living in plains regions around the world prior to European contact, probably did most of their killing by stealth, trapping, roping, spearing, shouting, surprising, and when they could, running (fast) hundreds of prey animals over a cliff. Hardly persistence techniques.

      Frankly, I am surprised anyone is even bothering to study this subject, unless he is an ultra-marathoner zoologist, of course (LOL). It seems so patently obvious that what we as a species were definitely born to do is WALK. The fact that we run also — some people faster (i.e., West Africans), some slower but longer (East Africans) etc. — is an evolutionary by-product suited to the kind of terrain and phenotype that might evolve in a specific area or under specific pressures. However, ALL the peoples of the Earth walk well.

  48. […] second is titled Born to run over at Free the Animal The other arguments against running that pop up in the LC world usually […]

  49. David on April 14, 2010 at 12:26

    I don’t think there are any animals that routinely run long distances, except horses, and they only do it when we make them.

    • James on April 14, 2010 at 12:31

      Wolves cover 40 to 50 miles per day, much of that on the trot.

      • David on April 14, 2010 at 12:37

        I sit corrected…

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 12:49

        @David: You need to watch the movie “Never Cry Wolf”, or spend more time watching the Nature Channel. 😉

      • David on April 14, 2010 at 12:56

        I’ll check it out. Any other examples of routine long distance running in the animal kingdom?

      • James on April 14, 2010 at 13:26

        The African lioness travels around 10 kilometers per night and 2-3 kilometers per day.

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 13:19

        Any migratory mammal except for the elephant, which cannot run. Bison, antelope, caribou, zebra, etc…

      • Dave C. on April 14, 2010 at 13:38

        Are High Speed Elephants Running or Walking?
        “So the elephants were running by one measure but not by another and it seems that the forelimbs trot while the hind limbs walk at higher speeds. ‘High-speed locomotion in an elephant doesn’t fall nicely into a classic category like a run or a trot. It really depends on your definition of “run”,’ says Heglund.”

        😀 – I had to look it up.

      • Tuck on April 14, 2010 at 13:45

        One end is running and the other end is walking. That’s pretty darn funny.

      • William on April 14, 2010 at 17:17

        Border Collies often cover up to 125 miles a day, and much of that is full on sprints to keep those sheep in line. Having owned a BC, I can attest to their amazing recovery abilities. I wish I were so lucky!

  50. StephenB, Chicagoland, IL on April 14, 2010 at 13:21

    Most long distance runners are not paleo eaters. So what do they do? Carbo-load, especially before races. Lots of pasta. It’s the prevailing wisdom.

    I wonder how high their blood sugar gets after all of that? And doing it over and over, year after year.

  51. TrailGrrl on April 14, 2010 at 16:02

    Another point to bring up regarding “chronic cardio.” Doing triathlons a while back, I religiously followed the sport in magazines and online. If you look at the mileage the pros and even the “age groupers” are racking up, it is absolutely insane. No wonder the pros break down eventually, especially those who train for more than one or two big IronMan races a year. The running and biking, combined with the laps in the pool does not leave much time for rest and recovery. And man can you eat some sugar. I used to be hungry for just macaroni… just plain, nothing on it right out of the collander. And then there are the injuries. Most people become so dedicated that the don’t take time between running and non-running days, and if they do, they are not really rest or play days. They are “crosstraining” days. So, not enough rest or play really.


    • Cynthia K. on April 15, 2010 at 11:55

      TrailGrrl, I don’t claim to know how much running is “too much.” My personal limit is determined by my inner fun-o-meter. For what it’s worth, here’s my running life… I like to run 50-55 miles per week and 2 or 3 marathons per year. I started in my 40s with a Galloway run/walk 5K program. I am now in my 50s, and I have never once had a running injury. I run in the most minimal shoes I can find, plus some barefoot running in summer. I lift weights because it is truly good for me, but I run because I love it.

      I’ve got one more really fun link for you all, a zero-carb competitive distance runner…

  52. Splint Chesthair on April 15, 2010 at 06:36

    I’ve always considered long-distance running to be the opposite of strength training. No one is going to be the best at both. Do whichever you enjoy, you only have so many years here, why do something you don’t enjoy for the chance of prolonging life doing something you don’t enjoy? I enjoy strength training and I do that predominantly, my running is mostly 400m and 800m “sprints” and occasionally, 4-5 times per year, I’ll throw in a 5 or 10k just so I know I can do it if I have to.

  53. Paul C on April 15, 2010 at 11:28

    I’ll throw 2 cents in about running. Picking a natural surface could make all the difference in running enjoyment and health. We aren’t built to run on concrete. Personally I have peed blood after running hills on concrete for 7 miles, and later found out that is not an uncommon thing among marathoners, and is known as runner’s hematuria. Put those gel-eaters on concrete, and now you have a really screwed up health-effects study!

    Thank you Cynthia for the great letter.

    • Tuck on April 15, 2010 at 12:22

      Paul, all the barefoot runners will tell you that running on concrete or asphalt is like running on cream. It’s the easiest surface to run on. The problem isn’t the surface, it’s the shoes.

      That’s why so many paleo folk are into Vibrams.

  54. Joseph on April 17, 2010 at 14:18

    I have run and walked everywhere in Vibrams for the past two years. In my experience, the most comfortable surfaces for running are woodland trails and meadows. The least comfortable are gravel paths. Pavement falls somewhere in between these two extremes. I do not run on it when a natural surface presents itself, but I definitely take it over gravel. I do not have to be as picky when walking, since the stress on my feet is not as great.

  55. Mike Palmer on April 19, 2010 at 22:29

    Great video and definitely enjoyed Cynthia’s letter.

  56. Mike Palmer on April 20, 2010 at 20:38

    There’s something else I wanted to add, which is: aren’t we oversimplifying and generalizing when we take one example of a tribe of people and see how they lived and say how it’s the way we all ought to live?

    Persistence hunting may have been the way things went down in Africa, but I can’t imagine that people everywhere would have caught their food that way.

    My question is: isn’t it important to know our ancestral origins to find out the most suitable way to live / eat?

    If you think “yes”, well, what would you do in the case of a mixed breed like myself (half-Chinese, half-Anglo-Australian)? They ate completely different diets and survived in completely different climates and environments.

    • Tuck on April 20, 2010 at 20:48

      If you’re half-Chinese, then there’s a fair chance you are descended from Ghengis Khan. 8% of all Chinese men are descended from the Great Khan, after all. The Mongols were of course renowned horsemen. At some point, someone had to catch that first horse, and the anthropological evidence suggests that the man that caught that first horse, perhaps your distant ancestor, did so by out-running the horse until it was exhausted.

      There are a number of races of man against horse, and the men win with some regularity. The Apache brave of North America would, in dire times, eat his horse. He knew that he could cover more miles in a day than his horse could carrying him.

      As for your dietary requirements, I have two children in a similar position. My wife is Colombian, and I am Northern European. They do have some issues, and we’re dealing with them by reverting to a Primal diet, and then adding problematic foods like dairy and wheat back in to determine what they can eat. I seem to be gluten-intolerant, and my wife may well be lactose-intolerant to some degree. These traits would be typical of our heritage, but put my daughters and an interesting genetic intersection.

      Trial and error, in other words.

    • Cynthia K. on April 21, 2010 at 09:37

      I can’t speak for the other posters here, but I’m not talking about a single tribe myself. I’m talking about the fossil record, and the adaptations that all humans on this planet have inherited. Best wishes.

  57. nell on April 21, 2010 at 11:41

    I’m an MD and have been an elite level endurance athlete for over two decades – and I agree with Cynthia’s main ideas. One can’t equate all running as either good for you or bad for you.

    I compete in the 1-4 hr races that require sustained HR’s of 170-180, like many do, and I have no qualms if you said that that was unhealthy – it most likely is! I’m sure that it induces coronary inflammation, heart attacks, joint problems, and all kinds of stuff. But, that’s why it’s fun – because we humans kind of suck at it, and because of that, it’s challenging – dealing with dehydration, switching between CHO and fats and proteins in catabolism, refueling, pacing, etc. So, while I agree with many that “racing” is probably not adding to our health, its negative effects are probably pretty mild in most of us and “running ” doesn’t necessarily mean “racing”. Big difference – LC and Lofat is both “eating” is it not?

    But, running at HR’s of 100-130 for a few hours? That’s easy to do, though not here and now for a couch potato. But, a slow jog on soft-ish ground for several hours? We can all work up to doing that. Otherwise, why do we have the body that we do? Noone’s ever evaluated the health effects of slow running because there is no population size group that has done only that and has been subject to a study. Looking at marathon runners / racers and carrying that over to say that running is unhealthy? That’s the same kind of clueless knee-jerk junk science that the low-fat crowd waves around.

    On the other hand, tell me why weight lifting and the crossfit stuff is “the stuff of our genes”. Did our ancestors 100k to 1,000k yrs ago lift rocks that were in their path or walk around them? Did they build shelters as fast as they could or did they take their time? How often, I wonder, did they sprint after or away from critters? Probably not that often or else they would have been caught / starved and we wouldn’t be here. IMO the crossfit type of philosophy is way more anti-human than running. However, if it’s fun to do then there is certainly value in doing that – heck, I enjoy lifting weights and being muscular too. But, I think that much of the crossfit type of stuff is based on the “grok” neanderthal stuff from Hollywood stereotyping. Remember that having large muscles and high strength happens naturally if it’s genetically programmed – real gorillas don’t go to the gym – do they?

    So, then if humans weren’t persistance runners / walkers like many in the LC crowd want it to be, what were they? squatters? swimmers? grazers? Fly-ers? Did they carry chairs with them? Was food everywhere like in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory – or did they have to gather it, or jog it down, or stumble across carion? I really can’t see any other working method if you want to answer the question of what movement/exercise is most natural to our evolutionary history. As to what it healthiest? That’s a different question, literally. But, the answer might well be the same. If not, then I would think that the weight of the evidence would be on proving that there IS a healthier exercise and nutritional lifestyle than how we evolved. ?

    • James on April 21, 2010 at 11:54

      I must give you props, nell. Sometimes it’s hell trying to communicate with those who’s perspective’s are twisted from decades of sloth and sugar-addiction, so I just want to acknowledge this post as an oasis of science and logic.

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