15 February 2011

Run and You'll Only Die Tired, The Evidence Part 1

Before I begin this installment, allow me to reiterate the point of this series- it's to point out the futility and stupidity of high-intensity distance running- marathon training, etc.  This is not a series of blogs about the evils of endurance training, a diatribe against running in general, or a suggestion that superheroes lack physical endurance... all of which were somehow posited in the comments of the first entry in this series.  With that behind us (forlorn hope, but it springs eternal), let us move on to the science behind my supposition.

Let's look at it from an evolutionary perspective, shall we?
Physical specimens if I ever saw some.

In the narrative of Born To Run, author Christopher McDougall discovered what anyone who's seen the television show Last Man Standing already knew- the Tarahumara Indians drink a lot of corn liquor and run a lot.  His book was apparently life-altering to many Americans eager to latch onto the newest, latest exercise fad, and people snatched up the Tarahumara "barefoot running" shoes just as fast as some poor Guatemalan slave in a sweatshop could turn them out.  His book, however, only presented one side of a debate so hotly contested in archaeology that it's starting to resemble the type of battle raps that got Biggie and 2Pac whacked out.  Their vitriol is of course far more restrained, what with the fact that they're pasty-faced academics and the pro-running side consists of impressively biased distance athletes, but it's there nevertheless.
McDougall based his work primarily on the contentions of Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman, who co-authored the article "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo" in 2004.  (Nature) Bear in mind, while considering the following, that Lieberman is described as "a short 41 year old with a receding hairline, a slight paunch, and disarming dimples" who "doesn't look athletic" but "he has been a jogger since his teens."(Discover)  Clearly, their argument is off to a shaky start if their physiques are any indication- much like the training advice given by a pasty-faced computer nerd should be considered dubious at best.  As the champions of this side of the debate, they rely heavily on anecdotal evidence and a bit of biology to support their theory, which is plainly stated as "man is a natural endurance runner rather than walker".  Their initial support for this theory is pretty amusing, as they compare sprint performance between humans and two animals wildly unlike them- horses and greyhounds.  Amusingly, both of these species bear similar foot structure, in that their weight is borne on their toes, making them ill-suited to walking quickly, but well-suited to running.  Additionally, both are quadrupedal, which makes a racing comparison between humans and those animals akin to a comparison of the sexual practices of Annabel Chong and a dead lemur.  They go on to discuss at great length the ability of the human body to rotate, our ability to shed heat, our bone density, muscular asses, and the shape of our thoraxes as support for their theory, which is that humans were practically designed intelligently to be good at ER.
Certainly not built to run all over the fucking place at a moderate pace.

In wildly contradictory fashion, they admit at the end of the article that enough evidence exists in regards to humans' innate ability to walk long distances that "it is reasonable to hypothesize that Homo evolved to travel long distances both by walking and by running" and that the utilization of ER for persistence hunting "might have been too energetically expensive and low-yield for the benefits to have outweighed the costs."(351)  Their academic detractors are two guys by the name of Pickering and Bunn, who engendered a great deal of enmity in their jogging counterparts by nitpicking the everloving shit out of the "ER and Homos" article cited above.  As I'm unwilling to pay $20 for the dubious privilege of reading that article and can glean the bulk of their argument from Liberman and Bramble's counter-rebuttal.  Pickering and Dunn, it seem, have their heads just about as far up their asses as Bramble and buddies, as they decided to directly attack every point in the Homo article rather than producing actual sound evidence that would contradict the hypotheses and logical stretches taken by the joggers.  As such, this duty would seem to fall to me.
I actually own this book, and it's not half bad.

I've read a wide array of books ranging from the patently absurd to the utterly useless and back again, and never once, outside of born to run, did I hear of a method of hunting that involved three people chasing a single small animal for 18 miles until it dies of exhaustion.  The only methods resembling persistence hunting of which I read were used to hunt big game during the Ice Age, and it consisted of an ambush, in which the animal is injured via projectile or by a series of dashes at the beast with spears, attempting to make serious but not mortal wounds and then retreating, and then following it at a walk until the beast collapses of blood loss and died.  This is apparently the way mammoths were hunted by Ice Age hunters, and involved an entire tribe moving nomadically across the plain to follow their food source. Evidence exists from the Pleistocene period that even Homo Habilis, Erectus, and Heidelbergensis used this sort of method, and one site in Germany provides solid evidence of this- wooden throwing spears were found in situ with the remains of ten butchered horses.  (Thieme)

Early humans (the Cro-Magnons) relied heavily on big game hunting as a subsistence strategy, and are credited in large part with the megafauna die offs in the Upper Paleolithic.  (O'Niel)  For those of you still clinging to Born to Run like it's some sort of cock-sucking machine slash Bible slash security blanket, you're fucked- no three fucktards looking like they've got cancer of the AIDS were running down mammoths and stabbing them to death in droves.  If they were, their diets wouldn't suck to the degree they do now. Additionally, no person with the ability to run 400 miles in 5 days would have the muscular strength necessary to kill megafauna with a glorified sharp stick- they're too fucking skinny to do so.

 !Kung bushmen.  Never in history have a group of armed black men looked less threatening.

Persistance hunting, by if you're curious, consists of a couple of guys chasing a single animal through the desert until it collapses from overheating and exhaustion.  The !Kung hunters, for instance, typically run 30 km in teams of three on each antelope hunt, returning with an amount of meat so paltry when shared out amongst the group that any financial advisor would mock them for having a return on investment lower than current cd rates.  The pre-Homo Sapiens sapiens anscestors of the !Kung, not being fucking idiots, abandoned this method of food gathering along with everyone else- at the advent of the spear (i.e. at least 400,000 years ago).(Thieme) Although the !Kung are among the couple of groups still credited as utilizing this method, the !Kung Bushmen and the Tarahumara indians of Mexico, but it's really a misrepresentation.  Neither of these groups really eats any meat (the Tarahumera get most of their calories from corn, and subsist on a diet consisting of only 10% protein, 10% fat, and 80% carbs), and that which they do is farmed.  Consequently, the Tarahumera have abandoned the practice except to display their running skills for Westerners,and the Bushmen rarely eat the meat they kill by running it to death.  Lest you still doubt anyone who would dare defy the mighty writings of the Born to Run jackass, even his beloved Lieberman and Bramble freely admitted in their rebuttal to Pickering and Bunn that "ER is no longer common among living foragers" and admit that their theory is thus "a puzzle", even to themselves. (Liberman, et al.)

An Ache tribesman shows that sprinting and meat-eating does a body good.

Extant stone age societies like the Ache of Paraguay (who actually eat meat) move through the forest continuously, hunting peccary.  They walk briskly or jog lightly and then sprint to close on their prey.(Devany 49)  They are so fast, in fact, that even the 50+ year olds amongst them could outrun collegiate sprinters who studied them.  (Hill)  This falls in line with the evidence offered by Peter McAllister, who cited the fact that tracks have been found in Australian that appear to show a group of humans running at high speeds, one of whom was moving at 37 KPH (22.2 MPH) through a muddy lakeshore... and his lengthing strides indicate that he was accelerating.  (McAllister 25-26)  Similarly, most of the paleo authors seem to agree with Art Devany, who contends that we're better suited to walking and sprinting than running long distances (Devany 98), in part due to the fact that that long bouts of intense aerobic exercise cause harmful oxidation (Devany 100)  In stark contradiction to the assertions of Liberman et al, Robb Wolff even uses the example of the Bushmen in the Paleo Solution, though he mentions them as walking, rather than running, 15-19 miles a day- a statistic that falls in line with the suggestions by various writers that the !Kungs' occasional persistence hunting is almost entirely ceremonial.(Wolff 149)
In spite of these compelling facts, Bramble and his little buddy persist in their total lack of faith in the badassedness of humanity and stick to their guns.  Having apparently never seen the pants-shittingly sweet flick The Edge, in which a geriatric Anthony Hopkins offs a bear with a sharp stick, or having conducted a simple google search on ancient hunting methods, Bramble and Lieberman insist that "spears are used to dispatch prey that have been immobilized or incapacitated by traps, hunting dogs, or other such means."(Liberman et al 435)  An attempt to kill an animal with a large stick is just too scary and dangerous, insist Bramble and his pals, as "one well aimed kick or impact with an animal's horns  could cause serious, potentially fatal injury." (Ibid.)  Of course, they'll admit that it has been done on the same page, but the fact that it has occurred is meaningless, due to the fact that their arch-nemeses failed to describe how such a thing could have occurred without endurance running or projectile weapons.  Compound this with the alleged fact that "early Homo  was neither strong nor powerful" (Liberman 436), they couldn't have simply competed with more powerful predators.  I'm not certain where they derived this fact, as it's fairly well documented that every other primate species is more powerful than modern Homo sapiens sapiens due to their muscle fiber composition.
Cleanse.  All of that talk of running was making me break out in hives.

Oh, don't think I'm done, fuckers.  Not by a loooooong shot.  In fact, I've not even finished cutting up this baby and burying it underneath its dumbassed evolutionary bed.  Still to come, another post about the evolutionary evidence against ER, one about the sports science against it, and then a practical application of sensible training techniques to increase endurance without being a fucking jogger.


Bramble DM, Lieberman, DE.  "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo" Nature 18: 234 345-352
Chen, Ingfei.  Born to Run.  Discover Magazine.  5/28/10.
Devaney, Art.  The New Evolution Diet.  2010.
Hill, Kim.  Hunting and Evolution. (1982) J Hum Evol 11: 521-544.
Lieberman, DE, Bramble DM, Raichlen DA, Shea, JJ.  The evolution of endurance running and the tyranny of ethnography: A reply to Pickering and Bunn. J Hum Evol 53 (200&) 434-437.
McAllister,Peter.  Manthropology.  2010.
McDougall, Christopher.  Born to Run.  2009.
O'Neil, Dennis.  Early Modern Human Culture.  http://anthro.palomar.edu/homo2/mod_homo_5.htm
Thieme, Hartmut.  Lower Palaeolithic hunting spears from Germany.  Nature 385, 807 - 810 (27 February 1997)
Wolff, Robb.  Paleo Solution. 2010.


  1. Great post, great timin on the hot babe, i was just about to wander away from the lengthy bit but was drawn in at the end by the boobs.

  2. Great stuff I hate it when people decide to act as amateur palaeontologists and come up with long winded bullshit that has no basis in factual information or evidence to support chronically flawed arguments. Wanting humans to be genetically predisposed to long distance running is not enough to change the past, just so one can enjoy ones hobbies!

  3. As you mention DeVany, I was wondering your opinion about reading his new book. Without having read it, do you think it's really worth shelling out the $15 bucks for the info? Any chance he will break any kind of new ground?

  4. I'm so fucking happy that I found this blog and other sources of info that have made me aware of cardio being stupid. I do enjoy sled pulling and sprinting, but that's painful outdoor activity and unboring.

  5. Fucking spot on!!! C & P must be the best blog out there regarding fitness, weightlifting and assorted shit, thanks to entries like this one.

    "!Kung bushmen. Never in history have a group of armed black men looked less threatening" LOL

  6. Another Jamie imitator: http://www.truestrengthdreams.com/
    Basically a copy and paste job, even down to the he man writing style, except gay.

  7. Many people I know only run because they're required to keep within a certain spec by the military.
    Admission to elite units is influenced predominantly by running scores on long distance. The running requirements are high enough that I'm sure no big powerlifter could ever get in.

  8. It wasn't until the pic at the end of your post that I realized why I turned on my computer this morning. Thanks for reminding me, I almost forgot to beat off after reading that.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Lol this is hilarious i just finished reading the rise and fall of the third chimpanzee by jared diamond there, http://www.e-reading.org.ua/bookreader.php/73183/Diamond_-_The_rise_and_fall_of_the_third_chimpanzee.html

    and then i come down to this article on your blog! Read the book backwards because i was mostly interested in biogeography's role in the imbalance of power in the world, putting to rest the idea that whites are innately superior to other races.

    The first few chapters contain info on the development of hunting in proto humans. This will appeal to you although Diamond dismisses some points as exaggerated views on hunting from a men's locker room mentality.
    Women were supposedly moulded by men's big game hunting, suppressing their external signs of ovulation (obvious in chimps) as to refrain from overexcited men and thus spoiling mens cooperation at hunting. Hunting is thought by some to have induced proto human males to develop language and big brains, join into bands and share food.

    Modern day evidence from New Guinean tribes with whom he spent time with suggests that proto humans were not mighty hunters but skilled chimps. Although the men like to talk about their kangaroo hunt conquests, when it came down to brass tacks, the average male only caught a large animal once or twice in his lifetime!

    Most of the calories consumed among New Guinean tribes are from plant food collected by women hahahahha.

    Middle Stone Age Africans can barely be considered big game hunters, as they usually confined themselves to old weak animals, or babies.

    No noticeable progress in innovation was to be noted late ice age people come along. You covered this in your article. I thought this would be a suitable addition.

  11. haha i just realised the link i posted is the book in its entirety! You may edit the format to word rendering it more reader friendly.

    Definitely worth a read. Thats my second time reading it. Another book i feel would appeal to your interests is Guns Germs and Steel by the same author. This contains some similar biogeographical themes to it as 3rd Chimp but it accomodates the role of smallpox and other diseases in the post 1492 successes of the Europeans in South America. Archaeologists found vestiges of cities in America large enough in size to contain in upwards of 80,000 people, with smallpox genes discovered in the remains of the indians.

  12. Interesting. I'll check that book out. GGS was awesome.

  13. GGS and Virolution by Frank Ryan were the deciding factors in pushing me away from fiction completely. I find history and biology to be fantastical enough to negate the need. That was nerdy and somewhat gay, but i stand by that last sentence.

    YOu read much fiction since doing a bioscience degree? (sorry i dont know what degree you did exactly). Over the past 2 years my interests have been tipping more towards lit reviews and science mags. Both sources are far superior to the lecture notes anyway.

  14. I usually find myself wondering if this whole Endurance hunting, regular hunting etc thing is more environment influenced than anything else.

    I mean, these !kung heads and like the sort of ethiopean, eritreans who seem so naturally adapted to Endurance running just plain evolved that way because they live on high plains.

    Is it that hard for people to accept that maybe body shape evolved a certain way due to certain environmental stimulus? I mean we didn't evolve all different facial structures and skin colours at random...

    People who live in jungles or colder climates may not really be able to trot endlessly after a gazelle for such a reason.

    Also I greatly dislike the idea that the Tarahumara being one solitary isolated society, are the proof of the pudding.

  15. Love it! Can't wait for the next installment.

  16. Since I've found your blog...I've really started to hate running. My body has never looked better!

  17. "I swear it upon Zeus, an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler."


  18. Socrates said that right before he sodomized a young Greek marathoner.

  19. Block- I was history/e. asian studies undergrad, then MBA for grad school after a short stint in a PHD program for history and a year of law school. I read constantly, and most of it's actually fiction. Right now, I'm reading three awesome books- Masked, a short story anthology about super heroes, Depraved, which is a splatterpunk novel about mutant hillbillies (like Wrong Turn) with a hell of a lot more rape, on a bigger scale), and These Guns For Hire, another short story anthology. I don't really consider research for the blog reading, since it's more like hard-core skimming.

    Cormac- I'll be touching on that a bit in the next blog.