How running made us human

Public release date 17-Nov-2004

Contact: Dennis Bramble, professor of biology 
801-581-3549 (office)
University of Utah

Lee Siegel, science news specialist
801-581-8993 (office) / 801-244-5399 (cellular)
University of Utah Public Relations

To contact Dan Lieberman, call Steve Bradt
Harvard University Communications

 University of Utah

Endurance running let us evolve to look the way we do

Humans evolved from ape-like ancestors because they needed to run long distances – perhaps to hunt animals or scavenge carcasses on Africa’s vast savannah – and the ability to run shaped our anatomy, making us look like we do today.

That is the conclusion of a study published in the Nov. 18 issue of the journal Nature by University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble and Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman. The study is featured on Nature’s cover.

Bramble and Lieberman argue that our genus, Homo, evolved from more ape-like human ancestors, Australopithecus, 2 million or more years ago because natural selection favored the survival of australopithecines that could run and, over time, favored the perpetuation of human anatomical features that made long-distance running possible.

“We are very confident that strong selection for running – which came at the expense of the historical ability to live in trees – was instrumental in the origin of the modern human body form,” says Bramble, a professor of biology. “Running has substantially shaped human evolution. Running made us human – at least in an anatomical sense. We think running is one of the most transforming events in human history. We are arguing the emergence of humans is tied to the evolution of running.”

That conclusion is contrary to the conventional theory that running simply was a byproduct of the human ability to walk. Bipedalism – the ability to walk upright on two legs – evolved in the ape-like Australopithecus at least 4.5 million years ago while they also retained the ability to travel through the trees. Yet Homo with its “radically transformed body” did not evolve for another 3 million or more years – Homo habilis, Homo erectus and, finally, our species, Homo sapiens – so the ability to walk cannot explain anatomy of the modern human body, Bramble says.

“There were 2.5 million to 3 million years of bipedal walking [by australopithecines] without ever looking like a human, so is walking going to be what suddenly transforms the hominid body?” he asks. “We’re saying, no, walking won’t do that, but running will.”

Walking cannot explain most of the changes in body form that distinguish Homo from Australopithecus, which – when compared with Homo – had short legs, long forearms, high permanently “shrugged” shoulders, ankles that were not visibly apparent and more muscles connecting the shoulders to the head and neck, Bramble says. If natural selection had not favored running, “we would still look a lot like apes,” he adds.

I Run, Therefore I Am

Bramble and Lieberman examined 26 traits of the human body – many also seen in fossils of Homo erectus and some in Homo habilis – that enhanced the ability to run. Only some of them were needed for walking. Traits that aided running include leg and foot tendons and ligaments that act like springs, foot and toe structure that allows efficient use of the feet to push off, shoulders that rotate independently of the head and neck to allow better balance, and skeletal and muscle features that make the human body stronger, more stable and able to run more efficiently without overheating.

“We explain the simultaneous emergence of a whole bunch of anatomical features, literally from head to toe,” Bramble says. “We have a hypothesis that gives a functional explanation for how these features are linked to the unique mechanical demands of running, how they work together and why they emerged at the same time.”

Humans are poor sprinters compared with other running animals, which is partly why many scientists have dismissed running as a factor in human evolution. Human endurance running ability has been inadequately appreciated because of a failure to recognize that “high speed is not always important,” Bramble says. “What is important is combining reasonable speed with exceptional endurance.”

Another reason is that “scientists are in developed societies that are highly dependent on technology and artificial means of transport,” he adds. “But if those scientists had been embedded in a hunter-gatherer society, they’d have a different view of human locomotor abilities, including running.”

Why Did Humans Start Running?

The researchers do not know why natural selection favored human ancestors who could run long distances. For one possibility, they cite previous research by University of Utah biologist David Carrier, who hypothesized that endurance running evolved in human ancestors so they could pursue predators long before the development of bows, arrows, nets and spear-throwers reduced the need to run long distances.

Another possibility is that early humans and their immediate ancestors ran to scavenge carcasses of dead animals – maybe so they could beat hyenas or other scavengers to dinner, or maybe to “get to the leftovers soon enough,” Bramble says.

Scavenging “is a more reliable source of food” than hunting, he adds. “If you are out in the African savannah and see a column of vultures on the horizon, the chance of there being a fresh carcass underneath the vultures is about 100 percent. If you are going to hunt down something in the heat, that’s a lot more work and the payoffs are less reliable” because the animal you are hunting often is “faster than you are.”

Anatomical Features that Help Humans Run

Here are anatomical characteristics that are unique to humans and that play a role in helping people run, according to the study:


  • Skull features that help prevent overheating during running. As sweat evaporates from the scalp, forehead and face, the evaporation cools blood draining from the head. Veins carrying that cooled blood pass near the carotid arteries, thus helping cool blood flowing through the carotids to the brain.



  • A more balanced head with a flatter face, smaller teeth and short snout, compared with australopithecines. That “shifts the center of mass back so it’s easier to balance your head when you are bobbing up and down running,” Bramble says.



  • A ligament that runs from the back of the skull and neck down to the thoracic vertebrae, and acts as a shock absorber and helps the arms and shoulders counterbalance the head during running.



  • Unlike apes and australopithecines, the shoulders in early humans were “decoupled” from the head and neck, allowing the body to rotate while the head aims forward during running.



  • The tall human body – with a narrow trunk, waist and pelvis – creates more skin surface for our size, permitting greater cooling during running. It also lets the upper and lower body move independently, “which allows you to use your upper body to counteract the twisting forces from your swinging legs,” Bramble says.



  • Shorter forearms in humans make it easier for the upper body to counterbalance the lower body during running. They also reduce the amount of muscle power needed to keep the arms flexed when running.



  • Human vertebrae and disks are larger in diameter relative to body mass than are those in apes or australopithecines. “This is related to shock absorption,” says Bramble. “It allows the back to take bigger loads when human runners hit the ground.”



  • The connection between the pelvis and spine is stronger and larger relative to body size in humans than in their ancestors, providing more stability and shock absorption during running.



  • Human buttocks “are huge,” says Bramble. “Have you ever looked at an ape? They have no buns.” He says human buttocks “are muscles critical for stabilization in running” because they connect the femur – the large bone in each upper leg – to the trunk. Because people lean forward at the hip during running, the buttocks “keep you from pitching over on your nose each time a foot hits the ground.”



  • Long legs, which chimps and australopithecines lack, let humans to take huge strides when running, Bramble says. So do ligaments and tendons – including the long Achilles tendon – which act like springs that store and release mechanical energy during running. The tendons and ligaments also mean human lower legs that are less muscular and lighter, requiring less energy to move them during running.



  • Larger surface areas in the hip, knee and ankle joints, for improved shock absorption during running by spreading out the forces.



  • The arrangement of bones in the human foot creates a stable or stiff arch that makes the whole foot more rigid, so the human runner can push off the ground more efficiently and utilize ligaments on the bottom of the feet as springs.



  • Humans also evolved with an enlarged heel bone for better shock absorption, as well as shorter toes and a big toe that is fully drawn in toward the other toes for better pushing off during running.


The study by Bramble and Lieberman concludes: “Today, endurance running is primarily a form of exercise and recreation, but its roots may be as ancient as the origin of the human genus, and its demands a major contributing factor to the human body form.”

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The Cooper test is a test of physical fitness that was designed by Kenneth H. Cooper in 1968 for use by the US military. Its execution is very simple. You have to run (or walk) for 12 minutes, attempting to cover the largest possible distance. Before trying this, it would be a good idea for you to consult a doctor, since it is an exhausting test when executed correctly. Also, remember to do a decent warm-up. For the optimal calculation you will want to do the test on a 400-meter running track (0.25 miles). Record holder is Kenenisa Bekele, who ran a distance of 3 miles (4750 meters) in 12 minutes.

We use the term VO2Max to refer to the maximal amount of oxygen that the body can consume during strenuous exercise, which determines the highest boundary at which an endurance exercise can be performed. Essentially, the Maximal Oxygen Consumption refers to the maximal cardiorespiratory function and it can largely predict the maximal aerobic capacity and endurance. For a precise calculation of the VO2Max, you should go to an exercise physiology lab. However, there is also an amateur technique to calculate it based on your Cooper test results:
(The distance you ran in meters – 504.9) / 44.73
For example, at this test I ran 3200 meters.
3200 – 504.9 = 2695.1
2695.1 / 44.73 = 60.25 mls/kg/min
No matter how much of an amateur technique this is, I would like to point out that for the last 5-6 years I have been going to an exercise physiology lab twice a year to calculate my VO2Max and it always ranges between 57-61 mls/kg/min, depending on the training period.

Cooper test results evaluation

Age group Sex Very good Good Average Bad Very bad
13-14 year Male >2700 m 2400 – 2700 m 2200 – 2400 m 2100 – 2200 m <2100 m
Female >2000 m 1900 – 2000 m 1600 – 1900 m 1500 – 1600 m <1500 m
15-16 year Male >2800 m 2500 – 2800 m 2300 – 2500 m 2200 – 2300 m <2200 m
Female >2100 m 2000 – 2100 m 1700 – 2000 m 1600 – 1700 m <1600 m
17-20 year Male >3000 m 2700 – 3000 m 2500 – 2700 m 2300 – 2500 m <2300 m
Female >2300 m 2100 – 2300 m 1800 – 2100 m 1700 – 1800 m <1700 m
20-29 year Male >2800 m 2400 – 2800 m 2200 – 2400 m 1600 – 2200 m <1600 m
Female >2700 m 2200 – 2700 m 1800 – 2200 m 1500 – 1800 m <1500 m
30-39 year Male >2700 m 2300 – 2700 m 1900 – 2300 m 1500 – 1900 m <1500 m
Female >2500 m 2000 – 2500 m 1700 – 2000 m 1400 – 1700 m <1400 m
40-49 year Male >2500 m 2100 – 2500 m 1700 – 2100 m 1400 – 1700 m <1400 m
Female >2300 m 1900 – 2300 m 1500 – 1900 m 1200 – 1500 m <1200 m
>50 year Male >2400 m 2000 – 2400 m 1600 – 2000 m 1300 – 1600 m <1300 m
Female >2200 m 1700 – 2200 m 1400 – 1700 m 1100 – 1400 m <1100 m

For experienced athletes

Sex Very good Good Average Bad Very bad
Male >3700 m 3400 – 3700 m 3100 – 3400 m 2800 – 3100 m <2800 m
Female >3000 m 2700 – 3000 m 2400 – 2700 m 2100 – 2400 m <2100  m

This article is a chapter of the book I have written: Triathlon: Loving it is easy.

Nutrition During Endurance Competition

Glycogen is the form in which carbohydrates are stored in our bodies and can be found in the liver and muscles.

Since the muscles have a greater overall surface area than the liver, a larger amount of glycogen (referred to as muscle cell glycogen) is stored there. Specifically, adults have about 2.6-3.5 ounces (75-100 grams) of carbohydrates stored in their liver glycogen and 10.6-14 ounces (300-400 grams) in their muscle cell glycogen. One of the processes taking place in the body of an athlete during an endurance race is that the stored amount of muscle cell glycogen can become twice as high as that of people who do not do sports.

In competitions that last over an hour, such as a marathon or triathlon, the glycogen reserve becomes exhausted, making nutrition during the competition an important factor. The stored glycogen (polysaccharides) is constantly broken down and converted into glucose (monosaccharides), which enters the bloodstream to produce energy.

For endurance competitions, the preservation of glucose levels in the blood is of the utmost importance. It is worth mentioning that the brain exclusively uses glucose as fuel, whereas the rest of the body can also count on fatty ac-ids and even proteins. Any kind of disturbance of these levels in the blood results in a decrease in brain function, with symptoms such as dizziness, moving difficulties, reeling, concentration problems, and even collapsing.

Remember the shocking finish of the supreme Swiss ATHLETE (the use of capital letters is for emphasis) Gabrielle Andersen in the marathon for women at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, which is a characteristic example of hypoglycemia.

I will not go further into the field of biology and the processes that take place in the human body during workouts.

However, there are a couple of basic things that every endurance athlete should know and put into practice, in order to avoid hypoglycemia and, by extension, speed reduction or failure to finish an event.

1. Apart from the glucose that originates from the muscle cell glycogen and liver glycogen, isotonic drinks should be another important source of energy during endurance competitions of over one hour. These drinks contain not only carbohydrates in a fluid form, but also electrolytes, which the body loses upon sweating and which therefore have to be replenished. The ideal amount of carbohydrates in these drinks is 6-8%. Less than that is insufficient, while in a higher concentration they are absorbed more slowly, which can lead to stomach trouble. By means of training and participating in competitions of little importance, each athlete should experiment with these drinks and find the one that makes him tick. In my case, for example, during triathlons and half marathons, it works to drink half a glass of isotonic drinks every 20 minutes and one glass 15-20 minutes before the beginning of the competition.

2. Moreover, as I already mentioned, during long-distance com-petitions, the human body does not only use glycogen, but also fat and proteins for the production of energy; albeit in smaller amounts, especially towards the end of the race. Our bodies prefer the energy production from carbohydrates, since it is more efficient than that from fat (which is stored in our bodies more plentifully than carbohydrates). Apart from storing more glycogen, an endurance athlete’s body should be able to mobilize and utilize fat reserves more efficiently. In order to train your body to burn fat, you should add a weekly long-duration and low-intensity run (over 1:30 h) to your training schedule. This kind of training makes the energy production process more reliant on fat than on carbohydrates.

3. Another important factor is: as a rule, endurance athletes should have determined their tactic and the speed at which they will per-form during each race, based on their training experience. They should stick to their plan, and under no circumstances should they get carried away by faster athletes or a sense of overconfidence and increase their speed. Generally, you pay a big price for that kind of cockiness during a race, since he glycogen reserve is exhausted much faster that way. It is better to finish a race according to plan; there will be many other competitions in the future where you can go faster, if you plan it.

4. Endurance athletes have to make sure that their glycogen levels are at maximum levels on the day of he race. In order to do so, they should not tap into these reserves
during the last three days before the competition by training for hours. Their nutrition should have an increased amount of carbohydrates.

This article is a chapter of the book I have written: Triathlon: Loving it is easy.


Feet types and how to choose running shoes


To figure out what type of running shoes you should buy, you first need to know that kind of feet you have. A knowledgeable salesperson at a running store can help you find the right running shoefor your foot type, but you can also figure out what type of foot you have on your own. One way is to just look at your foot. A more accurate method is to examine your footprint by either running in the sand or on paper with wet feet.

There are three different types of feet:

Flat Feet

If you’re looking at your foot, you’ll know you have flat feet if you don’t see any arch. The bottom of your foot, from your toes to your heel, is completely flat. If you do the footprint test, your print will look like a foot-shaped blob. You won’t see an inward curve from your big toe to your heel.

Problem? If you’re flat-footed, you’re most likely an overpronator, which means that your feet roll inward when you run.

What to Buy: You will probably need a running shoe that maintains your stability. Look for the words “motion control” and “stability” on the box of running shoes you are considering. In addition to motion-control shoes, some flat-footed runners also need to wear orthotics (custom-made shoe inserts that correct foot issues).

High-arched Feet

  • You should be able to easily determine if you have high arches — you’ll notice a high and definite arch on your foot. If you do the footprint test, your print will curve inward, making the middle part of your foot look very skinny. When you push your hand against the bottom of your foot, your arch will stay rigid.Problem? If you have high arches, you probably supinate or underpronate, which means your feet roll outwards as you run. It’s very important that runners with high arches periodically re-measure their feet because running will cause their arches to gradually fall, making their feet longer.

    What to Buy: You need to look for flexible running shoes with a soft midsole that absorbs shock. When buying running shoes, look for options with the words “flexible” or “cushioned” included in their descriptions.

    Neutral or Normal Feet

  • If you’ve examined your foot or your footprint and it doesn’t look flat-footed or high-arched, you most likely have a neutral or normal foot. Your footprint will have a noticeable curve inward, but not by more than 3/4 of an inch.
  • Problem? As long as you pick a running shoe that doesn’t counteract your foot type, you shouldn’t encounter any problems. This is the most common type of foot, and it’s also the least susceptible to injury provided it’s outfitted with proper footwear.What to Buy: If you have normal feet, you can choose from a wide variety of running shoes, including ones made for neutral runners or those with slightly flat-footed or high-arched feet. Don’t pick running shoes that have a lot of stability or motion control.

Limassol Marathon 2013

Limassol Marathon GSO is the official marathon of our country, accredited by the international federations of AIMS and IAAF. We are particularly proud of the fact that our Marathon is a lot more than an athletic event of international standards and mass participation. It is primarily an indication of the power of the human will and soul. It is a source of values, social awareness and solidarity. It is a celebration of joy and a celebration of friendship.Μαραθώνιος Λεμεσού

Our events include a Marathon, Half Marathon, Health Race, Corporate Race and a Children / Student Race. The flat traffic-free route is ideal for all runners and participants to achieve their personal best. Our slogan ‘Run along the Waves’ represents the true experience of our event’s participants running along the beautiful Limassol coastline.

Limassol is the second largest city of Cyprus and the capital of nightlife and hospitality. Molos area on the sea front is the start and finish point of the Marathon, scenic combination of the busy city of Limassol and the Mediterranean sea. Imagine the fantastic route, the great beaches, the breathtaking trails combined with the well known hospitality of our people and the mild weather.

Let us meet on the 24th March 2013. We look forward to welcoming you!

For more informations and registrations click here

Runners fair play

Fair playVery little has been said about this…..On December 2, Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner – the certain winner of the race – mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.

Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Basque runner of 24 years who is considered an athlete with a big future (champion of Spain of 5,000 meters in promise category two years ago) said after the test:

“But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.”

Olympic Marathon Trials Runner Johanna Olson Dies of Brain Cancer

Olson, 33, was first diagnosed while in college.


January 04, 2013

Johanna Olson, a former NCAA Division III cross country champion and two-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, has died at age 33 after a 15-year battle with recurring brain cancer.

A Minnesota native who was the seventh woman in the 2003 Twin Cities Marathon in 2:43:27, Olson attended Luther College in Iowa and later lived in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Bend, Oregon. She had her most recent diagnosis of a brain tumor in July 2012 but chose to do last October’s Twin Cities Marathon with family members while “ralking” (her term), a combination of running and walking. She finished in 5:09:54.

Olson called running “my center” and told the Star Tribune in October, “Truly, I love running. It’s who I am. It’s a part of me. Even if I can only run for 10 minutes, I feel whole and happy. And if everything else is falling to pieces, I go for a run, and I feel like things are going to be okay.”

As the SaveJohannasBrain website tells us, Olson began running at age eight, starred at Wadena Deer Creek High School in Minnesota, and went on to Luther College, where she was an Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference cross country runner-up as a freshman in 1997 before first being diagnosed for the first time with a brain tumor. That was removed surgically; when another tumor appeared in 1998, it was treated with a course of radiation.

Beyond that point, her progress was remarkable. In 2000, Olson won her conference cross country crown, and she was a U.S. Olympic Marathon trials qualifier in 2004 (45th place) and 2008 (46th place). Later, she obtained a masters degree in exercise and sports science from Oregon State.

But cancer returned and another surgery was needed in July 2009. Another surgery to remove a tumor took place in September 2011. Still another tumor was detected in July of last year.

After that last tumor was detected, Olson decided to run last year’s Twin Cities race. She told USATF, “I knew I needed a goal. I called and asked my mom if I could get an entry into the Twin Cities Marathon would she do it with me. Thinking it wouldn’t happen she said she would. I was able to get an entry and I called her back and she was like, ‘What?’ Then she said my dad wanted to do it too.” Her 5:09:54 ranks as at least as much of an achievement as her 2:43:27.