In their 2004 article in the journal Nature, Bramble and Lieberman write “Striding bipedalism is a key behavior of hominids that possibly originated soon after the divergence of the chimpanzee and human lineages .” Dr. Daniel Leiberman, a biology professor from Harvard also known as “The Barefoot Professor” suggests that a massive environmental change that took place on the African continent coinciding with the rise of running among humans.
About 2 million years ago in Africa woodlands began to disappear and the savannahs emerged. Humans began running – and we were running after our food. Notoriously slow sprinters, Lieberman suggests that humans developed a strategy not to catch their prey, but to exhaust them. Humans are really good at running at speeds that make animals gallop. Anyone who has ever taken a run on a country road can attest to this when grazing cattle or horses suddenly start running alongside of you. If you can get an animal to gallop over a long period of time in the heat, that animal will overheat. You see, unlike humans, quadrupeds cannot pant or perspire and run at the same time. Run long enough, viola’ you’ve got dinner.
I am a runner. But I don’t run after my food. In fact, like most people who run, one of the reasons I run is to get rid of my dinner. I started running in junior high and I still run, although I am no longer fast or elegant. And let’s be clear about one thing: I have never had the desire, the physical capability or the mental fortitude to run a marathon. But I still love to run.
A sure sign of spring, regardless of the weather is Marathon Monday - Boston. This April 15th started out a little cooler than normal, but that’s the way most runners like it. Fascinated by the elite runners who finely hone and push their bodies to limits most of us cannot even imagine, I watched them depart from the starting line. Having just finished reading about the American training partners and rivals Shalane Flanagan and Kara Groucher, I checked in on the elite athletes a couple of hours into the race. Rita Jeptoo from Kenya won the women’s race, followed by Meseret Hailu of Ethiopia. Flanagan and Groucher finished well - 4th and 10th place respectively. My curiosity satisfied, I went back to work.
A couple of hours later I checked back in to see the bulk of the runners finish. These are the people I am most in awe of. Those who run because they love it. Those who run because running brings them peace. Those who run to help and honor others. As I watched them sprint and limp and shuffle to the finish line, I smiled. These are the people who “get” the sacredness of running. For them, and for me, it is not about a “personal best” or a “negative split” or “catching dinner” but the sheer magic of placing one foot in front of the other time and time again.
One of the highpoints for all runners is crossing the finish line. There is a sense of euphoria and accomplishment that is indescribable. And this is why what happened in Boston hit me so hard. What should have been a joyful time for runners - and their friends & family and even complete strangers - ended up turning into a nightmare.
On a daily basis we humans face tragedy and grief that sometimes seem insurmountable, and yet we survive. We persist. We are resilient and adaptable. We put one foot in front of the other and carry on. That is what runners do. That is what all humans do.
As I lace up my shoes for my next run I will do so being especially mindful of the beauty and the power of running. I will run for those who lives were cut short and who bodies were damaged. I will run for those who were unable to cross the finish line. I will run for those who ran not away from blasts but towards them offering help. I will run for peace. Who wants to join me?
Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is Professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or WIU.