Humans are considered among the best distance runners among all running animals: game animals are faster over short distances, but they have less endurance than humans. Unlike other primates whose bodies are designed to walk on four legs or climb trees, the human body has evolved into upright walking and running around 2-3 million years ago. The human body can endure long distance running through the following attributes:
- Bone and muscle structure: unlike quadruped mammals, which have their center of mass in front of the hind legs or limbs, in biped mammals including humans the center of mass lies right above the legs. This leads to different bone and muscular demands especially in the legs and pelvis.
- Dissipation of metabolic heat: humans’ ability to cool the body by sweating through the body surface provides many advantages over panting through the mouth or nose. These include a larger surface of evaporation and independence of the respiratory cycle.
One distinction between upright walking and running is energy consumption during locomotion. While walking, humans use about half the energy needed to run. Evolutionary biologists believe that the human ability to run over long distances has helped meat-eating humans to compete with other carnivores. Persistence hunting is a method in which hunters use a combination of running, walking, and tracking to pursue prey to the point of exhaustion. While humans can sweat to reduce body heat, their quadrupedal prey would need to slow from a gallop in order to pant. The persistence hunt is still practised by hunter-gatherers in the central Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa, and David Attenborough’s documentary The Life of Mammals (program 10, “Food For Thought”) showed a bushman hunting a kudu antelope until it collapsed.