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A History of Running

We run miles every day (well, maybe not every day), but do we ever devote any part of our brains, with the little oxygen we have left, to wonder about the origins of running? Hopefully not. Still, running has a long and illustrious history, and if I had spent any time at all researching what it was, I would tell you about it. Instead, I'll make this up as I go along.

Running began as a survival technique thousands of years ago by our prehistoric ancestors who discovered that a sedate walk usually resulted in their being flattened like road kill by the hordes of ancient, stampeding animals (e.g., buffalo, poodles) roaming the earth during this period. Running also became a way for early man to evade early woman after failing to clean up his mess in the early cave.

Running suffered a major setback in ancient Egypt. We know from looking at ancient Egyptian art that Egyptians appear to have suffered from chronic inability to bend their knees, as demonstrated.

As a result no running occurred during this time.

The origins of competitive running are not as clear. Scientists believe it began among the Mayans of central and south America. Runners were pitted against one another with the loser being sacrificed to the Mayan god, Quetzlcoatl (Mayan for "You should have done more interval training.") Archaeologists were further convinced of the civilization's role in competitive running by the discovery of ancient packets of Gu.

The ancient Greeks took running to a new level by making it a spectator sport. This task was made much easier by the fact that all Greek runners ran naked. Naked racing continued until Nike, the god of very expensive running gear, demanded that all Greek runners spend at least $80 on running shoes.

Ancient Greece also gave us the marathon. We all remember the story of Pheippides, the first man to run the marathon distance. Unfortunately for him, they ran out of sports drink on the course, and he dropped dead upon completing his run. The ancient Greeks then demonstrated the true runner's spirit, as follows:

Greek #1: Did you hear that Pheippides died right after crossing the finish line?

Greek #2: Really? What was his time?

And so Pheippides was awarded, posthumously, the first race award for being overall winner, and first in his age group.

Competitive running got a major boost in the 15th century with the invention of the gun. This enabled race directors to start races more efficiently, and led to the creation of "gun time." Unfortunately, many fine runners were lost during this period because it was another couple of centuries before these directors figured that it was best to point the gun in the air when starting a race.

In the early part of the 20th century, the marathon distance of 26.2 miles was firmly established. The extra 385 yards of the race was added onto the original 26 mile distance so that an English princess could watch the finish from her castle window. Of course, after the race the lazy princess was set upon by hordes of angry, exhausted runners convinced that it was those last .2 miles that made them so miserable.

The history of distance running generally did not include women. Women were considered too delicate for this activity, and were systematically excluded from races. (Some people, such as myself, still believe the part about being too delicate). Finally, however, in the 1970's, women were granted the right to participate in the Boston Marathon in exchange for giving up the right to vote.

A famous person once said, "Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them." (I think it was Michael Jackson). What lessons have we learned? 

1. Running naked is a great way to get people out to watch a race.

2. Katherine Switzer should have been pulled from the Boston 
  Marathon course for wearing that ugly outfit.

3. It must have been cool to see a stampeding horde of poodles.

The Boston Marathon race director, attempting to pull Katherine Switzer off the course, before she gave up women's right to vote.

This article was originally written By Aimee Gilman for the newsletter of the NERC, Northeast Running Club. It may not be reproduced without the express, written consent of Aimee Gilman.
Copyright 2010.

Please contact us for permission.