Taking Running Tips from the Cavemen

Richard Bowles — 1 May 2019
What is it that our ancestors had right about running, that the modern world gets so wrong?

Endurance running – it shaped human evolution, ever since our ancestors began standing upright on the African savannah. First it was for survival, then migration. 

The feats of professional ultra-athletes have captured our attention in modern times, but their very achievements have been enabled by a history of survival through migration. 

We have evolved into a species with an anatomy and physiology that excels at endurance, and running is no exception. Combine this with an ever-adapting psyche, and our orientation towards spiritual and mystical experiences, and a very luring hybrid emerges.

Credit for all images: Red Bull Content Pool/Olaf Pignataro/Damiano Levati/Daniele Molineris/Lorenz Richard

From the persistent hunting of antelope across the vast desert plains of Botswana, to migrating over substantial open spaces of the American continent. Whether moving across the land for prayer on a Tibetan high plateau, or travelling from village to village in Kenya. These are all examples of how we have and continue to use running for our most basic needs. The common ground shared by them all? That vast distances can be achieved with the power of the mind, and just two feet.

The act of running, both in modern concrete-pounding marathons and these old school ways, illustrates its simplistic nature. After all, running is much like walking, with a little extra pace, and we don’t think twice about such ambulatory travel. Better yet, we don’t, a lot of the time, need to be concerned with the latest trends in training strategies, technical footwear or nutritional needs. Nope, we just put one foot in front of the other and progress from A to B. 

Go back to our primitive beginnings, and you’ll see that cavemen didn’t have a specific training plan to outrun a saber-toothed tiger, regardless of the undulating terrain and harsh outdoor elements. Even in our developing years, as children, we ran, without rationale, effortlessly floating through playgrounds, no thought given to running mechanics or physiological effects. As we grow older and those adolescent years conclude, the ease of momentum seems to diminish, and the mental complications deepen.

But, why is that? After all, running is the simplest of all sports. You don’t need a partner or a team, a court or an oval. You can do it any time of the day, anywhere in the world, without special equipment or training, yet for some reason, we overcomplicate it. Perhaps we need to revisit the fundamentals of our evolutionary past.

I say fundamentals because you might roll your eyes at the thought of going back to basics, and taking the necessary baby steps. But this eye-rolling, egotistical way we think obstructs the old way we used to run, back in the time we knew nothing more than moving swiftly between locations. Our ultra-modern lives give us access to info and insights at the touch of a button, but make us a little arrogant towards a more straightforward, ancient way of running.

As science continues to gain more profound insights into human performance, undoubtedly improving our form and function, and technology gains the ability to accurately analyse our every running detail, there will be much to take advantage of. However, much like you can’t build a secure house with inadequate foundations, there will be nothing to benefit from unless we go back and rely on more traditional methods. Not to sound like your great-grandfather, who by the way you know was always right. But go back to an old approach, not outdated, just the tried and tested actions that layout a structure to bolt the modern advancements too.

Like other species, we are the products of millions of years of adaptation. Unfortunately, unlike other species, we haven’t merely continued to change naturally; instead, we have modernised our bodies and minds in such a futuristic manner that the simple act of running for the sake of running has been numbed, to the point of us over-complicating the fundamentals that got us here in the first place. I think the question you need to ask yourself is, why are you still running? Because what doesn’t seem to come to mind with that simple question is personal records, steps per minute and calorie needs per kilometre. The answer is something closer to why our ancestors ran, with ease and without logic.

Running in this way is super simple. It requires nothing more than the age-old cliché of putting one foot in front of the other. I’m not suggesting that advancements in technology and science are not needed, but at its very essence running is just being. When was the last time you merely existed in a run? Only you, and the great outdoors; no schedule, no time restraints, no data, just you and your own two feet?

At its core, trail running is uncluttered, uncomplicated and unhurried. Don’t put yourself in the way of that; go back, right back, to the core of why we run, and the results you are after will follow, but more importantly, you will gain a more purposeful running experience.


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