Born to Run


By: Beth von Behren on May 31, 2012 Print This Post

I read an article a few months ago about running, specifically endurance running, that said our ability to run long distances probably played an important role in our evolution.  Running after (and hunting) big game made us stronger and the big game (meat) fed our running habits, and altogether, our brains are pretty big today partly because of all that early running and meat-eating.

I found another article, in the New York Times, that said that while we are not the fastest mammals on the planet, we can outrun almost any animal when it comes to distance.  In fact, on a hot day, a human could probably outrun a horse in a 26.2-mile marathon. Apparently, we have a great cooling system:  “Because we cool by sweating rather than panting, we can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals.” – NYT, 2009.

That same article goes on to say how perfectly engineered for running the human body is. Our ligaments, waist size, and sense of balance keep us stable, and our gluteus maximus is apparently “primarily engaged” ONLY during running.  You read that right.  You use this large muscle only when you run; you hardly ever use it when you walk.

Why is this important?  Because even more research, this time by the Danes, indicates that people who jog or run for between one and two and a half hours each week will add six years to their lives, on average.  And you don’t have to run for a long period at any one time to gain those years; you can spread them out.  For example, you could run for 30 minutes five days a week or for 45 minutes three days a week.  It’s the total number of hours that’s important.  You also don’t have to run fast to reap the benefits. Slow and long is the key. [Source:]

So how to start?  I’ve been a runner for about 15 years and people still tell me “I could never do that.”  I thought that too, but then one day I realized I was doing high-intensity step aerobics for 115 minutes, and if I could do that, I thought, why couldn’t I run?  So I got on a treadmill just for kicks.  Two miles later, I decided I could “do that.”

There are a couple of ways to get started.  Lots of running magazines and articles will tell you to do the tried-and-true walk-run thing.  Warm up with walking, and then break into a slow run and try to finish a half mile before you switch back to walking.  Or if you’re really out of shape, run and walk in 5-minute intervals. Alternate walking and running over the course of about 30 minutes in the same pattern for a week. On the second week, increase your running time and decrease your walking time.  This is interval running.

My suggestion to friends and family has always been to warm up with a 5-minute walk and then just start running.  If you feel like you can’t keep running, simply slow down, rather than stopping or walking.  Nobody’s timing you.  Also, don’t worry about how far you’ve run; concentrate instead on how long you’ve run.  For example, try running for 10 minutes before you take a walking break, but don’t obsess over whether you ran a quarter-mile or a half-mile in that 10 minutes.  Finally, begin your running career on a school track, where there are no hills.  Someday you will run the hills at Powder Valley, but don’t start there.

Three other quick tips:  1) Don’t run every day.  Take a day off in between your runs.  2) Do a weight work-out at least twice a week to help build and strengthen your muscles. 3) Be sure to stretch after you run (but not beforehand!).  For some other tips, click here to read my recent personal blog post about running.

More and more people are running these days, as evidenced by how many more 5k and 10k races are being held today than even five years ago.  When I started running, I heard a lot about how hard it was on your joints and knees and feet, but that has not really been my experience.  In fact, my knees hurt a whole lot less when I am running on a regular basis than when I’m not.  Still, if you really want to become a runner, it’s a good idea to check it out with your doctor first.  Once you get the green light, who knows how far you’ll go.

Because, we really were Born to Run!



Written by Beth

Beth von Behren is the Public Information Officer for the City of Kirkwood. She manages the City Website ( and writes/edits both the monthly "Eye on Kirkwood" (published on the last Friday of the month inside the "Webster-Kirkwood Times") and the every-other-weekly e-newsletter "Kirkwood Happenings." To sign up for the e-newsletter, send an email to