Français D H M S

User login

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend Newsletter
Current Issue: May 2012


May 2012

Darwin's Stopwatch: The Evolution of Distance Running

Based on a report from Science Daily.

As distance runners, we always sensed that we were highly evolved. Now there’s scientific proof (or an intriguing theory anyway) that connects our passion for endurance sports with our distant evolutionary past. Indeed, our hunter-gatherer predecessors needed to cover vast distances quickly in order to survive – they were essentially distance athletes. Which means as a species, we’ve been running and relying on our physical endurance for millennia. It’s basically in our DNA. 

But how do scientists know that we’ve been biologically programmed to run and thrive on aerobic exercise? Well, one key clue is what’s commonly known as ‘runner’s high’ – the boost in mood and energy we feel after intense exertion. This euphoric feeling is actually produced by neurological activity in the ‘motivation pathways’ of the brain – the areas of the brain that reward us for ‘good’ evolutionary behaviours, like eating, sex, and as it turns out, distance running.

But an interesting finding is that not all mammals have brains that ‘reward’ aerobic exercise. For example, scientists compared human participants with those from a less endurance-oriented species, the ferret, and found that the affable rodents didn’t get any kind of chemical kick after intense exercise, whereas the reward pathways in the brains of human participants lit up like a Christmas tree.

What does it all mean? That we’ve evolved to engage in aerobic activities like distance running. It’s literally in our blood. Something to keep in mind the next time you’re out on a particularly grueling training run, when you’re muscles and lungs feel like they’re about to give out… Stay focused – another runner’s high is just around the corner.
May 2012

Recommended Reading

Marathoner Rob Watson’s blog is highly recommended reading. His combination of detailed training info interspersed with humorous reflections on life and endurance sport is pure gold. And he just seems like a nice, down-to-earth guy – who runs for the love of the sport in spite of whatever bumps he finds in the road. He’s somebody you just want to root for. And we sincerely hope he will have qualified to run for Canada in the Olympics by the time you read this… To check out his awesome blog, click here.


Enter your email to sign up for our monthly newsletter.



We always like to hear from you about what’s working, and what you’d like to see covered in future editions of the newsletter. And we’re also interested in hearing your inspiring stories of athleticism and endurance. So don’t be shy!

Send your impressions, ideas and stories to [email protected].

Run Ottawa Club