The Evolution of Running

MatthewHitchcockBy Matthew Hitchcock

The first organized run I ever participated in was a marathon when I was 23.  I had absolutely no running experience prior to the 2005 Chicago Marathon; no previous cross country experience during my high school days, no weekend 5K’s,  nothing.

So imagine the feeling when the race started and along with the 40,000 other runners, I began running through the streets of one of America’s largest cities to the cheers of thousands of supporters.  I was instantly filled with an inexplicable feeling of purpose, like I was a part of something more than just a really long cardio workout (which, essentially, was all I was doing).  Needless to say, this feeling of purpose turned to a feeling of nausea 24 miles later.

Thankfully, my friend Jared was watching the race and jumped in to run the last two miles with me and I was able to reach my goal of finishing in less than four hours.

Afterwards I remember thinking two things: “Wow, I did it,” and “Wow, I am never doing it again.”  And I haven’t.

Consider for a minute why humans, as a species, run. We evolved the ability to run in order to evade predators and to catch prey.  Had conditions been any different millions of years ago we may have turned out more like the sloth, moving so slowly that predators just don’t spot us. 

These days, unless you are a high school student at a drinking party when the cops show up, you run for purely recreational reasons.   Recreational running is a relatively new phenomenon.  Cavemen simply didn’t do it.  Running is instinctual; it’s been bred into us for purposes of survival.  It’s simple: early humans that could run ate lunch and those who couldn’t were lunch. 

These days, it isn’t deadly predators that pose the greatest threat to humans, its disease.  Heart disease, cancer, and AIDS are just some of today’s apex “predators,” and unfortunately we can’t out run them like our ancestors could.  But here is the interesting part: we can use running to defeat them. 

Think about all the runs organized in order to raise money for the sake of survival: a breast cancer run/walk, a run to cure lupus, the list goes on and on.   You can find a fundraising run for just about any cause.  I find it amazing how our species has redefined why we run in order to survive.  What I find even more amazing is that, for our ancestors, running served to benefit only the individual’s survival, but now we run for the survival of others.  What other species besides humans exhibits such altruism?  In essence, to run is to be human.

After thinking about this one day, I decided to take back the words I said after the Chicago Marathon and run another one.  On October 19th, 2008, I will again feel that sense of purpose when I start the Amsterdam Marathon but this time I’ll understand why.  I’ve decided to spend my entire summer raising the $4,200 necessary to participate in the National AIDS Marathon Training Program this year.  All the money I raise will benefit the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, which helps to serve people living with HIV/AIDS until we find a cure. 

I’ll probably never know the people who benefit from the money I raise nor will I hear the words “thank you.”  But that isn’t why I signed up for this event.  I am doing it because I wanted to help defeat a disease that threatens the survival of our species.   It’s the least I can do, I’m only human.

For more information on the National AIDS Marathon Training Program visit www.aidsmarathon.com.  You can also make a tax deductible donation in the author’s honor by visiting this website and selecting “donate”.  Choose “Chicago” as the training site and enter “0099” as the participant number. For more information on the services provided by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago visit www.aidschicago.com.   

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