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The Science Behind Humans’ Ability to Run Long Distances: From Bones to Heat Dissipation

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Revealing the Secrets of Human Endurance: The Badwater Trail 135

Considered the most extreme trail in the world, the Badwater Trail 135 in Death Valley spans 217 km from the lowest point in North America to the highest point in the United States. Despite scorching July temperatures that soar above 120°F (49°C), approximately 100 individuals willingly sign up each year to test their strength and endurance in the unforgiving desert conditions.

Humans: The Ultimate Long-Distance Runners

Surprisingly, humans excel in long-distance running, outpacing other species including dogs, horses, and cheetahs, despite being slower on average. What sets us apart and enables us to undertake such grueling journeys?

An Evolutionary Advantage

One hypothesis suggests that our ability to run long distances stems from an evolutionary advantage gained by our early ancestors. The discovery of bones in Central Africa supports this theory, indicating that as the climate changed and open savannas emerged, our ancestors adapted to walking on two legs.

The Mechanics of Human Running

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According to Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, our bodies possess various adaptations that facilitate running long distances. Our lower bodies feature larger joints, tendons, and muscles compared to our upper bodies, allowing us to efficiently absorb the forces generated during running.

Key components include the Achilles tendon, IT ligament, and foot arch, which act as springs, storing and returning elastic energy with each step. Strong gluteal muscles maintain balance, while swinging arms stabilize the head. Our flexible spine enables us to separate the hips and shoulders, allowing us to look forward.

Heat Dissipation: A Vital Advantage

One significant adaptation that sets humans apart is our ability to dissipate heat effectively. Our long, straight bodies provide ample surface area for cooling, and the ability to breathe through our nose and mouth aids in heat elimination. Sweating, a unique trait among few creatures, combined with our lack of thick fur, allows for efficient evaporation and cooling of the skin.

Unleashing the Power of the Brain

It is believed that the ability to hunt provided early humans with a greater energy supply, leading to the growth of larger brains. As our brains evolved alongside our running, hunting, and eating abilities, they developed central pattern generators within the spine. These generators regulate basic movements like walking or running and extract sensory information from our joints and feet, enabling us to move forward.

Source: Living Science

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