Running with the Tribe

Anyone who’s read the fascinating book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, is familiar with the theory on why humans have the unique capacity compared to other creatures in the animal kingdom to run long distances. It has something to do with our Achilles acting as a spring to propel us forward, our diaphragm allowing our lungs to deliver oxygen to our muscles for a sustained effort and some other biological factors that I am a little foggy on cause I spent most of Bio 30 with my head down on my desk trying not to faint from looking at illustrations of the cardiovascular system. Seriously.

What really struck me about the explanation about humans’ endurance potential was how we have used this super-power to survive throughout history. The theory goes that tribes from the plains of Africa would essentially go for long runs as a group and chase down a herd animal (like an antelope) and keep running after it until it dropped dead from exhaustion. This was before weapons like spears or bow and arrows, so their only option was to knock the animal out with a rock once they got close enough to do so. (Interestingly, the endurance of an antelope is approximately 4 hours, a decent marathon time…which explains the evolution of the road marathoner but does nothing to explain the evolution of the ultrarunner…so I’m pretty sure somewhere on the plains of Africa, there was some caveman runner who caught his first antelope, ate the whole thing, then kept on running after another one until he ran that one to death too, ate that one, then kept going…for days at a time…cause really, that is all that ultrarunning is…) I digress.

When a herd of antelope is outrunning an animal predator like a lion, the herd will work together to trick the lion into chasing a new antelope with fresh legs while the other ones hide and rest. That way the herd always has a new distraction for speedy McLion. Kind of like a group of kids playing tag…it will go on forever cause while one kid is being chased, the others are regrouping and getting ready for the next sprint away from the tagger.

So, here is where this gets interesting…here is where evolutionary biology proves my theory that we are better when we run together.

Human hunters, unlike lions, figured out how to work together as a team to run down the increasingly tired antelope by never giving the poor guy a break, they just keep chasing him out of his hiding place and forcing him to run to his death. No single runner could do this alone because the herd would keep trying to distract that person with fresh antelope legs to chase. But when the team works together…ta da! BBQ for dinner. We quite literally evolved to survive by running with friends.

Ok so maybe I’ve lost my vegan running friends with that rather gruesome thought, but it is still undeniable that we are simply better together. Runs with friends are 10x better then solo runs, runs with really big groups are a chance to make new friends, races are really just a massive sweaty party, and although I would never admit this to anyone, I’m not sure I would have completed 100 miles if I had to go it alone. ( Sinister 7: 100 Mile Ultra 2019)IMG_3806

Community is not always easy; it’s messy because people are messy. Recently some of our beautiful Edmonton run community has experienced some ugly parts of what it means to be a part of a group. I’ve watched it unfold in group chats and social media posts, heard the pain in people’s voices and had my own moments of hurt brought about by a careless few that threaten to create rifts and seek to exclude. But despite that, despite the hurt and outrage, what has overwhelmingly risen to the surface is what we have all known to be true all along. We have a beautiful thing that is worth being a part of.

For such a simple sport, you would think that all runners would be the same; I mean really, all we do is put one foot in front of another. But the diversity amongst runners is as wide ranging the selection of run shoes we get to choose from. And just like shoe shopping, there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to deciding which kind of runner you are. Track or treadmill, road or trail, sprint, ultra and every distance in between. Some runners race all the time, some hardly race at all. Some are drinkers with a running problem (I’m looking at you Hashers!!), while some are vegan purists fueled by avocados and giant calf muscles. Some prefer self-supported days on the trail, and some go for all the shiny race swag they can get. Some can tell you their splits and have their pace completely fine tuned, while others of us judge the quality of a run by things like elevation or time on feet. Within this wide range of running styles we still are all united by the simple act of forward motion.

And despite all our messiness, it’s such a beautiful thing.

(Even the lone wolves out there have to admit we are better together. Go on, admit it.)

This summer there was a creepy case of some weirdo flashing women on the trail. It left a lot of us a little shaken, and Facebook run groups filled up with stories of other incidences like this that women have experienced while out running. Some incredible women in our community quickly organized a group run, IMG_3801something akin to Take Back the Night, (I think they even called it ‘Take Back the Trails’) and that’s exactly what we did. We ran some of the trails that he had been reported on and that was it. There was a bit of media coverage, but I doubt the perpetrator even heard about it. But that really doesn’t matter. What matters is it gave all of us women a chance to come together to acknowledge the unfortunate reality that we don’t always feel safe when we run alone, and it gave our male counterparts a chance to come alongside us and acknowledge that while most men are living well, there is still work to do. So, what exactly did we accomplish that day? Did we eliminate misogyny? Nope. But did we draw together hundreds of people united by a cause? Yep. And that is community.

We all run different paces and have different goals, and certainly not every run is meant for everyone. I have learned that the hard way with my share of tearful exits from group runs I wasn’t prepared for. Part of living in run community is acknowledging our diversity and celebrating it, without being critical or envious of IMG_3803others’ success. The beauty of doing this together is being able to cheer wildly for other runners, whether that’s a first time at a 5k or a podium finish, it’s all hard work and it is worth celebrating. Being a part of the run community also means supporting each other through injury or encouraging someone after a DNF because we all know running is definitely not all sunshine and rainbows. And I would argue that those are the times we need our people the most.

Running together isn’t just about rustling the tired antelope from behind the bush and making him run so we can survive, it’s about bringing out the best in each other and continuously pushing each other forward so we can thrive. I am so grateful for every Edmonton runner out there braving the elements and putting one foot in front of the other day after day.

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