Long-distance running, or endurance running, is a form of continuous
running over distances of at least eight kilometres (5 miles).
Physiologically, it is largely aerobic in nature and requires stamina
as well as mental strength.
Among mammals, humans are well adapted for running significant
distances, and particularly so among primates. The endurance running
hypothesis suggests that running endurance in the
Homo genus arose
because travelling over large areas improved scavenging opportunities
and allowed persistence hunting. The capacity for endurance running is
also found in migratory ungulates and a limited number of terrestrial
carnivores, such as dogs, wolves and hyenas.
In modern human society, long-distance running has multiple purposes:
people may engage in it for physical exercise, for recreation, as a
means of travel, for economic reasons, or for cultural reasons. Long
distance running can also be used as a means to improve cardiovascular
Running improves aerobic fitness by increasing the activity
of enzymes and hormones that stimulate the muscles and the heart to
work more efficiently.
Endurance running is often a component of
physical military training and has been so historically. Professional
running is most commonly found in the field of sports, although in
pre-industrial times foot messengers would run to deliver information
to distant locations.
Long-distance running as a form of tradition or
ceremony is known among the Hopi and Tarahumara people, among
others. Distance running can also serve as a bonding exercise
for family, friends, colleagues, and has even been associated with
nation-building. The social element of distance running has been
linked with improved performance.
In the sport of athletics, long-distance events are defined as races
covering three kilometres (1.86 miles) and above. The three most
common types are track running, road running and cross country
running, all of which are defined by their terrain – all-weather
tracks, roads and natural terrain, respectively. Typical long-distance
track races range from
3000 metres to
10,000 metres (6.2 miles), cross
country races usually cover 5 to 12 km (3 to 7½ miles), while
road races can be significantly longer, reaching 100 kilometres (60
miles) and beyond. In collegiate cross country races in the United
States, men race 8000 or 10000 meters, depending on their division,
whereas women race 6000 meters . The
Summer Olympics features three
long-distance running events: the 5000 metres,
10,000 metres and
marathon (42.195 kilometres, or 26 miles and 385 yards). Since the
late 1980s, Kenyans, Moroccans and Ethiopians have dominated in major
international long-distance competitions.
1.1 Prehistoric running
1.2 Ancient history
2 Physiology of long-distance running
2.1 Impact on Health
3 In sport
3.1.1 Track running
3.1.3 Cross country running
4 Ultra-long distance: extended events and achievements
5 See also
6 Notes and references
7 External links
Anthropological observations of modern hunter-gatherer communities
have provided accounts for long distance running as a method for
hunting among the San of the Kalahari, American Indians, and
the Australian Aborigines. In this method, the hunter would run at
a slow and steady pace between one hour and a few days, in an area
where the animal has no place to hide. The animal, running in spurts,
has to stop to pant in order to cool itself, but as the chase goes on
it would not have enough time before it has to start running again,
and after a while would collapse from exhaustion and heat. The
body structure of a skeleton of a 12 years old Nariokatome boy is
suggested to prove that early humans from 1.5 million years ago were
eating more meat and less plants, and hunted by running down
With developments in agriculture and culture, long distance running
took more and more purposes other than hunting: religious ceremonies,
delivering messages for military and political purposes, and
Old Testament has a few mentions of messengers running to deliver
messages. For example, in
2 Samuel 18, two runners, Ahimaaz son of
Zadok and a Cushite run to deliver King
David the message of the death
of his son Absalom. In Jeremia 51:31-32, two running messengers meet
each other halfway to deliver the message about the loss of Babylon:
31 One post shall run to meet another, and one messenger to meet
another, to shew the king of Babylon that his city is taken at one
end, 32 And that the passages are stopped, and the reeds they have
burned with fire, and the men of war are affrighted.
Running messengers are reported from early Sumer, were named
lasimu as military men as well as the king’s officials who
disseminated documents throughout the kingdom by running. Ancient
Greece was famous for its running messengers, who were named
hemerodromoi, meaning “day runners”. One of the most famous
running messengers is Pheidippides, who according to the legend ran
Athens to announce the victory of the Greek over the
Persians in the Battle of
Marathon in 490 B.C. He collapsed and died
as he delivered the message “we won”. While there are debates
around the accuracy of this historical legend, whether
Pheidippides actually ran from
Athens or between other
cities, how far this was, and if he was the one to deliver the victory
message, the marathon running event of 26.2 miles / 42.195 km
is based on this legend.
Physiology of long-distance running
Humans are considered among the best distance runners among all
running animals: game animals are faster over short distances, but
they have less endurance than humans. Unlike other primates whose
bodies are designed to walk on four legs or climb trees, the human
body has evolved into upright walking and running around 2-3 million
years ago. The human body can endure long distance running through
the following attributes:
Bone and muscle structure: unlike quadruped mammals, which have their
center of mass in front of the hind legs or limbs, in biped mammals
including humans the center of mass lies right above the legs. This
leads to different bone and muscular demands especially in the legs
Dissipation of metabolic heat: humans’ ability to cool the body by
sweating through the body surface provides many advantages over
panting through the mouth or nose. These include a larger surface of
evaporation and independence of the respiratory cycle.
One distinction between upright walking and running is energy
consumption during locomotion. While walking, humans use about half
the energy needed to run. Evolutionary biologists believe that the
human ability to run over long distances has helped meat-eating humans
to compete with other carnivores.
Persistence hunting is a method
in which hunters use a combination of running, walking, and
tracking to pursue prey to the point of exhaustion. While humans can
sweat to reduce body heat, their quadrupedal prey would need to slow
from a gallop in order to pant. The persistence hunt is still
practised by hunter-gatherers in the central
Kalahari Desert in
Southern Africa, and
David Attenborough's documentary The Life of
Mammals (program 10, "Food For Thought") showed a bushman hunting a
kudu antelope until it collapsed.
Impact on Health
The impact of long-distance running on human health is generally
positive. Various organs and systems in the human body are improved:
bone mineral density is increased, cholesterol is lowered.
However, beyond a certain point, negative consequences might occur.
Male runners who run more than 40 miles (64 kilometers) per week face
reduced testosterone levels, although they are still in the normal
Running a marathon lowers testosterone levels by 50% in
men, and more than doubles cortisol levels for 24 hours. Low
testosterone is thought to be a physiological adaptation to the sport,
as excess muscle caused may be shed through lower testosterone,
yielding a more efficient runner. Veteran, lifelong endurance athletes
have been found to have more heart scarring than controls groups, but
replication studies and larger studies should be done to firmly
establish the link, which may or may not be causal. Some studies
find that running more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) per week yields
no lower risk for all-cause mortality than non-runners, however
these studies are in conflict with large studies that show longer
lifespans for any increase in exercise volume.
Men in the 10 km run section of the 2011 Grand Prix de Triathlon
Many sporting activities feature significant levels of running under
prolonged periods of play, especially during ball sports like
association football and rugby league. However, continuous endurance
running is exclusively found in racing sports. Most of these are
individual sports, although team and relay forms also exist.
The most prominent long-distance running sports are grouped within the
sport of athletics, where running competitions are held on strictly
defined courses and the fastest runner to complete the distance wins.
The foremost types are long-distance track running, road running and
cross-country running. Both track and road races are usually timed,
while cross country races are not always timed and typically only the
placing is of importance. Other less popular variants such as fell
running, trail running, mountain running and tower running combine the
challenge of distance with a significant incline or change of
elevation as part of the course.
Multisport races frequently include endurance running. Triathlon, as
defined by the International
Triathlon Union, may feature running
sections ranging from five kilometres (3.1 mi) to the marathon
distance (42.195 kilometres, or 26 miles and 385 yards), depending on
the race type. The related sport of duathlon is a combination of
cycling and distance running. Previous versions of the modern
pentathlon incorporated a three or four kilometre (1.9–2.5 mi)
run, but changes to the official rules in 2008 meant the running
sections are now divided into three separate legs of one kilometre
each (0.6 mi).
Depending on the rules and terrain, navigation sports such as foot
orienteering and rogaining may contain periods of endurance running
within the competition. Variants of adventure racing may also
combine navigational skills and endurance running in this manner.
Runners turning the bend in the men's
10,000 metres final at the 2012
Main articles: 5000 metres; 10,000 metres; One hour run; and track and
The history of long-distance track running events is tied into the
track and field stadia where they are held. Oval circuits allow
athletes to cover long distances in a confined area. Early tracks were
usually on flattened earth or were simply marked areas of grass. The
style of running tracks became refined during the 20th century: the
oval running tracks were standardised to 400 metres in distance
and cinder tracks were replaced by synthetic all-weather running track
of asphalt and rubber from the mid-1960s onwards. It was not until the
1912 Stockholm Olympics
1912 Stockholm Olympics that the standard long-distance track events
5000 metres and
10,000 metres were introduced.
5000 metres is a premier event that requires tactics and superior
aerobic conditioning. Training for such an event may consist of a
total of 60–200 kilometers (40–120 miles) a week, although
training regimens vary greatly. The 5000 is often a popular
entry-level race for beginning runners.
The world record for men is 12:37.35 (an average of 23.76 km/h)
Kenenisa Bekele of
Ethiopia in Hengelo, Netherlands on 31 May 2004
The world record for women is 14:11.15 (an average of 21.14 km/h)
Tirunesh Dibaba of
Ethiopia in Oslo,
Norway on 6 June 2008
10,000 metres is the longest standard track event. Most of those
running such races also compete in road races and cross country
The world record for men is 26:17.53 (22.83 km/h) by Kenenisa
Ethiopia set in 2005
The world record for women is 29:17.45 (20.48 km/h) by Almaz
Ethiopia set on 12 August 2016
The one hour run is an endurance race that is rarely contested, except
in pursuit of world records.
The 20,000 metres is also rarely contested, most world records in the
20,000 metres have been set while in a one-hour run race.
Women runners on a closed-off-road at the 2009 Yokohama Marathon.
Road running and
Long-distance road running competitions are mainly conducted on
courses of paved or tarmac roads, although major events often finish
on the track of a main stadium. In addition to being a common
recreational sport, the elite level of the sport – particularly
marathon races – are one of the most popular aspects of athletics.
Road racing events can be of virtually any distance, but the most
common and well known are the marathon, half marathon and 10 km run.
The sport of road running finds its roots in the activities of
footmen: male servants who ran alongside the carriages of aristocrats
around the 18th century, and who also ran errands over distances for
Foot racing competitions evolved from wagers between
aristocrats, who pitted their footman against that of another
aristocrat in order to determine a winner. The sport became
professionalised as footmen were hired specifically on their athletic
ability and began to devote their lives to training for the gambling
events. The amateur sports movement in the late 19th century
marginalised competitions based on the professional, gambling model.
Summer Olympics saw the birth of the modern marathon and the
event led to the growth of road running competitions through annual
public events such as the Boston
Marathon (first held in 1897) and the
Marathon and Fukuoka Marathons, which were established in
the 1940s. The 1970s running boom in the
United States made road
running a common pastime and also increased its popularity at the
The marathon is the only road running event featured at the
Championships in Athletics and the Summer Olympics, although there is
IAAF World Half
Marathon Championships held every two years.
The marathon is also the only road running event featured at the IPC
Athletics World Championships and the Summer Paralympics. The World
Marathon Majors series includes the six most prestigious marathon
competitions at the elite level – the Berlin, Boston, Chicago,
London, Tokyo, and New York City marathons. The Tokyo
most recently added to the World
Marathon Majors in 2012. (See
also: List of marathon races)
Ekiden contests – which originated in
Japan and remain very popular
there – are a relay race variation on the marathon, being in
contrast to the typically individual sport of road running.
Cross country running
Main articles: Cross country running, Trail running, Fell running, and
Cross country running
Cross country running is the most naturalistic form of long-distance
running in athletics as competitions take place on open-air courses
over surfaces such as grass, woodland trails, earth or mountains. In
contrast to the relatively flat courses in track and road races, cross
country usually incorporates obstacles such as muddy sections, logs
and mounds of earth. As a result of these factors, weather can play an
integral role in the racing conditions. Cross country is both an
individual and team sport, as runners are judged on an individual
basis and a points scoring method is used for teams. Competitions are
typically races of 4 km (2.5 mi) or more which are usually
held in autumn and winter. Cross country's most successful athletes
often compete in long-distance track and road events as well.
Women racing on snow in the 2012 European Cross Country Championships
The history of the sport is linked with the game of paper chase, or
hare and hounds, where a group of runners would cover long distances
to chase a leading runner, who left a trail of paper to follow. The
Crick Run in
England in 1838 was the first recorded instance of an
organised cross country competition. The sport gained popularity in
British, then American schools in the 19th century and culminated in
the creation of the first
International Cross Country Championships
International Cross Country Championships in
1903. The annual
IAAF World Cross Country Championships
IAAF World Cross Country Championships was
inaugurated in 1973 and this remains the highest level of competition
for the sport. A number of continental cross country competitions are
held, with championships taking place in Africa, Asia, Europe,
Oceania, North America and South America. The sport has retained its
status at the scholastic level, particularly in the United Kingdom and
United States. At the professional level, the foremost competitions
come under the banner of the
IAAF Cross Country Permit Meetings.
While cross country competitions are no longer held at the Olympics,
having featured in the athletics programme from 1912–1924, it has
been present as one of the events within the modern pentathlon
competition since the 1912 Summer Olympics.
Fell running, trail running and mountain running can all be considered
variations on traditional cross country which incorporate significant
uphill and/or downhill sections as an additional challenge to the
Ultra-long distance: extended events and achievements
Ultramarathon and Multiday races
A number of events, records and achievements exist for long distance
running, outside the context of track and field sports events. These
include multiday races, ultramarathons, and long distance races in
extreme conditions or measuring hundreds or thousands of miles.
Beyond these, records and stand-alone achievements, rather than
regular events, exist for individuals who have achieved running goals
of a unique nature, such as running across or around continents (see
lists of runners: America, Australia) or running around the world.
Neurobiological effects of physical exercise
Notes and references
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