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When was running invented? How running evolved in human history

When was running invented? Understanding how running evolved in human history

‘When was running invented’ sounds like a weird question only a fool would ask. However, running in this context does not only mean the regular running that you see every day. It also refers to a sport which has produced legends and superstars like Usain Bolt, Eliud Kipchoge, Hellen Obiri, Sha’Carri Richardson, Shericka Jackson, Noah Lyes and Christian Coleman.

Meanwhile, there is a funny trend on social media that credited the invention of running to one Thomas Running in 1612. According to these unverified reports, running tried to walk twice at the same time. Of course, there is no evidence to back up this claim, which has led experts to believe that it is false. However, there is a general belief that running is as old as humans.

In other words, running is not just a lifestyle – it is a sport that has propelled certain individuals to freedom. On the other hand, invention usually means that someone or a group of persons created something for the first time and it became a standard for the rest of the world. So, the question remains, was running invented? If so, when was running invented? Read this article to find out.

When was running invented?

When was running invented?

Running has been part of human existence for centuries. The book Born to Run, written by Christopher McDougall, revealed that running likely began some two million years ago when our ancestors ran as a method of survival, both to escape predators and to chase down prey. Also, studies found that ancient humans evolved from primates about seven million years ago and began to transition from tree climbing to bipedalism.

Fossil discoveries of bipedal apes that predated Neanderthals and Homoerectus helped to convince anthropologists that humans began to run about two million years ago.

“We are very confident that strong selection for running—which came at the expense of the historical ability to live in trees—was instrumental in the origin of the modern human body form,” said Dennis Bramble, a biology professor at the University of Utah.

“We think running is one of the most transforming events in human history,” Bramble added. “We are arguing the emergence of humans is tied to the evolution of running.”

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Running in the third millennium

Once humans began to settle in lands, growing crops and rearing animals, they ran for reasons other than escaping predators and hunting prey. For instance, in ancient Egypt, Persia and Greece, messengers ran long distances to deliver their messages. King Taharka, the Egyptian Pharaoh of the late 7th century BCE, made his soldiers run a 100km race to keep them fit. As a result, some schools of thought have credited him for the invention of marathon events.

In addition, running was seen as a symbol in Ancient Egypt as early as 3100 B.C. in the Sed Festival. The Sed Festival, also known as the Heb Festival, was a massive celebration of a pharaoh’s reign. It usually started 30 years into the pharaoh’s rule and happened every three years until his death.

During the festival, the pharaoh would offer numerous sacrifices to the gods. Then, he would hold a re-crowning ceremony to signify the continuation of his reign. Part of the ceremony included the pharaoh completing four laps of runs. In the first two laps, he would wear the royal regalia of Upper Egypt and then wear clothes of Lower Egypt to complete the last two laps.

Some people believe the running is symbolic, to show the pharaoh “outrunning his age”. If he fails to complete the race, it is believed he might be considered “unfit” to continue his reign.

When was running invented as a sport?

When was running invented as a sport?
Photo credit: STRATIS (Pinterest)

Pheidippides has been credited as an inspiration for the modern-day sports event, known as a marathon. The Greek soldier is said to have run from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. He reportedly collapsed and died shortly after delivering the news.

However, running officially became an Olympic sport event in 776 BC. All Greek males were permitted to take part, regardless of standing, though the majority were soldiers. The athletes reportedly competed naked, with approximately 40,000 spectators filling the stadium to watch them each day.

In 1896, the first international Summer Olympics was held in Athens. To celebrate Pheidippides’s historic run, the first-ever marathon event was set for the same distance of 40 kilometres. Spyridon Louis was the winner of the event after completing the 25-mile marathon in 2:58:5. Note that the official marathon distance did not become a standard 26.2 miles until 1921. The 1896 Olympics also featured the 100-meter and 400-meter races.

Inspired by the inaugural Olympic event, the Boston Marathon was born in 1897. It became the world’s oldest annual marathon. In 1936, African American athlete Jesse Owens won gold medals at the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay in Berlin.

Meanwhile, women were not allowed to participate in the event. In 1966, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb became the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, having hidden in the bushes until the starting pistol went off. The following year, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run with a race number under a pseudonym. Officials tried and failed to remove her from the race.

Women were officially allowed to participate in marathon race events in 1986 at the Los Angeles Olympics.

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When was modern-day running invented?

When was modern-day running invented?
Photo credit: Freepik

In modern days, running has been reinvented as a form of exercise and sport. The trend can be traced back to the early 1960s in New Zealand, where coach Arthur Lydiard formed the Auckland Jogger Club, the first jogging club in the world. Today, there are over 620 million active runners in the world, using running as a hobby, competitive sport, therapy, social activity to meet like-minded souls, or simply as a way to keep fit.

So, when next you put on your running shoes, remember that running was not invented by anyone. It has been part of human existence since the beginning and people will likely keep running for a long, long time.

ALSO READ: Top 10 inventions by Nigerians

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Nonye is a Thespian, screenwriter, creative writer and an unapologetic lover of books, great movies and sports. She has over 10 years experience in content writing on entertainment, movies, sports and lifestyle. Nonye is currently a content writer at Blackdot Media and founder of

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