Did We Evolve Doing Tempo Runs?

I finally got around to reading a paper that’s been in my theoretical pile of papers for a few months now: Endurance running and its relevance to scavenging by early hominins.

The paper basically discusses whether or not endurance running would have played an important role in the ability of early humans to scavenge meat.  They discuss relevant literature regarding other scavenger and predatory animals, the potential distance required to travel, and the amount of time there would be before other animals would arrive around the potential food.  The authors come up with a couple of different models to discuss what it would take for us to be successful scavengers in various situations.  I’ll just mention a few of the interesting points they’ve mentioned.

One important cue that would have allowed us to become aware of available food for us to scavenge would have been the presence of vultures; and they mention that we (along with other terrestrial mammals) would likely be able to spot circling vultures from ~5 km away.

They predicted that upon detection, there will be an upper limit of approximately 29 minutes before another scavenging group of animals would reach any carcass.

“An important conclusion of our model then is that endurance running over periods of 30 min would not have provided a selective advantage to early hominins through increased scavenging opportunities.”

Although there are lots of potential flaws with the models that the authors have provided (and they do indeed mention this), it means that because at least some part of our past was probably dependent on early humans being successful scavengers, the ability to run for upwards of 30 minutes relatively quickly would have been a determining factor in survival, and thus these skills would have been selected for over time.

This is pretty interesting to me!  Lots of training for endurance athletes involves runs that are something similar to this.  They’re called tempo runs.

A Tempo Run is a sustained effort training run, usually recommended to be 20 to 30 minutes in length, basically right at your lactate threshold.  Fits in pretty well with the type of running that may (or may not) have been helpful during scavenging attempts from our early ancestors.  You may even draw the conclusion that perhaps we’ve evolved the ability to be good at tempo runs.

desert runner

But just because we can do this type of running, doesn’t mean that we necessarily should.  I don’t think tempo runs should be a regular part of one’s training, as I don’t think this middle-ground (not too fast, not too slow) type of training is going to offer a good return on investment when it comes to training adaptations.  But I do enjoy doing the occasional tempo session, and I think it serves as a good way to test your training as a sort of time trial event — but it doesn’t have to be a regular component of a program (depending on how far you are from an event).

Perhaps this occasional tempo run fits well both with an evolutionary framework, and with the polarized training model that I think is superior.  Or perhaps I’m biased and finding information to fit in with my preconceived ideas about training and health.  Either way, it’s an interesting piece of information to think about!

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3 responses to “Did We Evolve Doing Tempo Runs?

  1. Pingback: Irony: Your Training Isn’t Helping Reach Your Goals | evolved running·

  2. Pingback: Irony: Your Training May Not Be Helping You Reach Your Goals | evolved running·

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