RUNNING WAS INVENTED 4,600,000 years ago by our human ancestors, Australopithecus. In the 34th Century BCE, ancient Sumerians called this activity Naputu—a verb meaning “to not get yourself eaten by wild animals.”
Four thousand years ago, religious festivals led to the popularization of running as sport. Even before the first Olympic Games, human beings were running in honour of the gods—in particular, Muffinius (god of love handles), Wardrobius (god of things languishing in your closet) and Januarius (god of the three-month GoodLife membership).
Anthropologists speculate that running led over the millennia to evolutionary changes, including the enhancement of sweat glands, knee joints and glutei maximi.
Glutei Maximi was of course the Latin thespian who in 41 BCE, while preparing for his portrayal of A Spartan Herald, in Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, invented TVRCIUS—today better know as “twerking.”
Around 900 BCE, running went into decline, as people realized they could avoid going up hills. This trend reversed briefly as disappointed runners arrived at the bottom and realized there was nowhere to go but up.
In 776 BCE, the first Olympic Games reinvigorated the sport of running.
The ancient Greeks oiled themselves and ran naked through the streets, an innovation that was to be enthusiastically revived by American college students. After running, the Greeks scraped their body free of dirt and sweat, using a curved metal instrument called a strigil. After running, American college students use a curved metal instrument called a beer opener. They also use this before running. And during.
The explosive growth of current-day interest in running is a fascinating sociological phenomenon. Contemporary running has several unique characteristics.
Advanced fabrics. Today’s runner typically wears aerodynamic, breathable and ventilated sweat-wicking polyester tights. This helps him get to Starbuck’s faster. Also—because there are no pockets for a banana—a runner’s tights remove any lingering doubt over whether or not he’s happy to see you.
Urban settings. According to recent anecdotal evidence, the discriminating runner prefers a busy sidewalk. He will therefore eschew running through the woods or back-streets, instead deciding to run down the main street of your city, at the busiest times of day—often with a dog. The advanced runner can be identified by his dog leash, which will be exactly the length required to span a rush-hour sidewalk.
Water bottles and belts. Today’s runner must carry at least six water bottles to make it through the desert-like conditions of a typical 2km downtown odyssey. Belts made to hold these bottles can also double as artillery carriers, should you plan to overthrow the Taliban having finished your marathon.
Shoes. Many runners will ask What is the best running shoe? The answer, of course, is the one that looks the most like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Conversation topics. Today’s running enthusiast has dedicated her life to fitness and the thrill of physical excellence. So when you meet her on the street, or at the Starbucks, or in the office, get ready for the following topics of conversation:
– “God my knees are killing me.”
– “I think I blew out my [—].”
– “Hey have a look at this. Do you think I should see a doctor?”
– “My nipples are still bleeding.”
– “I like running. Do you like running? I do. Like running, I mean. Do you?”
Cultish behaviour. Running produces chemicals in the brain which are linked to mood and motivation. This is why advanced runners experience euphoria, even as their nipples bleed and their $200 air-wicking tights fill with the remains of yesterday’s fettucine alfredo. Often you will see runners in packs of one hundred or more, headed in the direction of the Running Room with a Branch-Davidian-like intensity of purpose. Once there, they stretch and bend and talk about the time John Stanton said hello to them and warned them about the coming Armageddon.
Or maybe I’m confusing that part. It’s hard to say.