Run For Your Life

Fact: A human can outrun a horse over a marathon.

Remember the man who can run forever, Dan Karnazes? He might be unusual, but it turns out us humans have evolved to be the masters of long distance running.

Homo sapiens (that’s us) evolved in Africa, and we learned to hunt in a very particular way. We would simply chase animals until they gave up and lay down, allowing us to catch up, kill and eat them.

Our secret weapon? Sweating. Most animals can’t sweat, so they rely on other tactics like panting to cool down. Humans, on the other hand, are perfectly adapted to heat loss. The evaporation of water requires a huge amount of energy, so letting sweat evaporate off our skin is an incredibly efficient way of cooling down. This means that after a long chase in hot weather, the antelope’s body temperature begins to rise and it is forced to stop, but the human can regulate its body temperature and keep on going.

Unlike most animals, horses can actually sweat, but not as efficiently as humans. Because of our ability to better cover ourselves in sweat, over 26 miles, in hot weather, there is every chance that a human could outrun a horse. In fact, the Man v Horse marathon in Wales puts the theory to the test every year, pitting marathon runners against riders on horseback – and sometimes the runners win.

Admittedly, the horse usually wins, but don’t forget this race is being run in not-so-sunny Wales, so overheating is less of an issue. In a marathon in the scorching heat, I’d back the human every time.

‘Another one of Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science’
Image under Creative Commons license.

 

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