There's been a resurgence of interest lately in what led to the evolution of bipedalism in humans and the importance that running may have had in our evolutionary past. From Christopher Moore's best selling book 'Born to Run' to cover stories in the prestigious journal Nature (eg Endurance running and the evolution of Homo), running, especially barefoot running and endurance running, is quite the hot academic topic these days.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the actual sport of endurance running. I would guess that only a tiny handful of Americans are aware the right now the world 24 hour running championship is going on in Brive, France. The race started about 12 hours ago and will continue for another 12. You can get live updates here if you are so inclined. There is both an individual race and also a team event, with the combined distances of the top 3 runners counting for the national championship. At the last check the USA men's team and the Japanese men's team were separated by a meter! Men:JPN 421.872km, US 421.871km
The lead runners are averaging about 12km/h or 7.5 mph. That's 8 minutes per mile- hardly a slow jog. And they have been doing that for 12 hours..... with 12 more to go......
I find these performances literally amazing. What is equally interesting is that the participants don't look like freaks. They aren't muscle bound, neither are they all incredibly thin (one of the US team was over 300lbs until recently and still tips the scales around 200), they aren't all short and they aren't all tall, they aren't all young and they aren't all old - they actually look like a cross section of people you might find anywhere. (I like this picture - the tiny Russian lady on the left is 61 !)
Most animals have to pant to lose heat. Animals cannot pant and run simultaneously, limiting how long they can run before they have to stop to pant and cool down. Humans can lose heat by sweating so we can run for much, much longer. But sweating loses water and salt. So the good ultra-runners have to be exceptionally good at maintaining their fluid and salt levels.
In many ways this race is the world homeostasis championship.
Update: Exciting finish with the USA men's team holding onto third place and Scott Jurek completing 165.7 miles to beat the American record. The men's winner, Shingo Inoue from Japan, completed 170 miles and the Women's winner, Anne Cecile Fontaine of France, completed 149 miles. The second place finisher for the US (12th overall) Michael Henze finished with a 22 minute last 5k...... The tiny Russian lady above completed 117 miles.