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When Was Running Invented: An In-Depth History of Running

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Humans have been running for thousands of years, and our exceptional abilities are what landed us at the top of the food chain. What started as an activity that is essential to survival grew and changed over time.

While no one person technically invented running, some instances show us when running evolved from a means of survival to a recreational sport. 

Tracking the history of running dates back millions of years, so let’s start at the beginning. 

2.6 Millon Years Ago: Running to Survive

Homo Sapiens, early ancestors of humans, landed at the very top of the food chain due to their incredible speed and agility. To survive, you needed to excel in two things: outrunning predators and outrunning your prey. If you can outrun your predators, you are more likely to live to see another day.

You are here reading this due in part to your very fast and agile ancestors!

3,100 BC: The Sed Festival

Before we started to view running as a sport, it was used to measure competency with festivals such as the Sed Festival.

Once human beings mastered the art of running, we started to show off a bit. It wasn’t just about survival anymore, but rather a fitness demonstration at sporting events.

The Sed Festival took place in Ancient Egypt to demonstrate the physical prowess of the Pharoh. If the Pharoh could not run the four laps course, Egyptians believed that he was deemed unfit to rule and was replaced by a younger, faster Pharoh. 

If we still held festivals like this today, most world leaders would be updating their LinkedIn profiles!

1829 BC: The Tailteann Games

Around this time, running shifted from a measure of competency and evolved into a sport and running events.

The Tailteann Games were recorded taking place in Ireland as a festival to honor the death of queen Tailtiu.

While running competitions were the main attraction, this festival also hosted chariot racing, boxing, sword fighting, and archery competitions. 

While there were likely many running competitions leading up to the Tailteann Games, this festival was the most documented running competition that set the stage for a humble competition known as the Olympics. 

776 BC: The Olympics

Before you ask, the rumors are true: the original Olympians competed in the nude!

Running was the only competition in the first Ancient Olympic Games for a few decades. Athletes (male only) competed in a 160-190 meters sprint, and long-distance running races such as the first marathon were added over time. These competitions drew Ancient Greek participants from all over Ancient Greece to Athens and are still held today. 

The modern-day Olympics looks very different from the original, with competitions ranging from gymnastics to powerlifting to basketball.

1500 AD: The Invention of Jogging

Up until this point, jogging wasn’t something that people did. Running was used to measure your speed or endurance, and the term ‘jogging’ wasn’t used for the first time until this point in time.

If you are looking for one person to credit modern running programs, Arthur Lydiard is your guy. He is considered the grandfather of contemporary running.

The 1960s: Arthur Lydiard sparks the modern running craze

While jogging had been around for centuries, Arthur Lydiard was the first coach to incorporate jogging into training programs.

His coaching style earned multiple gold medals at the Olympic games and lit the fuse for recreational running to take off. 

The 1970’s: Everyone Can Run!

Up until the 1970s, running was traditionally reserved for those born to run – Olympians and athletes, but the running boom started to pick up steam. In the 1970s, non-athlete celebrities began running for the host of health benefits.

Taking a cue from these celebrities, everyday folks started lacing up their running shoes to get in on the trend. 

It started as a trend in the 1970s and has continued to pick up steam as time marched on. 

Today: Running for Fun

Modern running looks a lot different from those early days of chasing down your dinner to ensure that you eat that day!

Whether you are a couch potato or a marathon/distance runner, there are running and jogging programs that you can fit into your daily life. YouTube videos, podcasts, books, running clubs, and community groups provide easy access to novices to elite athletes. 

With a robust community of runners of all skill levels, running has transformed into a niche hobby that anyone with legs can join. It’s accessible to anyone with a good pair of running shoes and enhanced with a good playlist or a workout buddy.

Whether you take it low and slow to get your heart pumping, or you want to smash records and get into competitive running, it’s clear that humans will continue to run long into the future. 

Evolution of Running

Humans have been running for a very, very long time. What started as a means to survival became a test of physical prowess and then a more modern sport.

Whether you are running to win a race, clear out the cobwebs in your brain, or simply lose weight and improve your overall and cardiovascular health, you come from a long line of running ancestors.

Arthur Lydiard played a part in shaping what running looks like today, but he is far from being the original inventor of running. 

Luckily, we no longer need to run to survive. Sure, you may need to run to catch the bus or chase after the ice cream truck, but the quality of your life no longer depends upon your speed!

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