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Beginner Runner

When Was Running Invented? The Fascinating History of This Enduring Sport

15 Mins read

Have you ever Googled “when was running invented” and got a ridiculous answer that Thomas Running invented it in 1784 by trying to walk twice the same time? Well, don’t believe everything you read on the internet, my friend.

What’s more, running wasn’t invented by the first human who was late for work, as the old joke says.

But the truth is even more fascinating than any false factoid. Running is an ancient practice that has shaped human history in countless ways, from our physical evolution to our cultural legacy. It’s no wonder that millions of people lace up their shoes every day and hit the pavement.

But where did it all begin? In this article, we’ll dive deep into the history of running and explore how this simple act has shaped our world in ways we never imagined.

In this article, I’ll take you on a journey through the history of running, piece by piece, and show you how this simple act of putting one foot in front of the other has shaped our world in more ways than we ever thought possible.

So, get ready and let’s trace back the origins of running in human history.

When Was Running Invented

I hate to state the obvious, but as you can already tell, running was never “discovered.”

Well, it’s not like someone woke up one day and said, “I think I’ll invent running today.”

That would be like saying the first person to sneeze invented allergies. No, running is a natural ability that humans and animals alike have developed over time. It’s like eating or sleeping – we don’t remember who invented those either, do we? As long as a creature has two legs, then they can run since the activity mainly involves moving the legs faster than walking.

But don’t just take my word for it; science backs me up on this one. Our primate ancestors were probably the first creatures to realize the benefits of using their legs to cover long distances on the ground. And from there, the rest is history. Or should I say, evolution?

As for running as a sport, we can thank the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians of the ancient world for that. They were the OG runners, long before Usain Bolt or Paula Radcliffe came along. But let’s be real, they didn’t have fancy running shoes or compression socks like we do today. Can you imagine running a marathon in sandals? Ouch.

The History Of Running Explained

Running – it’s not just a way to get fit or show off your sculped calves on Instagram. Back in the day, running was a matter of life and death.

Picture this: you’re a prehistoric human, out foraging for food, and suddenly, a saber-toothed tiger appears. What do you do? You run. You run like your life depends on it – because it does.

Survival was the ultimate game.

Nowadays, survival is the last thing you’ve on mind while jogging. (unless you’re chased by a big wild dog). But for the ancient man (and woman), being able to run long distances was key to survival.

Here’s the truth.

Running is also what helped us evolve into the modern human body form. You could say that without running, we might still be swinging from tree branches and munching on bananas. Okay, maybe not the bananas part, but you get the idea.

According to evolutionary theory, running played a crucial role in our anatomical evolution. So, next time you go for a jog, thank your ancient ancestors for developing those strong legs of yours. You’re not just running for fitness – you’re running to keep the human race alive. No pressure.

So how far does running go back in human history?

Running was “invented” as early as when primitive humans evolved from primates around seven million years ago and started to transition from tree climbing to bipedalism, which is a term that refers to species that walk on two legs.

Let’s break down the timeline of the evolution of running.

4.5 Millions Ago – The “Invention of Walking.”

Did you know that the earliest evidence of animals walking upright on two legs, just like us, can be traced back to four million years ago?

Research has reported that Australopiehtics—an ape-like creature believed to be an ancestor to humans—fossils showed that our early ancestors at that time walked upright before developing stone tools.

In other words, we were all born to run, my friend. Some scientists even go as far as to claim that running is one of the most transformative events in human history. Pretty cool, right?

3.5 Millions  – The Evolution of Walking

In 1999, the country of Kenya made the headlines after a group of scientists discovered fossil evidence for the Kenyanthropus platyops. This small-brained, flat-faced bipedal lived around 3.5 million years ago and had footprints that showed walking patterns very similar to those of humans today.

2.6 Million years  – The Emergence of Running

Now, here’s where things get really interesting. Our ancestors developed the ability to run long distances around 2.6 million years ago, according to fossil evidence of some individual features of the modern human body.

Scientists believe this evolution was spurred by persistence hunting, which was one of the strategies early hominids used to survive and thrive.

The practice of persistence hunting involved a group of hunters that would stalk and chase after prey for prolonged periods, tactically changing turns until the animal was too beat to flee. This is a good reason to consider running a formal part of our DNA.

The Evolution of Running Specific Anatomical Features

Apparently, back in the day, faster runners were the best hunters. If you could not hunt, your chances of survival were pretty slim (sorry, no checks from the government to bail you out).

Research also singled out a wide range of physical traits that strongly suggest that our ancestors evolved as distance runners.

Some of these traits include that helped our ancestors to hunt down prey and compete more effectively with faster predators in the open plains of Africa include:

  • The decoupling of the shoulders allowed early humans’ bodies to rotate while the heads aims forward during running
  • Skull features that help regulate overheating during running
  • A taller body with a narrower pelvis, waist, and trunk.
  • The development of bigger buttock muscles, allowing for stabilization and power during running.
  • And so many other features that you can find out more about here.

In other words, we were all made to run from the get-go. Some scientists even go as far as to claim that running is one of the most transformative events in human history.

Who Was Thomas Running?

Who is Thomas Running, you ask? Well, he’s a social media sensation and the star of one of the funniest running memes out there. But when it comes to the evolution of running, he’s about as significant as a snail in a marathon. So let’s put the myth to rest once and for all, shall we?

Here’s the truth.

Despite what Google might tell you, Thomas Running had nothing to do with inventing running. In fact, he’s nothing more than a figment of the internet’s wild imagination. I mean, seriously, who comes up with this stuff?

This hilarious running meme goes like this:

I don’t know about you, but this meme is quite funny. It’s one of my favorite running memes. It’s up there with my other favorite running memes, like the one with the guy eating pizza while running a marathon. I mean, talk about multitasking!

The idea behind that trend was simple – inventions occur when someone tries to do something twice at the same time. A few years ago, this was part of a trend in writing funny posts about inventing.

Anyway, let’s get back to the task at hand. Just know that if you ever stumble upon other fictitious characters like Joshua Jogging or John Lie, they’re just as fake as Thomas Running. But who knows, maybe they’ll become the next viral sensation. The internet is a strange and wonderful place.

when invented running

When Was Running  – The History Of The Sport

Running has been a part of human history since ancient times, and it served different purposes depending on the era. Initially, early humans ran for survival, but as civilization evolved and agriculture and livestock were established, running was used for other reasons.

For instance, ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians employed messengers who ran long distances to deliver news because they were better equipped than horses to traverse unfriendly terrains and steep inclines.

Sure, they did have horses back in the day, but human messengers could traverse through unfriendly terrains and steep inclines.

The same ancient civilizations also organized sports and events during which running was the main attraction. Professional runners back in the day were treated like rockstars.

Running As a Symbol

Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians organized sports and events where running was the main attraction. The Sed festival in ancient Egypt was one of the most important ceremonies of kingship and is considered one of the earliest and longest-running rituals in Egyptian history, dating back more than 3,000 years B.C. Evidence shows that the ritual survived through the Roman conquest of Egypt around 2000 years ago.

So what was it all about?

Also known as the Heb Sed or Feast of the Tail, the Sed festival consisted of ancient Egyptian rituals and ceremonies that celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. This massive occasion was introduced thirty years into the Pharaoh’s reign, and it was repeated every three months until his death.

The Sed festival consisted of several stages. It’s believed that the king would make different offerings to the gods. Then, he’d run four laps on the course that was designed to represent the lands of Egypt.

During the four laps run, the Pharaoh changes his clothes twice, wearing the royal regalia of upper Egypt for the first two laps, then changing into clothing for lower Egypt for the last two laps.

At the end of the jubilee, the king would hold a lavish coronation ceremony that symbolizes the renewal of his rule.

These ceremonies’ most reliable archeological evidence comes from relief cycles dating back to the Fifth Dynasty king Neuserra (around 2500 B.C.) in his sun temple at Abu Ghurab at East Karnak.

Another strong piece of evidence consists of relief cycles dating to King Osorkon II, the fifth king of the Twenty-second Dynasty of Ancient Egypt and the son of King Takelot I and Queen Kapes.

During the Ptolemaic Period (around 300 B.C.), the Sed festival was translated into Greek as the ‘thirty-year festival,” and famous kings like Ramesses II and Amenhotep III celebrated their first ceremony around the 30th year of their reign, and after that, each third year.

But was it all fun and games?

That’s where most experts beg to differ.

Some historians consider the Sed festival to be primarily ceremonial and symbolized the Pharaoh’s old age. Others suggest that it was intended to symbolize the rule of the king reaching all parts of Egypt.

However, some historians believe that the Sed festival had a more practical purpose behind it. If the king fell short of completing the course, it meant they were no longer fit to rule.

The consequences of such a “DNF” are no longer known, but some historians suggested that the unfit king would be sacrificed to make way for a younger and fitter successor.

In other words, a pharaoh gassing out before finishing the four laps was equal to a death sentence, making it a compelling incentive to finish the race.

Additional resource – How many miles is a 100-mile race?

Running As A Competition

It’s time to talk about one of the oldest sports in history – running. You might think running is just a way to escape your annoying neighbor, but it’s actually been a competitive sport for centuries!

So when was running actually used as a sport?

Running, as a competition, grew out of religious rituals and festivals in different regions. Proof of competitive racing goes back to the Tailteann Games in Ireland, whereas the first recorded Olympic Games were born a few hundred years later in the town of Olympia, ancient Greece.

Let’s dive into the monumental times of the history of running.

The Tailtean Games – The First Olympics?

The earliest recorded competitive races were held during the Tailteann Games in Ireland, way back in 600 to 1100 B.C.

These Irish lads and lasses knew how to honor their goddess and queen Tailtin in style! And what better way to do it than with a little friendly competition?

They had events like the high jump, long jump, and even spear throwing. Now that’s what I call a sporting event!

But they didn’t stop there, oh no.

They also had archery, boxing, sword fighting, and even chariot racing! That’s right, you heard me. These guys were like the ancient version of Ben-Hur.

The Olympic Games

Ah, the ancient Olympics, the original games that put the “ooh” in Zeus.

The first one took place way back in 776 BC in Greece. And get this, and it wasn’t just a competition, but a religious festival too! That’s right, they were honoring the Greek god Zeus. Now that’s one way to get the big man upstairs on your side.

But don’t think the ancient Olympics were some small-town affair. Nope. Around the eighth century B.C., participants poured in from a dozen or more Greek cities and a couple of centuries thereafter, from as many as 100 cities throughout the Greek empire.

Talk about a rise in popularity!

It was like the Super Bowl but with togas and olive wreaths instead of helmets and shoulder pads. And the first event? You guessed it, running.

These guys were the original track and field start. But back then, it was a sprint, with a distance of around 200 yards, give or take.

And the venue? The stadion race took place in a building called a stadion. Sounds a lot like “stadium”, right? Well, that’s because it is!

In 720 BC, Dolichos, which was a long-distance running race, was added to the festival. Other competitions were added around 724 B.C., such as boxing, wrestling, and chariot racing—among others. These guys weren’t messing around.

But here’s the kicker: the main event wasn’t even the sports competitions! Nope, it was a sacrifice. About 100 oxen were sacrificed and burned on the Altar of Zeus on the third day. Talk about a feast fit for the gods.

But all good things must come to an end, and in 393 AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I put the kibosh on the festivities. He wanted to spread Christianity and squash paganism in the Roman Empire, and the Olympic games were one of his targets.

The Marathon Legend

Buckle up, folks! Here’s the heroic and tragic tale of Pheidippides, the original marathoner!

Legend has it that a Greek soldier named Pheidippides had to run from the Battlefields of Marathon to Athens—about 25 miles—to deliver the news of victory against the invading Persian forces in the decisive battle of Marathon. Imagine running that distance after an intense battle! What a guy!

But wait, there’s more! Contrary to popular belief, Pheidippides wasn’t exactly a professional athlete who trained for such an endurance feat.

He was just a regular soldier who had to deliver a message. Yikes, that’s like getting called in to work on your day off!

And here’s the heartbreaking part: Pheidippides collapsed on the floor after delivering the news, and sadly, he died on the scene. Talk about giving your all for the job! So, let’s all take a moment of silence to honor Pheidippides, the OG marathoner who truly gave his life for the job.

The Invention of Jogging – Running For Recreational Means

Oh, the history of jogging! It goes way back to the 16th century, according to the record books. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, for jogging back then was a whole different ball game compared to the accessible activity we know today.

Back then, Jogging was reserved for the upper classes and the nobility, with swordsmen using it as a training technique to develop endurance and stamina.

I mean, if you could afford to jog, you were probably royalty!

Fast forward a few centuries, and jogging started making its way into the mainstream fitness world, with athletes and trainers incorporating it into their programs. But it wasn’t until recently that the jogging craze hit the US like a ton of bricks.

Suddenly, it seemed like everyone was running, from soccer moms to college students, even dogs! What sparked this sudden boom in popularity? Perhaps it’s our constant need to stay fit and healthy, or maybe we just like to run away from our problems (literally). Either way, jogging has come a long way from its noble roots and has become a staple in the lives of millions.

Additional Resource  – Here’s your guide to advanced running metrics

The Guy(s) Behind The Trend

Let me take you on a journey to discover the true heroes behind the running boom in the US, my friend. It all started with Arthur Lydiard, an Olympic track coach from New Zealand, who founded the Auckland Jogger Club.

He was a real visionary, my man, who saw the potential in logging the miles as a way to improve physical fitness and mental well-being. Then, Bill Bowerman, a University of Oregon track coach, went jogging with Lydiard in New Zealand and was instantly hooked. He brought this newfound love back to the US and published a book called “Jogging” (1967), which caused a cultural uproar and set off a nationwide running craze.

The book was followed by a wave of endorsements from health authorities, praising jogging’s benefits for heart health and overall physical fitness. Soon after, the U.S. National Jogging Association was founded in 1968 to promote the pastime of logging miles and spreading the joy of running.

Another event that contributed to the fame of running in the US was the victory of American Frank Shorter in the Olympic Marathon in 1972, spurring up the running boom of the ’70s. It was like a shot of adrenaline to the running community, and the sport exploded in popularity.

Surveys reveal that more than 25 million people took up running in the US during that era, including Ex American president Jimmy Carter and famous Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood. Now that’s what I call a running revolution, my friend

Additional Resource – 20 Fun Facts about running

The Role of Capitalism

Hold onto your running shoes, folks, we’re about to delve into the role of capitalism in the rise of running as a recreational sport! Enter Nike, the behemoth sportswear company with a big stake in making running a household name.

Let me give you some perspective. In 2022, Nike spent more than 3.8 billion on marketing alone. That’s more than the GDP of a small country such as Suriname, Belize, or Andorra. Thanks to such a great marketing budget, Nike can promote running like it was going out of style (which it definitely wasn’t).

In addition to advertising, they also started investing heavily in shoe and gear design, creating innovative and high-performance products that made runners feel like they were gliding on clouds.

And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a new pair of flashy sneakers to show off at the next group run? Thanks to Nike’s efforts (and some might say, their borderline obsessive focus on dominating the sportswear industry), running exploded in popularity like never before.

Suddenly, everyone and their mother was lacing up their shoes and hitting the pavement. Of course, some people might argue that this is just another example of capitalism exploiting a trend for profit. But hey, as long as we get to enjoy the benefits of better gear and more accessibility to the sport, we’ll keep on running, right?

Of course, Nike is just one company. The running and fitness markets are way, way, bigger.

When Was Running Invented – Historic  Moments & Events

Here’s a simplified timeline of some of the most monumental moments in running history.

490 B.C. – Pheidippides allegedly ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of victory over the Persians, a distance of about 26 miles, which ultimately led to his death. This event is said to be the origin of the modern-day marathon.

1896 – The first modern Olympic games were held in Athens, Greece, and included 100-meter and 400-meter sprint and marathon events.

1896 – 18 men participated in the first Olympic Marathon event in Athen, with the winner crossing the finish line at 2:58:50

1897 – The inception of the Boston Marathon by John Graham, inspired by the first Olympic game that took place the year before. The original route covered a distance of 24.5 miles—or 39.42 kilometers.

1908 – The Summer Olympics were organized in London and featured one of the most iconic marathon events, giving birth to the official marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Learn more about that historic moment here.

1909 – The birth of what’s known as the marathon mania, with various races taking place in New York during special days such as Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas.

1947 – According to Google, Thomas Running is credited for the sport while trying to walk twice at the same time or something like that.

1960 – The legendary Ethiopian Abebe Bikila not only sets a world marathon record and takes the gold, but he does so barefoot. The event took place during the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

1972 – After winning the gold at the Berlin 1972 Olympics, the victor, the American marathoner Frank Shorter, inspired millions of people to take up running in what’s often referred to as the “Running Boom of the 1970s”.

1981 – The London Marathon enters the scene, making it Europe’s largest event.

1982 – The NCAA adds women’s track and field events.

1984 – The birth of the first official women’s Marathon at the Los Angels Olympics in California, the U.S. That’s when Joan Benoit became the first woman to cross the finish line of the Olympics Game marathon, finishing in 2:24:52.

1986 – The birth of David Dack. And the first time, prize money was awarded to Boston Marathon winners.

1987 – The three-time Olympic gold medalist, Jack Joyner, became the first female runner to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The caption of the photo read ‘Super Woman”.

1988 – The Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the Seol Olympics.

2005- The minimalist running movement became trendy after Vibram released its Five-fingers shoes.

2016 – Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes completes 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 successive days, setting himself as a legend in the running world.

2007 – Over 38,607 runners joined the New York City Marathon, making it the largest-ever Marathon.

2009 – Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” tops the New York Times best settler list, making minimalist running the new trend in town.

Additional Resource – Here’s your guide to cross-country running

Who Invented Running  – The Conclusion

Hopefully, knowing more about “when running was invented,”  as well as the evolution and history of running will inspire you to log in more miles and make the most out of the sport.

So are we really born to run?

The science is not lying.

Our ability to run long distances is a major reason why we are still here today.

The ability has deep roots in human evolution—and there’s no doubt about that.

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