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Are we born to run?

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    Running: it's basically just
    right, left, right, left, yeah?
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    I mean, we've been doing it
    for two million years,
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    so it's kind of arrogant to assume
    that I've got something to say
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    that hasn't been said and performed
    better a long time ago.
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    But the cool thing about running,
    as I've discovered,
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    is that something bizarre happens
    in this activity all the time.
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    Case in point: A couple months ago,
    if you saw the New York City Marathon,
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    I guarantee you, you saw something
    that no one has ever seen before.
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    An Ethiopian woman named Derartu Tulu
    turns up at the starting line.
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    She's 37 years old.
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    She hasn't won a marathon
    of any kind in eight years,
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    and a few months previously,
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    she had almost died in childbirth.
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    Derartu Tulu was ready to hang it up
    and retire from the sport,
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    but she decided she'd go for broke
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    and try for one last big payday
    in the marquee event,
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    the New York City Marathon.
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    Except -- bad news for Derartu Tulu --
    some other people had the same idea,
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    including the Olympic gold medalist,
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    and Paula Radcliffe, who is a monster,
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    the fastest woman marathoner
    in history by far.
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    Only 10 minutes
    off the men's world record,
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    Paula Radcliffe is essentially unbeatable.
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    That's her competition.
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    The gun goes off, and -- I mean,
    she's not even an underdog;
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    she's, like, under the underdogs.
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    But the under-underdog hangs tough,
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    and 22 miles into a 26-mile race,
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    there is Derartu Tulu,
    up there with the lead pack.
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    Now, this is when something
    really bizarre happens.
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    Paula Radcliffe, the one person
    who is sure to snatch the big paycheck
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    from Derartu Tulu's under-underdog hands,
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    suddenly grabs her leg
    and starts to fall back.
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    So we all know what to do
    in this situation, right?
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    You give her a quick crack
    in the teeth with your elbow
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    and blaze for the finish line.
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    Derartu Tulu ruins the script.
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    Instead of taking off,
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    she falls back and she grabs
    Paula Radcliffe,
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    and says, "Come on.
    Come with us. You can do it."
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    So Paula Radcliffe,
    unfortunately, does it.
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    She catches up with the lead pack
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    and is pushing toward the finish line.
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    But then she falls back again.
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    The second time, Derartu Tulu
    grabs her and tries to pull her.
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    And Paula Radcliffe, at that point,
    says, "I'm done. Go."
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    So that's a fantastic story,
    and we all know how it ends.
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    She loses the check,
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    but she goes home with something
    bigger and more important.
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    Except Derartu Tulu
    ruins the script again.
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    Instead of losing, she blazes
    past the lead pack and wins.
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    Wins the New York City Marathon,
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    goes home with a big fat check.
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    It's a heartwarming story,
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    but if you drill a little bit deeper,
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    you've got to sort of wonder
    about what exactly was going on there.
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    When you have two outliers
    in one organism,
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    it's not a coincidence.
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    When you have someone who is more
    competitive and more compassionate
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    than anybody else in the race,
    again, it's not a coincidence.
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    You show me a creature
    with webbed feet and gills;
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    somehow water's involved.
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    Someone with that kind of heart,
    there's some kind of connection there.
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    And the answer to it,
    I think, can be found
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    down in the Copper Canyons of Mexico,
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    where there's a reclusive tribe,
    called the Tarahumara Indians.
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    Now, the Tarahumara
    are remarkable for three things.
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    Number one is:
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    they have been living essentially
    unchanged for the past 400 years.
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    When the conquistadors arrived
    in North America you had two choices:
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    you either fight back and engage
    or you could take off.
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    The Mayans and Aztecs engaged,
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    which is why there are very few
    Mayans and Aztecs.
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    The Tarahumara had a different strategy.
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    They took off and hid
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    in this labyrinthine, networking,
    spider-webbing system of canyons
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    called the Copper Canyons.
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    And there they've remained
    since the 1600s,
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    essentially the same way
    they've always been.
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    The second thing remarkable
    about the Tarahumara is:
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    deep into old age -- 70 to 80 years old --
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    these guys aren't running marathons;
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    they're running mega-marathons.
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    They're not doing 26 miles,
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    they're doing 100, 150 miles at a time,
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    and apparently without injury,
    without problems.
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    The last thing that's remarkable
    about the Tarahumara is:
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    all the things we're going
    to be talking about today,
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    all the things we're trying to use
    all of our technology
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    and brain power to solve --
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    things like heart disease
    and cholesterol and cancer;
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    crime, warfare and violence;
    clinical depression -- all this stuff --
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    the Tarahumara don't know
    what you're talking about.
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    They are free from all
    of these modern ailments.
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    So what's the connection?
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    Again, we're talking about outliers;
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    there's got to be some kind
    of cause and effect.
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    Well, there are teams of scientists
    at Harvard and the University of Utah
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    that are bending their brains
    and trying to figure out
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    what the Tarahumara have known forever.
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    They're trying to solve
    those same kinds of mysteries.
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    And once again, a mystery
    wrapped inside of a mystery --
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    perhaps the key to Derartu Tulu
    and the Tarahumara
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    is wrapped in three other
    mysteries, which go like this:
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    Three things -- if you have the answer,
    come up and take the microphone,
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    because nobody else knows the answer.
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    If you know it, you're smarter
    than anybody on planet Earth.
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    Mystery number one is this:
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    Two million years ago,
    the human brain exploded in size.
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    Australopithecus
    had a tiny little pea brain.
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    Suddenly humans show up,
    Homo erectus, big old melon head.
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    To have a brain of that size,
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    you need to have a source
    of condensed caloric energy.
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    In other words, early humans
    are eating dead animals --
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    no argument, that's a fact.
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    The only problem is,
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    the first edged weapons only appeared
    about 200,000 years ago.
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    So somehow, for nearly two million years,
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    we are killing animals
    without any weapons.
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    Now, we're not using our strength,
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    because we are the biggest
    sissies in the jungle.
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    Every other animal
    is stronger than we are,
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    they have fangs, they have claws,
    they have nimbleness, they have speed.
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    We think Usain Bolt is fast.
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    Usain Bolt can get
    his ass kicked by a squirrel.
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    We're not fast.
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    That would be an Olympic event:
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    turn a squirrel loose,
    whoever catches it gets a gold medal.
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    (Laughter)
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    So no weapons, no speed,
    no strength, no fangs, no claws.
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    How were we killing these animals?
    Mystery number one.
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    Mystery number two:
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    Women have been in the Olympics
    for quite some time now,
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    but one thing that's remarkable
    about all women sprinters:
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    they all suck; they're terrible.
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    There's not a fast woman on the planet
    and there never has been.
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    The fastest woman
    to ever run a mile did it in 4:15.
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    I could throw a rock
    and hit a high-school boy
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    who can run faster than 4:15.
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    For some reason,
    you guys are just really slow.
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    But --
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    (Laughter)
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    But, you get to the marathon
    we were just talking about --
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    you've only been allowed to run
    the marathon for 20 years,
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    because prior to the 1980s,
    medical science said
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    if a woman tried to run 26 miles --
    does anyone know what would happen
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    if you tried to run 26 miles?
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    Why you were banned
    from the marathon before the 1980s?
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    Audience Member: Her uterus would be torn.
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    Christopher McDougall:
    Her uterus would be torn, yes.
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    Torn reproductive organs.
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    The uterus would literally
    fall out of the body.
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    (Laughter)
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    Now, I've been to a lot of marathons,
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    and I've yet to see any ...
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    (Laughter)
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    So it's only been 20 years
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    that women have been allowed
    to run the marathon.
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    In that very short learning curve,
    you've gone from broken organs
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    up to the fact that you're only 10 minutes
    off the male world record.
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    Then you go beyond 26 miles,
    into the distance
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    that medical science also told us
    would be fatal to humans --
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    remember Pheidippides died
    when he ran 26 miles --
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    you get to 50 and 100 miles,
    and suddenly, it's a different game.
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    You take a runner like Ann Trason
    or Nikki Kimball or Jenn Shelton,
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    put them in a race of 50 or 100 miles
    against anybody in the world,
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    and it's a coin toss who's going to win.
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    I'll give you an example.
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    A couple years ago,
    Emily Baer signed up for a race
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    called the Hardrock 100,
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    which tells you all you need
    to know about the race.
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    They give you 48 hours
    to finish this race.
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    Well, Emily Baer -- 500 runners --
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    she finishes in eighth place,
    in the top 10,
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    even though she stopped
    at all the aid stations
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    to breastfeed her baby during the race.
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    (Laughter)
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    And yet, she beat 492 other people.
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    The last mystery:
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    Why is it that women get stronger
    as distances get longer?
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    The third mystery is this:
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    At the University of Utah,
    they started tracking finishing times
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    for people running the marathon.
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    What they found is that if you start
    running the marathon at age 19,
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    you'll get progressively
    faster, year by year,
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    until you reach your peak at age 27.
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    And then after that,
    you succumb to the rigors of time.
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    And you'll get slower and slower,
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    until eventually you're back to running
    the same speed you were at age 19.
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    So about seven, eight years
    to reach your peak,
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    and then gradually you fall off your peak,
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    until you go back to the starting point.
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    You'd think it might take eight years
    to go back to the same speed,
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    maybe 10 years -- no, it's 45 years.
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    64-year-old men and women
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    are running as fast
    as they were at age 19.
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    Now, I defy you to come
    up with any other physical activity --
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    and please don't say golf --
    something that's actually hard --
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    (Laughter)
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    where geriatrics are performing
    as well as they did as teenagers.
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    So you have these three mysteries.
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    Is there one piece in the puzzle
    which might wrap all these things up?
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    You've got to be careful anytime
    someone looks back in prehistory
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    and tries to give you
    a global answer because,
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    it being prehistory, you can say
    whatever the hell you want
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    and get away with it.
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    But I'll submit this to you:
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    If you put one piece in the middle
    of this jigsaw puzzle,
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    suddenly it all starts
    to form a coherent picture.
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    If you're wondering
    why the Tarahumara don't fight
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    and don't die of heart disease,
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    why a poor Ethiopian
    woman named Derartu Tulu
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    can be the most compassionate
    and yet the most competitive,
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    and why we somehow were able
    to find food without weapons,
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    perhaps it's because humans,
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    as much as we like to think of ourselves
    as masters of the universe,
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    actually evolved as nothing more
    than a pack of hunting dogs.
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    Maybe we evolved as a hunting pack animal.
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    Because the one advantage
    we have in the wilderness --
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    again, it's not our fangs,
    our claws or our speed --
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    the only thing we do really well is sweat.
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    We're really good
    at being sweaty and smelly.
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    Better than any other mammal
    on Earth, we can sweat really well.
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    But the advantage of that little bit
    of social discomfort
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    is the fact that, when it comes to running
    under hot heat for long distances,
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    we're superb -- the best on the planet.
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    You take a horse on a hot day,
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    and after about five or six miles,
    that horse has a choice:
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    it's either going to breathe
    or it's going to cool off.
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    But it ain't doing both. We can.
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    So what if we evolved
    as hunting pack animals?
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    What if the only natural advantage
    we had in the world
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    was the fact that we could
    get together as a group,
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    go out there on that African savanna,
    pick out an antelope,
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    go out as a pack,
    and run that thing to death?
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    That's all we could do.
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    We could run really far on a hot day.
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    Well, if that's true, a couple
    other things had to be true as well.
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    The key to being part
    of a hunting pack is the word "pack."
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    If you go out by yourself
    and try to chase an antelope,
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    I guarantee there will be two cadavers
    out in the savanna.
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    You need a pack to pull together.
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    You need to have
    those 64- and 65-year-olds
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    who have been doing this for a long time
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    to understand which antelope
    you're trying to catch.
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    The herd explodes
    and it gathers back again.
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    Those expert trackers
    have to be part of the pack.
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    They can't be 10 miles behind.
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    You need the women
    and the adolescents there,
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    because the two times in your life
    you most benefit from animal protein
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    is when you're a nursing mother
    and a developing adolescent.
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    It makes no sense to have
    the antelope over there, dead,
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    and the people who want
    to eat it 50 miles away.
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    They need to be part of the pack.
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    You need those 27-year-old studs
    at the peak of their powers
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    ready to drop the kill,
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    and you need those teenagers
    who are learning the whole thing involved.
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    The pack stays together.
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    Another thing that has to be true:
    this pack cannot be materialistic.
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    You can't be hauling all your crap around,
    trying to chase the antelope.
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    You can't be a pissed-off pack.
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    You can't be bearing grudges, like,
    "I'm not chasing that guy's antelope.
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    He pissed me off.
    Let him go chase his own antelope."
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    The pack has got to be able
    to swallow its ego,
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    be cooperative, and pull together.
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    What you end up with, in other words,
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    is a culture remarkably similar
    to the Tarahumara,
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    a tribe that has remained
    unchanged since the Stone Age.
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    It's a really compelling argument
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    that maybe the Tarahumara are doing
    exactly what all of us had done
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    for two million years,
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    that it's us in modern times
    who have sort of gone off the path.
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    You know, we look at running
    as this kind of alien, foreign thing,
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    this punishment you've got to do
    because you ate pizza the night before.
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    But maybe it's something different.
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    Maybe we're the ones who have taken
    this natural advantage we had
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    and we spoiled it.
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    How do we spoil it?
    Well, how do we spoil anything?
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    We try to cash in on it. Right?
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    We try to can it and package it
    and make it "better"
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    and then sell it to people.
  • 12:00 - 12:03
    And then what happened was,
    we started creating
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    these fancy cushioned things
    which can make running "better,"
  • 12:06 - 12:08
    called running shoes.
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    The reason I get personally
    pissed-off about running shoes
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    is because I bought a million of them
    and I kept getting hurt.
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    And I think if anybody in here runs --
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    I just had a conversation with Carol.
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    We talked for two minutes backstage,
    and she talked about plantar fasciitis.
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    You talk to a runner,
    I guarantee within 30 seconds,
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    the conversation turns to injury.
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    So if humans evolved as runners,
    if that's our one natural advantage,
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    then why are we so bad at it?
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    Why do we keep getting hurt?
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    A curious thing about running
    and running injuries
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    is that the running injury
    is new to our time.
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    If you read folklore and mythology,
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    any kind of myths, any kind of tall tales,
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    running is always associated
    with freedom and vitality
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    and youthfulness and eternal vigor.
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    It's only in our lifetime
    that running has become associated
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    with fear and pain.
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    Geronimo used to say, "My only friends
    are my legs. I only trust my legs."
  • 12:54 - 12:58
    That's because an Apache triathlon
    used to be you'd run 50 miles
  • 12:58 - 12:59
    across the desert,
  • 12:59 - 13:02
    engage in hand-to-hand combat,
    steal a bunch of horses,
  • 13:02 - 13:03
    and slap leather for home.
  • 13:03 - 13:07
    Geronimo was never saying, "You know
    something, my Achilles -- I'm tapering.
  • 13:07 - 13:08
    I've got to take this week off."
  • 13:08 - 13:11
    Or, "I need to cross-train.
    I didn't do yoga. I'm not ready."
  • 13:11 - 13:13
    (Laughter)
  • 13:13 - 13:15
    Humans ran and ran all the time.
  • 13:15 - 13:17
    We are here today.
    We have our digital technology.
  • 13:17 - 13:19
    All of our science comes from the fact
  • 13:19 - 13:23
    that our ancestors were able to do
    something extraordinary every day,
  • 13:23 - 13:25
    which was just rely
    on their naked feet and legs
  • 13:25 - 13:27
    to run long distances.
  • 13:27 - 13:29
    So how do we get back to that again?
  • 13:29 - 13:31
    Well, I would submit
    to you the first thing is:
  • 13:31 - 13:34
    get rid of all packaging,
    all the sales, all the marketing.
  • 13:34 - 13:36
    Get rid of all the stinking running shoes.
  • 13:36 - 13:38
    Stop focusing on urban marathons,
  • 13:38 - 13:41
    which, if you do four hours, you suck,
  • 13:41 - 13:43
    and if you do 3:59:59, you're awesome,
  • 13:43 - 13:45
    because you qualified for another race.
  • 13:45 - 13:48
    We need to get back to that sense
    of playfulness and joyfulness
  • 13:48 - 13:51
    and, I would say, nakedness,
  • 13:51 - 13:53
    that has made the Tarahumara
  • 13:53 - 13:55
    one of the healthiest and serene
    cultures in our time.
  • 13:56 - 13:58
    So what's the benefit? So what?
  • 13:58 - 14:01
    So you burn off the Häagen-Dazs
    from the night before.
  • 14:01 - 14:03
    But maybe there's another
    benefit there as well.
  • 14:03 - 14:06
    Without getting too extreme about this,
  • 14:06 - 14:11
    imagine a world where everybody
    could go out the door
  • 14:11 - 14:13
    and engage in the kind of exercise
  • 14:13 - 14:16
    that's going to make them
    more relaxed, more serene,
  • 14:16 - 14:17
    more healthy,
  • 14:17 - 14:19
    burn off stress --
  • 14:19 - 14:22
    where you don't come back into your office
    a raging maniac anymore,
  • 14:22 - 14:24
    or go home with a lot of stress
    on top of you again.
  • 14:24 - 14:27
    Maybe there's something
    between what we are today
  • 14:27 - 14:29
    and what the Tarahumara have always been.
  • 14:29 - 14:31
    I don't say let's go back
    to the Copper Canyons
  • 14:31 - 14:35
    and live on corn and maize,
    which is the Tarahumara's preferred diet,
  • 14:35 - 14:37
    but maybe there's somewhere in between.
  • 14:37 - 14:39
    And if we find that thing,
  • 14:39 - 14:41
    maybe there is a big fat
    Nobel Prize out there.
  • 14:41 - 14:46
    Because if somebody could find a way
    to restore that natural ability
  • 14:46 - 14:48
    that we all enjoyed
    for most of our existence
  • 14:48 - 14:50
    up until the 1970s or so,
  • 14:50 - 14:55
    the benefits -- social and physical
    and political and mental --
  • 14:55 - 14:57
    could be astounding.
  • 14:57 - 15:01
    What I've been seeing today
    is there is a growing subculture
  • 15:01 - 15:04
    of barefoot runners,
    people who've gotten rid of their shoes.
  • 15:04 - 15:06
    And what they have found uniformly is,
  • 15:06 - 15:08
    you get rid of the shoes,
    you get rid of the stress,
  • 15:08 - 15:11
    you get rid of the injuries
    and the ailments.
  • 15:11 - 15:13
    And what you find is something
    the Tarahumara have known
  • 15:13 - 15:15
    for a very long time:
  • 15:15 - 15:16
    that this can be a whole lot of fun.
  • 15:16 - 15:18
    I've experienced it personally myself.
  • 15:18 - 15:22
    I was injured all my life; then
    in my early 40s, I got rid of my shoes
  • 15:22 - 15:24
    and my running ailments
    have gone away, too.
  • 15:24 - 15:26
    So hopefully it's something
    we can all benefit from.
  • 15:26 - 15:29
    I appreciate your listening to this story.
  • 15:29 - 15:30
    Thanks very much.
  • 15:30 - 15:32
    (Applause)
Title:
Are we born to run?
Speaker:
Christopher McDougall
Description:

Christopher McDougall explores the mysteries of the human desire to run. How did running help early humans survive -- and what urges from our ancient ancestors spur us on today? At TEDxPennQuarter, McDougall tells the story of the marathoner with a heart of gold, the unlikely ultra-runner, and the hidden tribe in Mexico that runs to live.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
15:31
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Krystian Aparta edited English subtitles for Are we born to run?
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