The Meaningful History of Running

For the Love of Running: A Companion (2017 edition) by Paul Owen


History of Running

Evidence of organised running, taking place almost 6,000 years ago, has been found in Ancient Egypt. Runners were then used widely in Ancient Greece to courier messages huge distances, long before professional runners existed in the 1700s.

Events such as Paper Chase consisted of a lead runner (the ‘hare’) laying a paper trail for other runners (the ‘hounds’) to chase. This would soon lead to the formation of modern running clubs, some of which contain ‘harriers’ (meaning hounds) in their names. Modern sports such as rugby and football also have their roots in running.

Meaning of Running

As famous coach Bill Bowerman highlighted, if you can find personal attachment in running then life will become richer

Running distracts you from any negativity in your life (attributed to Monte Davis) and motivates you to make more effort to achieve greater results (explained by Oprah). If you listen to you body you will find over time you can tolerate more and better respect your limits (outlined by John Bingham).

Running requires a masterful control of emotions and reasoning, where the only enemy is oneself (suggested by Glenn Cunningham).

Fascinating Facts

Now that marathon races are held across the globe, a lucrative industry that produces impressive records has developed.

The oldest races in the USA are the Buffalo Turkey Trot in New York (since 1896), the Boston Marathon (since 1897), and the Yonkers Marathon (since 1907). The world’s longest standing ultramarathons include the Comrades Marathon (since 1921), the Pieter Korkie 50km (since 1948) and the London 2 Brighton 100km (since 1951).

  • The longest streak in the same event was set by Mike McLeod in 1989, having won the Saltwell Harriers 10k sixteen times in a row
  • The UK’s David and Linda Major ran 1,050 marathons together as a married couple setting a new world record. 
  • In 1978, the quickest marathon run barefoot was set by India’s Shivnath Singh in  2:12:00
  • The largest footrace ever recorded was in the Philippines, with over 116,000 finishers.

Sadly, throughout history, running has also reflected gender and racial inequalities, as well as conflict between professionals and amateurs. Thankfully, more than ever  before, people are reaping the  personal and communal benefits of the sport.

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