Why did Usain run so slowly?

Because humans excel at endurance, not speed

July 23, 2022

Usain Bolt sprinting
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I have a suggestion for an article to follow up on the ones about speed running and about long endurance races.  This is to ask the question: what was the highest climb before 1850?  One claim was that of the famous explorer and scientist Baron Alexander von Humboldt, who wrote that he measured the height reached on the Chimborazo peak at 18,690 feet with a barometer ... in 1802.  Some writers claim that indigenous people in the area had scaled the 20,548 ft peak before that.  von Humboldt claimed to have made the highest ascent of all time ... was this so?

I read the account of Humboldt’s famous ascent in the scientific-cum-humorous novel by Kehlmann (“Measuring the world”) and it left me doubtful.  He says that Bonpland had no gloves but used a cloth to cover his hands.  Without gloves to climb to 18,690 feet sounds improbable to me.  He also says that Humbold and Bonpland had “coats” which became torn during the descent.  Again improbable ... would one not need special protective clothing and thermal underwear, etc.?

I wonder.

Peter_G_Moll - 2022 11 04

Fascinating article about human endurance in long-distance running and “persistence hunting”. 

The graph of human versus sprint speeds, dramatic as it is, might be made more dramatic still by depicting the *average* human’s running speed rather than Usain Bolt’s.  For the average human’s 100m speed would probably be more like 15-20 km/h and the 400m speed well below this.  We average humans might beat chickens but not squirrels, hippos or even certain lizards.  How embarrassing.

Thanks for the scientific explanations behind humans’ poor sprinting and superlative persistence hunting—oxygen processing, fast-twitch fibres and sweating.  Persistence hunting is linked to human evolution, as you pointed out, because a regular supply of meat enabled the growth of the brain and of intelligence.  I think there may be an additional thread of argument that could strengthen the whole: you mentioned a *regular* supply of meat.  Persistence hunting ensures a regular supply of meat.  Whereas sprint hunting such as that of cheetahs would not ensure a regular supply because, I have heard, the success rate of most fast predators is only ten percent of all sallies.  I would guess, then, that the fast predators have to be able to survive long periods without high-caloric food, which would have been inimical to growth of the brain.

Peter_G_Moll - 2022 08 20

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