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When was running invented? A brief history of running

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If you’re wondering: “When was running invented?” then you’re not alone.

Today, running is one of the world’s most popular and accessible sports, with thousands of people taking up running each year for its physical and mental benefits.

When we look back through history, running played a crucial role in early humans’ lives. The ability to run evolved out of the need to escape predators and hunt animals.

It wasn’t until much later around 632-1172 BC that competitive running emerged, with the first Olympic Games taking place in 776 BC. 

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • Who invented running?
  • When was running invented?
  • What is the ‘when was running invented 1748’ meme?
  • When was running invented as a type of exercise?
  • When was the marathon invented?
  • When was the 5k run invented?
  • When was the 10k run invented?

Ready?

Let’s get started!

when was running invented

Who invented running?

It’s important to note that running was never invented. 

As a human being, you have the natural ability to walk, run and jump. 

It is thought that human running evolved at least 4.5 million years ago out of the ability to walk upright on two legs. 

Running then became a necessary part of survival, giving humans a natural advantage when it came to hunting animals and escaping predators. 

Early humans most likely developed endurance running throughout the practice of ‘persistence hunting’ which involved the following and chasing of prey until it became too exhausted to flee.

Research suggests that the Achilles tendons, muscular glutes and big knee joints developed in early humans because of this activity. 

Related: How long does it take to run a mile?

when was running invented
Depiction of an early human

When was running invented?

Competitive running grew out of religious festivals in Greece, Asia, Egypt and East Africa. 

In fact, the earliest records of competitive running date back to 1829 BC at an ancient Irish sporting festival called the Tailteann Games

The first recorded Olympic Games took place in Ancient Greece in 776 BC. 

Running was an important part of Greek society, and is consistently referenced in Greek documents of the time. 

The Olympic Games hosted a variety of running events, and the Greeks developed specialised training programs in preparation for the Games.

The people of Greece enjoyed foot racing, in particular, and wealthy admirers would often give gifts to successful athletes. 

It was the ancient Greeks who eventually developed running into a sport and as a field in science and philosophy. 

The philosopher Plato argued that the whole body should be trained to increase strength and speed for running and wrestling. 

Aristotle later said that training the whole body “infuses it with courage”. 

Related: How to start running: 39 game-changing tips for beginners

What is the ‘when was running invented 1748’ meme?

If you type into Google: “When was running invented?” you may be presented with the infamous ‘when was running invented 1748’ meme.

This meme claims that running was invented by Thomas Running in 1748 when he tried to walk twice at the same time.

This meme is of course not true.

when was running invented
The ‘when was running invented 1748’ meme

When was running invented as a type of exercise?

Whilst running is extremely popular today, it wasn’t always seen as a popular hobby and exercise.

Modern running as an exercise as we know it today surprisingly didn’t gain popularity until the 1960s.  Before this time, running was mostly for athletes to build their strength and endurance

So what actually kick-started running? How did it become so popular?

It all started with the introduction of jogging in the 1960s in New Zealand. 

A group of former athletes and fitness enthusiasts, including renowned athletics coach Arthur Lydiard, would meet once a week for a fitness social.

The idea of jogging as an organised activity grew in popularity from there, with the local newspaper The New Zealand Herald reporting on the social activity in February 1962 and first using the term ‘jogger’.

University of Oregon athletics coach Bill Bowerman, after jogging with Arthur Lydiard in New Zealand in 1962, started a jogging club in early 1963.

He later published the book Jogging in 1966 which popularised jogging in the United States. 

From this point onwards, running became increasingly popular in the United States and across the world, with the rise of celebrity runners in the 1970s.

Celebrity runners like Steve Prefontaine helped to boost running’s mainstream appeal with the general public in the 1970s. 

When was the marathon invented?

The marathon has ancient origins.

According to The British Museum, when the Athenians learned that the Persians had landed at Marathon on the way to attack Athens in 490 BC, a messenger ran to Sparta with a request for help.

This original ‘marathon runner’ covered a whopping 260 kilometres in less than two days. The Persians were subsequently defeated at the Battle of Marathon. 

Whilst running was a key part of the ancient Olympic Games, long distance running events like the marathon were not included in the ancient Games.

The ‘stadion race’ (also known as a short sprint) was the only running event at the first 13 Olympic Games. 

Interestingly, this is where we get the term ‘stadium’, but these early races were performed on a straight track, not a circular one. 

Gradually over time, other foot races were added to the Olympic Games. 

The ‘diaulos’ consisted of two lengths of the stadium, while the ‘dolichos’ was a long distance race consisting of 20 to 24 lengths. 

The marathon as we know it today was not an event at the modern Olympic Games until 1896, with the first Olympic marathon measuring around 25 miles. 

The now standard length of 26 miles and 385 yards was originally run in the 1908 Olympic Games in London. 

when was running invented
Depiction of a Spartan warrior

When was the 5k run invented?

The 5000m run (also called a 5k run in road running) has been present in the Olympic Games since 1912 for men and since 1996 for women.

A 5000m run is almost the same length as the ‘dolichos’ race held at the ancient Olympic Games introduced in 726 BC. 

Referring to the distance in metres (5000m) rather than kilometres (5k) serves to differentiate the two events. 

Related: The ultimate beginner 5k training plan

When was the 10k run invented?

The 10,000m run (also called a 10k run in road running) was added to the Olympic Games in 1912. 

It is a common long distance track event and consists of 25 laps around an Olympic-sized track. 

As with the 5k, the distance is referred to in metres (10,000 metres) rather than kilometres (10k) to differentiate the events. 

Related: The ultimate beginner 10k training plan

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