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Long-distance runner

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Long-distance runner

"Long-distance track event" redirects here. For the speed skating events, see long track speed skating.

Long-distance running, or endurance running, is a form of continuous running over distances of at least five kilometres (3.1 miles). Physiologically, it is largely aerobic in nature and requires stamina.[1]

Among mammals, humans are well adapted for running significant distances, and particularly so among primates. The endurance running hypothesis suggests that running endurance in the Homo genus arose because travelling over large areas improved scavenging opportunities and allowed persistence hunting.[2] The capacity for endurance running is also found in migratory ungulates and a limited number of terrestrial carnivores, such as dogs, wolves and hyenas.[3]

In modern human society, long-distance running has multiple purposes: people may engage in it for physical exercise, for recreation, as a means of travel, for economic reasons, or for cultural reasons. Endurance running is often a component of physical military training and has been so historically. Professional running is most commonly found in the field of sports, although in pre-industrial times foot messengers would run to deliver information to distant locations. Long-distance running as a form of tradition or ceremony is known among the Hopi and Tarahumara people, among others.[4][5]

In the sport of athletics, long-distance events are defined as races covering three kilometres (1.86 miles) and above. The three most common types are track running, road running and cross country running, all of which are defined by their terrain – all-weather tracks, roads and natural terrain, respectively. Typical long-distance track races range from 3000 metres to 10,000 metres (6.21 miles), cross country races usually cover 5 to 12 km (3.1 to 7.45 miles), while road races can be significantly longer, reaching 100 kilometres (62.14 miles) and beyond. The Summer Olympics features three long-distance running events: the 5000 metres, 10,000 m and marathon (42.195 kilometres, or 26 miles and 385 yards).


Prehistoric running


Anthropological observations of modern hunter-gatherer communities have provided accounts for long distance running as a method for hunting among the Bushmen of the Kalahari,[6] American Indians,[7] and the Australian Aboriginals.[8] In this method, the hunter would run at a slow and steady pace between one hour and a few days, in an area where the animal has no place to hide. The animal, running in spurts, has to stop to pant in order to cool itself, but as the chase goes on it would not have enough time before it has to start running again, and after a while would collapse from exhaustion and heat.[9] The body structure of a skeleton of a 12 years old Nariokatome boy is suggested to prove that early humans from 1.5 million years ago were eating more meat and less plants, and hunted by running down animals.[10][11]

Ancient History

With developments in agriculture and culture, long distance running took more and more purposes other than hunting: religious ceremonies, delivering messages for military and political purposes, and sport.[9]


The Old Testament has few mentions of messengers running to deliver messages. For example, in 2 Samuel 18, two runners, Ahimaaz son of Zadok and a Cushite run to deliver King David the message of the death of his son Absalom. In Jeremia 51:31-32, two running messengers meet each other halfway to deliver the message about the loss of Babylon:

31 One post shall run to meet another, and one messenger to meet another, to shew the king of Babylon that his city is taken at one end, 32 And that the passages are stopped, and the reeds they have burned with fire, and the men of war are affrighted.

Running messengers are reported from early Sumer, were named lasimu[12] as military men as well as the king’s officials who disseminated documents throughout the kingdom by running.[13]  Ancient Greece was famous for its running messengers, who were named hemerodromoi, meaning “day runners”.[14] One of the most famous running messengers is Philippides, who according to the legend ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of the Greek over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. He collapsed and died as he delivered the message “we won”.[15]  While there are debates around the accuracy of this historical legend,[16] whether Philippides actually ran from Marathon to Athens or between other cities, how far this was, and if he was the one to deliver the victory message,[17] the marathon running event of 26.2 miles / 42 km is based on this legend.

Physiology of long-distance running

Humans are considered among the best distance runners among all running animals: game animals are faster over short distances, but they have less endurance than humans.[11] Unlike other primates whose bodies are designed to walk on four legs or climb trees, the human body has evolved into upright walking and running around 2-3 million years ago.[18]  The human body can endure long distance running through the following attributes:

  1. Bone and muscle structure: unlike quadruped mammals, which have their center of mass in front of the hind legs or limbs, in biped mammals including humans the center of mass lies right above the legs. This leads to different bone and muscular demands especially in the legs and pelvis.[18]
  2. Dissipation of metabolic heat: humans’ ability to cool the body by sweating through the body surface provides many advantages over panting through the mouth or nose. These include a larger surface of evaporation and independence of the respiratory cycle.[11] 

One distinction between upright walking and running is energy consumption during locomotion. While walking, humans consume about half the energy compared to running.[19]  Evolutionary biologists believe that the human ability to run over long distances has helped meat-eating humans to compete with other carnivores.[20]

In sport

Many sports feature a significant level of running in prolonged periods of play, including ball sports like association football and rugby league. However, continuous endurance running is exclusively found in racing sports. Most of these are individual sports, although team and relay forms also exist.

The most prominent long-distance running sports are grouped within the sport of athletics, where running competitions are held on strictly defined courses and the fastest runner to complete the distance wins. The foremost types are long-distance track running, road running and cross-country running. Both track and road races are usually timed, while cross country races are not usually timed and only the placing is of importance.[21] Other less popular variants such as fell running, trail running, mountain running and tower running combine the challenge of distance with a significant incline or change of elevation as part of the course.[22][23]

Multisport races frequently include endurance running. Triathlon, as defined by the International Triathlon Union, may feature running sections ranging from five kilometres (3.1 mi) to the marathon distance (42.195 kilometres, or 26 miles and 385 yards), depending on the race type.[24] The related sport of duathlon is a combination of cycling and distance running.[25] Previous versions of the modern pentathlon incorporated a three or four kilometre (1.9–2.5 mi) run, but changes to the official rules in 2008 meant the running sections are now divided into three separate legs of one kilometre each (0.6 mi).[26]

Depending on the rules and terrain, navigation sports such as foot orienteering and rogaining may contain periods of endurance running within the competition.[27] Variants of adventure racing may also combine navigational skills and endurance running in this manner.[28]

Running competitions

Track running

The history of long-distance track running events is tied into the track and field stadia where they are held. Oval circuits allow athletes to cover long distances in a confined area. Early tracks were usually on flattened earth or were simply marked areas of grass. The style of running tracks became refined during the 20th century: the oval running tracks were standardised to 400 metres in distance and cinder tracks were replaced by synthetic all-weather running track of asphalt and rubber from the mid-1960s onwards. It was not until the 1912 Stockholm Olympics that the standard long-distance track events of 5000 metres and 10,000 metres were introduced.

  • The 5000 metres is a premier event that requires tactics and superior aerobic conditioning. Training for such an event may consist of a total of 60–200 kilometers (37–124 miles) a week, although training regimens vary greatly. The 5000 is often a popular entry-level race for beginning runners.

The world record for men:

For women:

The world record for men:

  • Kenenisa Bekele in 26:17.53 (22.83km/h), set in 2005

For women:

  • Wang Junxia of China in 29:31.78 (20.32km/h), set on September 8, 1993
Main article: One hour run

The one hour run is an endurance race that is rarely contested, except in pursuit of world records. The 20,000 metres is also rarely contested, and all world records in the 20,000 metres have been set while in a one hour run race

Road running

Main article: Road running

Long-distance road running competitions are mainly conducted on courses of paved or tarmac roads, although major events often finish on the track of a main stadium. In addition to being a common recreational sport, the elite level of the sport – particularly marathon races – are one of the most popular aspects of athletics. Road racing events can be of virtually any distance, but the most common and well known are the marathon, half marathon and 10 km run.

The sport of road running finds its roots in the activities of footmen: male servants who ran alongside the carriages of aristocrats around the 18th century, and who also ran errands over distances for their masters. Foot racing competitions evolved from wagers between aristocrats, who pitted their footman against that of another aristocrat in order to determine a winner. The sport became professionalised as footmen were hired specifically on their athletic ability and began to devote their lives to training for the gambling events. The amateur sports movement in the late 19th century marginalised competitions based on the professional, gambling model. The 1896 Summer Olympics saw the birth of the modern marathon and the event led to the growth of road running competitions through annual public events such as the Boston Marathon (first held in 1897) and the Lake Biwa Marathon and Fukuoka Marathons, which were established in the 1940s. The 1970s running boom in the United States made road running a common pastime and also increased its popularity at the elite level.[29]

The marathon is the only road running event featured at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics and the Summer Olympics, although there is also the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships held every two years. The marathon is also the only road running event featured at the IPC Athletics World Championships and the Summer Paralympics. The World Marathon Majors series includes the six most prestigious marathon competitions at the elite level – the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, Tokyo, and New York City marathons.

Ekiden contests – which originated in Japan and remain very popular there – are a relay race variation on the marathon, being in contrast to the typically individual sport of road running.

Cross country running

Main article: Cross country running

Cross country running is the most naturalistic form of long-distance running in athletics as competitions take place on open-air courses over surfaces such as grass, woodland trails, and earth. In contrast to the relatively flat courses in track and road races, cross country usually incorporates obstacles such as muddy sections, logs and mounds of earth. As a result of these factors, weather can play an integral role in the racing conditions. Cross country is both an individual and team sport, as runners are judged on an individual basis and a points scoring method is used for teams. Competitions are typically races of 4 km (2.5 mi) or more which are usually held in autumn and winter. Cross country's most successful athletes often compete in long-distance track and road events as well.

The history of the sport is linked with the game of paper chase, or hare and hounds, where a group of runners would cover long distances to chase a leading runner, who left a trail of paper to follow. The Crick Run in England in 1838 was the first recorded instance of an organised cross country competition. The sport gained popularity in British, then American schools in the 19th century and culminated in the creation of the first International Cross Country Championships in 1903.[30] The annual IAAF World Cross Country Championships was inaugurated in 1973 and this remains the highest level of competition for the sport. A number of continental cross country competitions are held, with championships taking place in Asia, Europe, North America and South America. The sport has retained its status at the scholastic level, particularly in the United Kingdom and United States. At the professional level, the foremost competitions come under the banner of the IAAF Cross Country Permit Meetings.

While cross country competitions are no longer held at the Olympics, having featured in the athletics programme from 1912–1924, it has been present as one of the events within the modern pentathlon competition since the 1912 Summer Olympics. Fell running, trail running and mountain running can all be considered variations on traditional cross country which incorporate significant uphill and/or downhill sections as an additional challenge to the course.

Notable long-distance track athletes


  • Salvatore Antibo Winner of 5000m 10,000 double at 1990 European Championships in Athletics in Split
  • Saïd Aouita, was ranked among the world's best at all distances between 800 metres and 5000 m in the 1980s, a gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics, and like Nurmi, was the world record holder for 1500 m, 3:29.46 in 1985, and 5000 m, 13:00.40 in 1985 and 12:58.39 in 1987
  • Bernard Barmasai, steeplechase world record holder
  • Dieter Baumann, gold medalist in the 5000 m at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona
  • Kenenisa Bekele, set the current 5000 m world record of 12:37.35 at Hengelo, Netherlands and set the current 10,000 m world record of 26:17:53 at Brussels, Belgium, and is the gold medalist in the 10,000 m at the 2004 Olympics, 2005 World Championships, 2007 World Championships, 2008 Olympics, and 2009 World Championships. He is also the gold medalist in the 5000 m at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships.
  • Abebe Bikila, double Olympic marathon champion in 1960 and 1964, most famous for winning the marathon in the 1960 Summer Olympics while running barefoot.
  • Brahim Boulami, steeplechase world record holder
  • Christopher Chataway, set a 5000 m world record of 13 minutes 51.6 seconds in 1954, and was a pacesetter when Roger Bannister ran the first ever sub-4 minute mile that same year
  • Ron Clarke, held the 10,000 meter world record for eight years
  • Eamonn Coghlan, World 5000m champion 1983
  • Mo Farah, Winner of 5000m and 10,000m double at 2010 European Athletics Championships in Barcelona, with a successive double victory in the 5000m and 10,000m races of the 2012 London Olympic Games
  • Hicham El Guerrouj, double gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and the reigning world record holder for the 1,500 metres, 3:26.00, the mile 3:43.13 and 2,000 metres, 4:44.79. He also captured the World Championship 5000m silver medal in 2003 and the Olympic 5000m gold medal in 2004.
  • Haile Gebrselassie, considered one of the greatest distance runners of all time, was the 1996 and 2000 Olympic gold medalist in the 10,000 m, and held the 5000 m and 10,000 m world records from 1998 until 2004 with a mark of 12:39.36 and 26:22.75 respectively (still the second best athlete of all time). He also held the marathon world record from September 2007 to September 2011.
  • Volmari Iso-Hollo, winner of 3000 m steeplechase at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics
  • Ben Jipcho, steeplechase world record holder
  • Kipchoge Keino, the first of many great distance runners from Kenya, who won gold in at the 1968 Olympics in the 1500 m and at the 1972 Olympics in the steeplechase
  • Wilson Boit Kipketer, steeplechase world champion and world record holder
  • Moses Kiptanui, thrice world champion, held two world records
  • Hannes Kolehmainen, Finnish, the original Flying Finn, winner of four Olympic gold medals
  • [1], as well as past world record holder in the 5000.
  • Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak Won 5000 m and 10 000 m double at 1958 European Championships in Athletics. Won 3,000m steeplechase at the 1960 Summer Olympics two months after setting 3,000m steeplechase world record of 8.31.4.
  • Taisto Mäki, held the two miles, 5000 m and 10,000 m world records simultaneously for three years. The first man to run 10,000 m in under half an hour.
  • Fernando Mamede Portuguese athlete and former world-record holder. However, he never won any top level competition
  • Billy Mills, the only American ever to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 m, a surprising upset at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
  • Alain Mimoun, French runner who competed in track events, cross-country running and the marathon. He competed internationally for France on 86 occasions. He is the most medalled French athletics sportsperson in history. He won the 1956 Olympics marathon gold medal and 3 Olympic silver medals (1948 - 10,000 m; 1952 - 5,000 m and 10,000 m). He won 4 individual and 6 team titles at the International Cross Country Championships and was a four-time gold medallist at the Mediterranean Games, where he completed the 5,000 m/10,000 m double in both 1951 and 1955. From 1947 to 1966, he won a total of 29 senior titles in the 5000 m, 10000 m, marathon and cross-country events of the French national athletics championships.
  • Noureddine Morceli a retired Algerian athlete, winner of the 1500 m run at the 1996 Summer Olympics, as well the gold medal in various world championships, in the 1990s, he held various world records, including 1500 m, the mile, 2000 m, and 5000 m
  • David Moorcroft, set the world record for 5000 m on July 7, 1982, in Oslo, at the Bislett Games with a time of 13:00.41
  • Paavo Nurmi, Finnish,Regarded as the greatest track and field athlete of all time and winner of nine Olympic gold medals (despite missing 1932 games in a professional controversy over travel expenses), setting world records at distances between 1500 m and 20 km, and one of the Flying Finns
  • Alan Webb, American, record holder for the American mile and the records for high school and high school sophomores.
  • Steve Prefontaine, American middle- and long-distance athlete.
  • Miruts Yifter, aka 'Yifter the Shifter', an Ethiopian winner of two golds at the 1980 Olympics
  • Gaston Reiff, 3000 meters world record holder for five years, Olympic gold on the 1948 5000 meters
  • Ville Ritola, winner of five Olympic gold medals
  • Gaston Roelants, Olympic gold medal winner and world record holder on the 3000 meter steeplechase
  • Henry Rono, a Kenyan runner who set several world records in 1978, and again broke the 5000 meters world record in 1981
  • Paul Tergat, world record holder in the marathon 2003 - September 2007
  • Juha Väätäinen, Finnish Won 5000 m and 10,000 m double at the 1971 European Athletics Championships in Helsinki.
  • Lasse Virén, Finnish winner of four gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics
  • Emil Zátopek, winner of one silver and four gold medals at the 1948 Olympics and 1952 Olympics and the first to break the 29 minute barrier in the 10,000 m run, in 1954


  • Wang Junxia, set 10,000 m world record of 29:31.78, the first-ever sub-30 minute performance by a woman, which broke the former record by 42 seconds. Also holds the 3,000 m world record of 8:06.11. World Champion for 10,000 m in 1993, Olympic Champion at 5000 m and silver medalist at 10,000 m at the Atlanta 1996 Games. Won numerous Asian titles at 5000m and 10,000m from 1992-1996. Only lost one 10,000 m race her entire career.
  • Paula Radcliffe, multiple world record holder on the roads, marathon world record holder with a 2:15.25 performance, half marathon and cross country World Champion, fifth fastest at 10,000 m.
  • Tirunesh Dibaba, current Olympic Champion at both 5000 m and 10,000 m (the first woman to win this double). The second women to break 30 minutes after world record holder Wang Junxia.
  • Derartu Tulu, 10,000 m gold medalist in 1992 and 2000, and the first woman from sub-Saharan Africa ever to win an Olympic gold medal
  • Meseret Defar, 2004 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist at 5000 m, World champion in 2007 and 2013 in 5000m, and former world record holder
  • Ingrid Kristiansen, world champion in the 10,000 m in 1987, she set five track world records
  • Elvan Abeylegesse, former holder of the world record at 5000 m, clocking 14:24:68 in 2004
  • Zola Budd, twice broke the world record in the women's 5000 m, running barefoot
  • Mary Decker, set six world records in 1982, at distances ranging from the mile to 10,000 meters
  • Tegla Loroupe, holds the world records in the one hour run, and for 20, 25 and 30 kilometer distances, and previously held the marathon world record
  • Sonia O'Sullivan, World Champion in 5000m in 1995, European Champion in 3000m in 1994, won double gold at the 1998 European Championships at 5000m and 10,000m. Won Long Race and Short Race double at the 1998 World Cross Country Championships. Olympic Silver medallist at 5000m in 2000.
  • Fernanda Ribeiro, European, World and Olympic 10,000 m gold medalist in 1994, 1995 and 1996, respectively
  • Gulnara Samitova, set 3000 m steeplechase world record, clocking 9:01.59, in 2004
  • Gabriela Szabo, Romanian who won the 2000 Olympic 5000 m gold medal in Sydney in a new Olympic record time of 14:40.79

See also


External links

  • Runner's World
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