Fitness Magazine

Why We Run - Bernd Heinrich

By Jamesrichardadams @jamesradams

Bernd Heinrich is probably the Indiana Jones of ultra running. His scientific research and ultra running credentials are amazing and this book is an absolute must read for anyone into distance running and the science behind it.Why We Run - Bernd Heinrich

Bernd was a very good runner at school, getting somewhere near the 4 minute mile as a kid. He put the running down for a while to work in Africa and developed further his love of the natural world. He worked as a biologist and became fascinated in the endurance and running capabilities of animals. He looked at nature and asked some of these questions;


  • How does a bumble bee or a moth flap it's wings 1000s of times a minute and not overheat? The thing should turn into a ball of flames.
  • How do birds manage to fly 3000 miles non-stop over several days without re-fueling? 
  • How can a Pronghorn Antelope run 10k in 7 minutes? What kind of VO2 Max would that require


He experimented and found the answers to these which make great reading. However the best bits are where he looks at the endurance capabilities of humans and experiments on himself.

Humans are endurance animals. This theory has been presented well in other books (Survival of the Fittest and Born to Run). We make lousy sprinters (Usain Bolt would lose a 100m race to most 4-legged mammals including rabbits). Our ability to go long and persistence hunt is what makes us unique in the animal kingdom. We have abilities to dissipate heat so that we can run in deserts rather than merely plod like camels. 

Bernd then puts his running shoes back on and starts training hard for races, running a 2.22 marathon and breaking the US 100k record in the process. He trained hard and experiemented based on what he learned from nature rather than running wisdom. My favourite experiment was where he left cans of beer on his long runs to pick up and drink.

I like books that reassure me that what I do is normal and sustainable. I liked this book a lot.


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