The need to run is as natural in humans as the need for food or sex. Running and walking were, during most of our evolution as a species, the only form of transit. If you wanted to get someplace you had to use your own two feet to get there. The other reason running is such an integral aspect of our morphology was that it was largely the mode that we used for hunting. Humans are exceptional distance runners in the animal kingdom and running long distances was our primary advantage over prey that was far faster than us, and had keener senses. We simply wore prey animals down until they couldn’t go any further, and killed them. Thus our prey indeed helped form us. Our incredible endurance, and being designed to run, was part of what made us the effective predators that we are.
I’ve always had a mild interest in primitive hunting cultures. Exploring available information on existing primitive cultures clearly reveals that natural hunters keep themselves in great shape not by training, but by merely and continuously hunting. These guys simply do. Hunting involves in most cases, whether you are talking about the bushmen of Africa, to the natives of and Amazon rainforest, to aborigines on remote islands of Indonesia, or even nomads living in northern Siberia, a lot of walking, climbing and continuous movement, some sprints, and the occasionally a really long run. Hunting itself is a natural fitness routine. There is no training plan for natural hunters, and these guys are super fit into old age (if they can avoid injury and disease). Of course, with the paleo/natural living movement gaining momentum this certainly isn’t an earth shattering stroke of enlightenment.
The question becomes: how can we modern hunters emulate this style of training to keep us naturally fit and make us better hunters? Most of us obviously aren’t able just to hunt all year round to stay fit. It seems the natural running movement has focused more recently on shoes, or lack thereof, and running form as opposed to natural running cycles. Let’s get back to a more natural routine.
This is my running story: I have been running for a bit over thirty years. My running started out like most kids. In the beginning we ran just because we were kids, and that is what kids do (at least used to do). Then in junior high I joined the track team. From that point on, through high school, until I was finished with my brief collegiate running career I had a training plan. I was always training for this or that race, and racing a lot. Sometimes I made my goals, which then automatically set the training bar higher, and sometimes I didn’t, which usually meant also raising the training level. My training plan was set by coaches, and usually didn’t pay much heed to the cyclical nature of the seasons. Often I was asked to train way too hard in the depth of icy cold Michigan winters. There didn’t seem to be a long term goal, except to get faster, and win more races. Eventually, I started feeling like I was running in circles, which indeed I was. And, I started having running nightmares, where no matter how hard I tried to run, other competitors kept passing me. Even though I was fairly talented, running just wasn’t fun anymore, so I ended my collegiate career with a promise to myself that I would never run a race again. Running would be just for me, and just for fun.
It only took me a few months break to really want to run again. I didn’t have a plan or goal for the first time in fifteen years. I just ran for the sake of running. Most of my runs would begin without any particular route in mind (I have been fortunate to have good and varying running trails nearby at almost every place I have lived. And I almost never had to run on pavement.), and without any distance in mind. Sometimes I would run for five minutes and turn around and come home. Other times I would run for a couple hours just because I felt good and had the time. Occasionally, I would rock up the steepest trail I could find, or toss in some hard mountain intervals just for fun. Other times I wouldn’t run at all. Even though running is for me my most important form of relaxation, some days I didn’t feel like it, and so I didn’t run. It had to be fun and feel good, that was my credo.
My running year usually saw an increase in running in direct relation to increasing sunlight which meant a training peak in July and then a drop off towards hunting season, during which running was almost completely replaced by hunting, only to be picked up again in winter and slowly increase once again through spring. This has become my natural running rhythm over the last fifteen years. There isn’t a certain distance or time that you have to be able to run to be fit enough to bow hunt. You just have to keep running, and your goal should instinctive and natural, not matter what the watch says. Your goal in running is to eventually make meat for your survival and the survival of your family. This is way better than collecting medals, or t-shirts, or whatever else it is they hand out at races.
The interesting thing about running completely by feeling was that in some years I was way faster and fitter than I ever was when I ran competitively, and I was very rarely injured. If I felt a pain here or there I would just stop and walk home. No stress, because I didn’t have a short term goal anyway, or a race coming up. If I did manage to overdo it and injure myself, I just stopped running for as long as it took to heal. Running can be replaced with long walks when there is no stop watch involved.
That is instinctive running for hunting, it’s that easy. It took me a long time to figure out that my running was a lot like the primal hunting that native hunters do around the world. I didn’t set out to run like run like that, it just happened. Nothing fantastic or new here; just listen to your body and run according to the seasons. When you feel good run hard, and when you don’t feel good don’t run hard. If something hurts take time to let it heal. The only race that means anything is the race against the animal you will be hunting. Persistence and a little fitness will make that race winnable, and you won’t be timed, but you will get an award, in the form of the best meat on the planet. And you may be surprise just how far and fast you can run naturally.
Some things in life are simple. Running instinctively for hunting is one of them.