When Was Running Invented? A Brief History Of Running

Type into google “when was running invented,” and you’ll get a weird yet funny result:

“Running was invented in 1784 by Thomas Running when he tried to walk twice the same time”.

This is one of the funniest running memes out there.

But let’s be serious now.

Running, as you can already tell, is an ancient sport.

It actually goes back as far as human history itself.

Would you like to know more about the history of running and how it comes to be such a popular sport today?

Then keep on reading.

The Numbers

Running is a huge sport.

Yes, I’m kind of biased, but I get the numbers to back me up.

Roughly 60 million people did some form of running in 2017 in the U.S. alone, according to Statistical.

Sure, not all of them are regular runners, but the fact that about 20 percent of the US population have engaged in the sport over a period of one year says a lot of the popularity.

Let’s delve into the history of the sport.

When Was Running Invented?

Before running was a thing you do whenever you want to lose some weight or post a bunch of workout pictures on Instagram, our ancestors run for one reason, and only one reason—to survive.

And survive we did.

In short, kill or get killed.

Sure, nowadays, survival is the last thing you have in mind when running (unless you’re chased by a big wild dog)

In fact, it’s all about burning calories and tracking speeds and all that.

But for the ancient man (and woman), being able to run long distances was key to survival.

Let me explain

Ancient Humans & Running

The ability to run long distances was key in the origin of the modern human body form.

At the very least, such an ability made us human in the anatomical sense, according to evolutionary theory.

It is believed that the early ancestors of humans, the ape-like creature known as Australopithecus, evolved roughly 4.5 million years to walk upright on two legs.

Then sometimes, around 2.6 million years ago, our ancestors developed the ability to run long-distance over 2.6 million years ago, according to fossil evidence of some individual features of the modern human body.

The theory is, early humans become such good long-distance runners from the daily practice of hunting animals, which consists of stalking and chasing the prey until it’s too beat to flee.

Faster runners were often the best hunters.

Back then, if you cannot hunt, your chances of survival are pretty slim (sorry, no checks from the government).

Research also singled out a wide range of physical traits that strongly suggest that our ancestors evolved as distance runners.

The adaptation helps them hunt down prey and compete more effectively with the faster predators in the open plains of Africa.

Some of these traits include:

  • The decoupling of the shoulders, allowing early humans’ body to rotate while the heads aims forward during running
  • Skull features that help regulate overheating during running
  • A taller body with a narrower pelvis, waist, and trunk.
  • The development of bigger buttock muscles that allowed for stabilization and power during running.
  • And so many other features that can find out about more HERE.

In other words, we were all made to run from the get-go.

In fact, few activities are natural than running through trails or a field, either chasing or being chased.

Some scientists even go as far as to claim that running is one of the most transformative events in human history.

We shouldn’t take these claims lightly.

The History Of Running As A Sport

Running, as a competition, grew out of religious rituals and festivals in different regions.

In fact, proof of competitive racing goes back to the Tailteann Games in Ireland, roughly 600 to 1000 BCE, whereas the first recorded Olympic Games were born in 776 B.C.E, in the town of Olympia, ancient Greece.

The ancient Olympics, organized every four years, were held during a religious festival honoring the Greek god Zeus.

Around the eighth century B.C, participants poured in from a dozen or more Greek cities, and a couple of centuries thereafter, from as many as 100 cities from throughout the Greek empire.

Talk about a rise in popularity!

The first Olympic events were limited to foot races.

The main event was a race was known as the Stadium and consisted of 160-190 meters sprint—the exact length varied across stadiums.

In 720 BC, Dolichos, which was a long-distance running race, was added to the festival.

A few sports were added later on, such as boxing, wrestling, chariot racing—among others.

Then roughly 393 A.D, the rise of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I spelled the end of the Olympic games after he abolished the festivities as part of a plan to spread Christianity and squash paganism in the Roman Empire.

Hail Zeus, The Great God!

Here’s the plot twist, though.

The main events at the ancient Olympics were not the sports events, but a sacrifice—about 100 oxen were sacrificed and burn on the Altar of Zeus on the third day.

This is why the ancient Olympics were more than just a sport, but a religious festival too.

The Marathon Legend

Legend has it that a Greek soldier named Pheidippides had to run from the Battlefields of Marathon to Athens—about 25 miles—to deliver the news of victory against the invading Persian forces in the decisive battle of Marathon.

That’s not the whole story.

Pheidippides (who might not have trained for such an endurance feat) collapsed on the floor after delivering the news and died on the scene.

The Modern Olympics

The first modern Olympic event took place in Athens in 1869 and was a four-day event.

Not a long time thereafter, foot races become the norm around the globe—not just at the Olympics.

The Invention of Jogging

According to the record, the first time the word “jogging” was used was in the 16th century.

Yet, the sport wasn’t as accessible as it is today.

Back then, jogging was very much reserved for the upper classes and the nobility, mainly by swordsmen as a training technique to develop endurance and stamina.

As time (and centuries) go by, jogging and running become much more popular in training programs with the rise of professional sports.

But this still doesn’t explain the sudden boom in running popularity over the last few decades, especially in the US.

The Guy(s) Behind The Trend

According to my research, the recent rise in running popularity is credited to Arthur Lydiard, an Olympic track coach of New Zealand, who founded the Auckland Jogger Club.

Bill Bowerman, a University of Oregon track coach, went jogging with Lydiard in New Zealand, and experienced the activity first hand, and was impressed.

Soon thereafter, Bill brought back his new hobby to the US, where he published a book called “Jogging” (1967) that became the cultural sensation that kicked off the whole running craze.

Shortly after, jogging was recommended by most medical and health authorities, praising its benefits, especially on the heart and for general physical conditioning.

In fact, soon after, in 1968, The U.S. National Jogging Associate was founded to promote the pastime of logging the miles.

Another event that contributed to the fame of running in the US was the victory of American Frank Shorter in the Olympic Marathon in 1972, spurring up the running boom of the ‘70s.

Surveys reveal that more than 25 million people took up running in the US during that era, including Ex American president Jimmy Carter and famous Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood.

The Role of Capitalism

Nike had also played a part in the success of running as a recreational sport.

The company, as you can tell, had a big stake in making the sport more popular.

So it started promoting running (a good thing if you ask me) and began increasing its shoe and gear sales.


Hopefully, knowing more about “when running was invented”  as well as  the evolution of running will inspire you to log in more miles and make the most out of the sport.

So are we really born to run?

The science is not lying.

Our ability to run long distances is a major reason why we are still here today.

The ability has deep roots in human evolution—and there’s no doubt about that.