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Nature's Running Beasts

Posted Aug 27 2009 11:38pm
Despite running’s massive unappeal as a spectator sport, over the last two weeks, the name ‘ Usain Bolt ’ has been uttered in households not only in this country but in all countries around the world. Saying what most people are now thinking, a few days ago, The Gull called me and proclaimed that, “That dude is crazy fast”. While I think the speed at which I hung up on my pal (who was clearly calling me with his thoughts as a way to then ask me to go to lunch with him) may have been just as fast, I have to admit that The Gull was indeed correct. With speeds reaching 30mph, Bolt toppled the world records in the 100 meter and 200 meter races last week at the world championships in Berlin and ascended to legend status as one of the greatest runners of all time.

Despite all the praise and accolades that Bolt has deservedly received for his accomplishments, perhaps more attention should be focused on Ethiopias’s Haile Gebrselassie, whose 2:03:59 finishing time in the 2008 Berlin Marathon is the current world record for a marathon. While Gebrselassie’s  12mph average speed doesn’t cause jaws to drops in the same way that Bolt’s 30mph does, in our Darwinian world of ‘ survival of the fittest ’, his ability to maintain such a lofty speed over such long distances puts him on top of nature’s food
chain.

‘But, Mr. Petes, since 30mph is faster than 12mph, wouldn’t Bolt be higher on the pecking order than Gebrselassie?’

While that might be a reasonable assumption based simply on numbers, according to the Wall Street Journal, when put into context, that assumption is proved false.

According to Cameron Stracher’s Usain Bolt Versus The House Cat published on August 24 th, Bolt’s world record speeds only rank him the 30 th fastest animal on the planet “behind the white tail deer, warthog, grizzly bear, and house cat”. Pit Bolt against a cheetah (top speed of 70mph), a pronghorn (top speed of 65mph) and a wildebeest (top speed of 50mph) and Bolt would quickly be looking at the rear ends of many of the inhabitants on Noah’s Ark.

Gebrselassie, on the other hand, remains on top of the food chain even when compared most of nature’s beasts. With the exception of the Siberian husky (which has been able to maintain or beat Gebrselassie’s pace for up to six hours a day in the Iditarod sled race ) and the Arabian horse (which can run 60 miles at a pace of 16mph), there is no other two-legged or four-legged animal that can match the speed over the distance covered by Gebrselassie in Berlin in 2007, “Man is the only animal that runs simply to do it. Our large brains can convince our frail bodies to keep moving regardless of cost. We may not be the fastest animals, but we can run ourselves into the ground for sport, exhausting our food supply, and making ourselves susceptible to disease, injury and death. That's a feat no pronghorn can touch”.

While speed runners are the rock stars of the running world, they, like many rock stars, typically produce one-hit wonders and proceed to simply fade into oblivion shortly thereafter. But it’s the distance runners who, like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who produce feats that last for many-a generation. And, while, in the big picture, the speed runners may get eaten up by the even speedier animals of the planet, it is the distance runners who remain unscathed.
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