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I have read that although certainly other land animals are much faster over short distances, a human can run down any other animal over time, so that if a human is hunting like a gazelle, etc. eventually the human will catch up. I am wondering if this is purely a physical thing or if humans, knowing how to pace themselves, avoid exhaustion while the gazelle just runs as fast as it can and then collapses -- is it possibly because humans are smarter that they are better long-distance runners? (Now, some birds are able to fly for thousands of miles and I guess also in water we can't compete.)

EDIT: I understand that humans have some physical attributes that contribute to their long-distance abilities but is the ability to understand pacing also part of it?

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  • $\begingroup$ there are studies of human biology which will list all the different physiology and ability-to-pace-iology (that's morphology?) specializations that make humans run long distances. I donno if you researched this at all, cos previous research is already good reading when you find it. $\endgroup$ – aliential Jun 16 '20 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ i will change question, because i have seen nothing about the mental aspects. $\endgroup$ – releseabe Jun 16 '20 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ Humans are efficient runners, but just as a reference, I think there are some interesting answers here that call into question whether humans are really the best at long distance running. skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6114/… $\endgroup$ – MikeyC Jun 16 '20 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ While humans are certainly in the upper ranks, they are not the absolute best. Sled dogs almost certainly take first place, at least in decently cool weather. Horses are a bit better (as measured by endurance races over the same course, e.g Tevis Cup vs Western States 100), but it's close enough that some humans are better than some horses. But the real factor here is something you haven't mentioned: intention. AFAIK humans are the only mammals (migrating birds are something else entirely) that deliberately set out to run long distances. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 16 '20 at 16:40
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I would argue that the two factors of physiology and pacing are essentially one in the same. A huge component of pacing for distance runners is breath control. This requires indepndent control over breathing while simultaneously maintaing runnning form, which is simply not an option for most quadrapeds.

This stock photo of two gazelle in sprint illustrates why. With each bound, a gazelle's torso compresses (left) and then expands (right) in sync with it's running motion. That compression forces air from the animal's lungs, syncing the rate of breathing with it's rate of running. Because of this, they cannot control their rate of breathing control without also changing their step rate.

Stock Photo Gazelle Running

The fact that people can learn from coaches and books to get better at pacing suggests there is a cognitave aspect to it, but it's the physiology of bipedal locomotion that allows for more efficient pacing in the first place. It's not easy to separate the two factors in a scientific (non-speculative) way, since we can't train an animal to do something that it's not physiologically capable of doing.

There are some interesting discussions here about the Iditorod, which I imagine involes some amount of the human driver pacing the sled-dog team.

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