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  • Running -- it's basically just right, left, right, left -- yeah?

  • I mean, we've been doing it for two million years,

  • so it's kind of arrogant to assume

  • that I've got something to say

  • that hasn't been said and performed better a long time ago.

  • But the cool thing about running, as I've discovered,

  • is that something bizarre happens

  • in this activity all the time.

  • Case in point: A couple months ago, if you saw the New York City Marathon,

  • I guarantee you, you saw something

  • that no one has ever seen before.

  • An Ethiopian woman named Derartu Tulu

  • turns up at the starting line.

  • She's 37 years old,

  • she hasn't won a marathon of any kind in eight years,

  • and a few months previously

  • she almost died in childbirth.

  • Derartu Tulu was ready to hang it up and retire from the sport,

  • but she decided she'd go for broke

  • and try for one last big payday

  • in the marquee event,

  • the New York City Marathon.

  • Except -- bad news for Derartu Tulu -- some other people had the same idea,

  • including the Olympic gold medalist

  • and Paula Radcliffe, who is a monster,

  • the fastest woman marathoner in history by far.

  • Only 10 minutes off the men's world record,

  • Paula Radcliffe is essentially unbeatable.

  • That's her competition.

  • The gun goes off, and she's not even an underdog.

  • She's under the underdogs.

  • But the under-underdog hangs tough,

  • and 22 miles into a 26-mile race,

  • there is Derartu Tulu

  • up there with the lead pack.

  • Now this is when something really bizarre happens.

  • Paula Radcliffe, the one person who is sure to snatch the big paycheck

  • out of Derartu Tulu's under-underdog hands,

  • suddenly grabs her leg and starts to fall back.

  • So we all know what to do in this situation, right?

  • You give her a quick crack in the teeth with your elbow

  • and blaze for the finish line.

  • Derartu Tulu ruins the script.

  • Instead of taking off,

  • she falls back, and she grabs Paula Radcliffe,

  • says, "Come on. Come with us. You can do it."

  • So Paula Radcliffe, unfortunately, does it.

  • She catches up with the lead pack

  • and is pushing toward the finish line.

  • But then she falls back again.

  • And the second time Derartu Tulu grabs her and tries to pull her.

  • And Paula Radcliffe at that point says,

  • "I'm done. Go."

  • So that's a fantastic story, and we all know how it ends.

  • She loses the check,

  • but she goes home with something bigger and more important.

  • Except Derartu Tulu ruins the script again --

  • instead of losing, she blazes past the lead pack and wins,

  • wins the New York City Marathon,

  • goes home with a big fat check.

  • It's a heartwarming story,

  • but if you drill a little bit deeper,

  • you've got to sort of wonder about what exactly was going on there.

  • When you have two outliers in one organism,

  • it's not a coincidence.

  • When you have someone who is more competitive and more compassionate

  • than anybody else in the race, again, it's not a coincidence.

  • You show me a creature with webbed feet and gills;

  • somehow water's involved.

  • Someone with that kind of heart, there's some kind of connection there.

  • And the answer to it, I think,

  • can be found down in the Copper Canyons of Mexico,

  • where there's a tribe, a reclusive tribe,

  • called the Tarahumara Indians.

  • Now the Tarahumara are remarkable for three things.

  • Number one is,

  • they have been living essentially unchanged

  • for the past 400 years.

  • When the conquistadors arrived in North America you had two choices:

  • you either fight back and engage or you could take off.

  • The Mayans and Aztecs engaged,

  • which is why there are very few Mayans and Aztecs.

  • The Tarahumara had a different strategy.

  • They took off and hid

  • in this labyrinthine, networking,

  • spiderwebbing system of canyons

  • called the Copper Canyons,

  • and there they remained since the 1600s --

  • essentially the same way they've always been.

  • The second thing remarkable about the Tarahumara

  • is, deep into old age -- 70 to 80 years old --

  • these guys aren't running marathons;

  • they're running mega-marathons.

  • They're not doing 26 miles;

  • they're doing 100, 150 miles at a time,

  • and apparently without injury, without problems.

  • The last thing that's remarkable about the Tarahumara

  • is that all the things that we're going to be talking about today,

  • all the things that we're trying to come up with

  • using all of our technology and brain power to solve --

  • things like heart disease and cholesterol and cancer

  • and crime and warfare and violence and clinical depression --

  • all this stuff, the Tarahumara don't know what you're talking about.

  • They are free

  • from all of these modern ailments.

  • So what's the connection?

  • Again, we're talking about outliers --

  • there's got to be some kind of cause and effect there.

  • Well, there are teams of scientists

  • at Harvard and the University of Utah

  • that are bending their brains to try to figure out

  • what the Tarahumara have known forever.

  • They're trying to solve those same kinds of mysteries.

  • And once again, a mystery wrapped inside of a mystery --

  • perhaps the key to Derartu Tulu and the Tarahumara

  • is wrapped in three other mysteries, which go like this:

  • three things -- if you have the answer, come up and take the microphone,

  • because nobody else knows the answer.

  • And if you know it, then you are smarter than anybody else on planet Earth.

  • Mystery number one is this:

  • Two million years ago the human brain exploded in size.

  • Australopithecus had a tiny little pea brain.

  • Suddenly humans show up -- Homo erectus --

  • big, old melon-head.

  • To have a brain of that size,

  • you need to have a source of condensed caloric energy.

  • In other words, early humans are eating dead animals --

  • no argument, that's a fact.

  • The only problem is,

  • the first edged weapons only appeared about 200,000 years ago.

  • So, somehow, for nearly two million years,

  • we are killing animals without any weapons.

  • Now we're not using our strength

  • because we are the biggest sissies in the jungle.

  • Every other animal is stronger than we are --

  • they have fangs, they have claws, they have nimbleness, they have speed.

  • We think Usain Bolt is fast. Usain Bolt can get his ass kicked by a squirrel.

  • We're not fast.

  • That would be an Olympic event: turn a squirrel loose --

  • whoever catches the squirrel, you get a gold medal.

  • So no weapons, no speed, no strength, no fangs, no claws --

  • how were we killing these animals? Mystery number one.

  • Mystery number two:

  • Women have been in the Olympics for quite some time now,

  • but one thing that's remarkable about all women sprinters --

  • they all suck; they're terrible.

  • There's not a fast woman on the planet

  • and there never has been.

  • The fastest woman to ever run a mile did it in 4:15.

  • I could throw a rock and hit a high school boy

  • who can run faster than 4:15.

  • For some reason you guys are just really slow.

  • (Laughter)

  • But you get to the marathon we were just talking about --

  • you guys have only been allowed to run the marathon for 20 years.

  • Because, prior to the 1980s,

  • medical science said that if a woman tried to run 26 miles --

  • does anyone know what would happen if you tried to run 26 miles,

  • why you were banned from the marathon before the 1980s?

  • (Audience Member: Her uterus would be torn.) Her uterus would be torn.

  • Yes. You would have torn reproductive organs.

  • The uterus would fall out, literally fall out of the body.

  • Now I've been to a lot of marathons,

  • and I've yet to see any ...

  • (Laughter)

  • So it's only been 20 years that women have been allowed to run the marathon.

  • In that very short learning curve,

  • you guys have gone from broken organs

  • up to the fact that you're only 10 minutes off

  • the male world record.

  • Then you go beyond 26 miles,

  • into the distance that medical science also told us would be fatal to humans --

  • remember Pheidippides died when he ran 26 miles --

  • you get to 50 and 100 miles,

  • and suddenly it's a different game.

  • You can take a runner like Ann Trason, or Nikki Kimball, or Jenn Shelton,

  • you put them in a race of 50 or 100 miles against anybody in the world

  • and it's a coin toss who's going to win.

  • I'll give you an example.

  • A couple years ago, Emily Baer signed up for a race

  • called the Hardrock 100,

  • which tells you all you need to know about the race.

  • They give you 48 hours to finish this race.

  • Well Emily Baer -- 500 runners --

  • she finishes in eighth place, in the top 10,

  • even though she stopped at all the aid stations

  • to breastfeed her baby during the race --

  • and yet, beat 492 other people.

  • So why is it that women get stronger

  • as distances get longer?

  • The third mystery is this:

  • At the University of Utah, they started tracking finishing times

  • for people running the marathon.

  • And what they found

  • is that, if you start running the marathon at age 19,

  • you will get progressively faster, year by year,

  • until you reach your peak at age 27.

  • And then after that, you succumb

  • to the rigors of time.

  • And you'll get slower and slower,

  • until eventually you're back to running the same speed you were at age 19.

  • So about seven years, eight years to reach your peak,

  • and then gradually you fall off your peak,

  • until you go back to the starting point.

  • You would think it might take eight years to go back to the same speed,

  • maybe 10 years -- no, it's 45 years.

  • 64-year-old men and women

  • are running as fast as they were at age 19.

  • Now I defy you to come up with any other physical activity --

  • and please don't say golf -- something that actually is hard --

  • where geriatrics are performing

  • as well as they did as teenagers.

  • So you have these three mysteries.

  • Is there one piece in the puzzle

  • which might wrap all these things up?

  • You've got to be really careful any time

  • someone looks back in prehistory and tries to give you some sort of global answer,

  • because, it being prehistory,

  • you can say whatever the hell you want and get away with it.

  • But I'll submit this to you:

  • If you put one piece in the middle of this jigsaw puzzle,

  • suddenly it all starts to form a coherent picture.

  • If you wonder, why it is the Tarahumara don't fight

  • and don't die of heart disease,

  • why a poor Ethiopian woman named Derartu Tulu

  • can be the most compassionate and yet the most competitive,

  • and why we somehow were able

  • to find food without weapons,

  • perhaps it's because humans,

  • as much as we like to think of ourselves as masters of the universe,

  • actually evolved as nothing more

  • than a pack of hunting dogs.

  • Maybe we evolved

  • as a hunting pack animal.

  • Because the one advantage we have in the wilderness --

  • again, it's not our fangs and our claws and our speed --

  • the only thing we do really, really well is sweat.

  • We're really good at being sweaty and smelly.

  • Better than any other mammal on Earth, we can sweat really well.

  • But the advantage

  • of that little bit of social discomfort

  • is the fact that, when it comes to running

  • under hot heat for long distances,

  • we're superb, we're the best on the planet.

  • You take a horse on a hot day,

  • and after about five or six miles, that horse has a choice.

  • It's either going to breathe or it's going to cool off,

  • but it ain't doing both -- we can.

  • So what if we evolved as hunting pack animals?

  • What if the only natural advantage we had in the world

  • was the fact that we could get together as a group,

  • go out there on that African Savannah, pick out an antelope

  • and go out as a pack and run that thing to death?