WHY WE RUN: A NATURAL HISTORY (292 pp., Harper Collins, 2001, originally published under the title RACING THE ANTELOPE)

From the book jacket: "In Why We Run, biologist, award-winning nature writer, and ultramarathoner Bernd Heinrich explores a new perspective on human evolution by examining the phenomenon of ultraendurance and makes surprising discoveries about the physical, spiritual -- and primal -- drive to win. At once lyrical and scientific, Why We Run shows Heinrich's signature blend of biology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy, infused with his passion to discover how and why we can achieve superhuman abilities."

REVIEWS (4.5 of 5 stars on Amazon): "This book is truly a classic on the biology and anthropology of exercise."–Kevin M. Gianni

"Part autobiography (Heinrich is a very interesting person) part biology (presented in a very accessible way), part scientist at work, this book gets to the core of, well, why we (at least some of us) run."—R. Kleine


This book was thought of twenty years before I wrote it. I was 40 years old, but the circumstances for it reach back to when I was 16.

Running had at various times been an important part of my life. It gained me recognition by teachers who encourage me to go to college. It was a source of rebellion against my uncompromising father who considered it a waste of time. In my Ph.D. studies and those beyond in various insects, physical performance was a constant underlying theme. I was a good runner—I won cross-country races and got all the satisfaction and all the recognition for that effort and talent that I deserved. However, I identified myself as a scientist, and felt I had made achievements far beyond my wildest dreams. Here, I had invested my heart and soul, and felt I got almost no recognition, where others got prizes for discoveries I felt were fewer if not lesser. I realized in the competitive academic world, almost everything was totally based on personal judgments, self-promotion, contacts and sometimes on worse. Two colleagues who had apparently considered me a competitor had I felt got boosted in part from my work as a graduate student—they both got elected to great honors. I decided that for just one half year I would put in as much effort into trying to achieve in running as I routinely put into my science. I knew that I would here be judged fairly, because nothing in competitive running performance is based on judgment. It’s pure. It is fair. Not being speedy, I tried distance running and managed to get third in the West Valley, California, marathon, finishing 40 seconds shy of a slot in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials. I later won the Golden Gate marathon, as a "complete unknown," as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, having speeded up and then caught the already (prematurely) announced winner at the tape.  I had more distance running in me and wondered if could perhaps do better racing a longer distance.

To be motivated to start training, I needed a lofty goal, and so after marathon victories achieved by what I had left at the end, I decided to aim for a U.S. age-group record for the 100-km run. I told myself that if I got the record, it would at my age (then 41) be an achievement worthy of someday writing a book about.

The adventure of actually training for three whole months, as I had not been used to training before, proved to be even more dramatic than I had anticipated. I not only won the race I had picked to run—the national championships held in Chicago—but I also set the American record for any age, and set various other records along the way at the 50-mile point. It was a dream come true, and I used up my momentum in several more races in the next couple of years.

Not long after the race I was in Africa and by sheer luck stumbled on a cave painting showing human stick figures running after antelope, and that clinched it for me. I was elected to the U.S. Ultrarunning Hall of Fame, of which I am proud, given the contexts that it was largely because of this race. I finally did write the book, as I had dreamed before and during that run, some two decades earlier.