Our ancestors were happier than us

We are born to run - but we do it wrong

Nowadays, running hardly seems to serve survival - it's about exercise, fitness tracker and calorie burning.

But our early ancestors gave an evolutionary advantage to the ability to track prey like ostriches and antelopes over long distances - and an Achilles tendon ideal for traveling such distances.

In his new book "Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human" Footnotes: How running makes us human) researcher Vybarr Cregan-Reid of the University of Kent reminds us of this often forgotten story. For him, running is ultimately about freedom and about leaving all modern toys behind in order to get in touch with nature (he calls treadmills the “junk food of sport”).

Based in London, he tells National Geographic over the phone how he was inspired by his Irish uncle who ran the Olympics and why he believes that walking barefoot is natural and less likely to be injured.

You definitely have the most unusual name we've had in our book interviews so far. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started.

Both of my parents are Irish and Vybarr comes from an Irish name, Finbar. But it's kind of a family mystery why my name is Vybarr. There are quite a few stories about where the name came from, but none of them make that much sense.

I've been running since I was in my early twenties. But I only really started doing it ten to 15 years ago. I'm almost 50 now. There were runners in my family. My maternal uncle was named Jim Cregan. He found that he couldn't compete by that name if he ran for England rather than Ireland. So he ran under the name Jim Hogan for Great Britain. He was from the 30s, from a rural area in Ireland. My grandparents thought he was crazy because he loved walking. He ran and ran, barefoot most of the time. He ran two Olympiads for Ireland and then later for Great Britain. In 1966 he won the gold medal at the European Championships.

I have to admit: I like all kinds of sports, but I absolutely hate running. Convert me!

First off, I'd say you're probably not getting it right. Most people don't like walking because it might remind them of the time they ran to catch a bus. This type of running is usually extremely uncomfortable, almost nauseating. Most beginners give up when they injure themselves because they did too much too soon. Most of the benefits of running come from taking it very slowly.

I also view it with suspicion that it is viewed as a sport. It shouldn't be run like one. It is something that is innate to us as a species. It is a way of connecting with our environment and our own thoughts. It's also a way of getting rid of some of the body's endorphins, a kind of legal high that's basically good for us too.