Urban Persistent Hunting

Persistence is a very nice trait.

Not the unconscious kind. Unconscious persistence is when someone just keeps up on going way beyond the point of diminishing return, where costs largely exceed pay-offs. That is the kind of persistence a ludomaniac exhibits at a casino, or the one trying to finish a marathon with an injury, afraid of loosing face.

Unconscious persistence is usually driven by pride, fame or gratification, and it definitely lacks humility. Those, who will win the battle, but loose the war, typically practice it. Unconscious persistence eventually leads to disaster.

Conscious persistence is on the other hand a humble trait. It is the willingness to keep on despite challenges and discomfort, but at the same time knowing when to quit. It takes great humility and presence to know when it is time to quit.

It is hypothesized that many thousands years ago, humans did hunt game by practising what is called Persistent Hunting, a practice still in use by the San people in the Kalahari Desert in Africa.

Basically Persistent Hunting is about pursuing a prey (Kudu, Zebra, Antelope etc.) until the animal collapses from exhaustion. Humans are not very fast compared to their prey, but they have endurance. By repeatedly making a prey sprint away, and prevent it to recover sufficiently from each sprint, the human hunters will eventually exhaust the animal, so it no longer can flee, making it easily killed by a spear or like.

Persistent Hunting requires the ability to run/jog/walk for many hours and having good tracking skills. It also requires the skill of spotting the right animal, i.e. the one that is physically weakest and therefor will exhaust faster (typically an animal with poorer gene pool or injured).

Study of the San people have reported Persistent Hunting of up to 6-8 hours, with speed typically between 5 and 10 km/h, at temperature of 35-40 degree Celsius. That requires a lot of persistence. But often the hunts are not successful, and then have to be repeated the next day, and may be the day after – otherwise no dinner. In these situations one cannot afford complete exhaustion, and must know when to stop in order to be able to be ready for the next day. This is conscious persistence, which demands both physical and mental skills.

In a modern society, dinner does no longer require the skills of Persistent Hunting, and one can get fed without having to exert physical capacities. Even people that do exercise, often do it to exhaustion, and can afford to exhaust themselves, because dinner is available no matter what. So people in a modern society are either unfit, or fit in a non-persistent way, at least not of the conscious type. To avoid exercise is counterproductive in the long run, but to exercise unconsciously is not much better.

The skills required for Persistent Hunting are no longer being practiced, simply because they are not needed in a modern society. But not needed does not necessarily mean not important. People exercise for all kind of reasons (looking good, to feel good, to achieve a goal, to not have pain etc.), but not for expressing a fundamental survival skill, that is apparently characteristic of being human. The question is, whether this skill has been wiped out in humans of modern society or is just dormant. The San people would probably tell us to go find out.

Well, here is a way of practicing the skill of Persistent Hunting, and turn on your inner hunter – without having to kill anyone or anything. It is called Urban Persistent Hunting (UPH).

It is quite simple. Basically, next time you are out for a run, if you spot another runner, start pursuing it while keeping some distance, at least 50 m. The runner is now the prey you hunt. Ideally the prey should not find out you are pursing it, but it can also add some fun if it does.

It is important that you choose an appropriate runner for you, one that will challenge you, but not exhaust you. Don’t go after the Absolut Alpha Antelope kind of runner (triple-A-rated), the kind that exhibits a smooth, elegant and feather like running style – unless you are a triple-A yourself. Instead choose the kind that is not entirely worthy of wearing the tights it wears. A specially motivating kind of runner to follow is the one that has passed you by from behind, just slightly faster than you, and that you strongly suspect for having increased their speed to catch up on you. You will recognize it by a distinct breath, and an intermittent friction sound from the shoes to the ground.

When the prey has been pointed out, the hunt has begun, and you should have the following in mind:

  • The goal is to see your prey finish its run, and you continue running/jogging. You can eventually pass near by the prey while it stands still, not for showing off, but to be sure that it is finished (typically it will start stretching).
  • It is all about the pursuit. You must not pass by the prey, while it runs, not matter how slow it may become, or it takes a short break. That is why, it is important to keep a safe distance all the time, so you can adapt your speed to avoid catching up.
  • If the prey comes out of sight (due to a turn for example), you must as soon as possible regain visual contact, which means, that you will have to increase your pace temporary. When visual contact is established again, you may find yourself too close to the prey, and you must then decrease the pace to restore the safe distance. This adds to your run some unpredicted interval training, which is so much more fun than the programmed ones.

Remember, when the hunt begins, you are in unknown territories. You don’t know where the prey will take you, how long it will take, and if you will have the focus and energy to persist. The hunt is only recognized as a success if you still are able to run home, after the hunt is over. Otherwise it is a failed hunt (see the success/failure table below). Therefor you must constantly assess your current capacity and feelings, and based on that, make decisions about whether to keep on or not. This is really an exercise in self-awareness and in learning to know yourself. At the same time, you will have to be constantly aware of your surroundings to know where you are, and where the prey is. This is total awareness.

Outcome of Urban Persistent Hunting Assessment
You did the hunt and you managed to run/jog home Total success
You aborted the hunt, but you managed to run/jog home Success
You did the hunt, but you were not able to run/jog home Failure
You aborted the hunt and you were not able to run/jog home Total failure

Again, know when to quit. It is better to find out that you could have done more, than that you couldn’t.

There will be success and there will be defeat. If you succeed, it is ok to feel proud, but let it go rapidly. Nothing is learned from success. Enjoy it, but don’t be a pathetic moron and brag about it. Instead be grateful for the prey for giving you a successful experience. It could just be that the prey you chose was too easy for you, so make sure that the next one challenges you.

If you fail, be thankful for the lesson, because now you know more about where your limits are. And if you embrace the defeat, you will come out more humble, and a better hunter.

The best hunts are those that challenge you without leading to exhaustion. During the hunt, there should be a prevailing doubt about the outcome. This will force you to continuously assess and adjust your situation. In the end it is an exercise in presence and awareness…

And it will get you a nice workout without having to plan it.


If you are not comfortable with the significant unpredictability of Urban Persistent Hunting, you can always try Urban Persistent Safari (UPS). This consists of jogging pass gyms with big front windows, and get eye contact with someone on a treadmill. The goal is to get as many eye contacts as possible, however brief these are. UPS is much more predictable, and it allows you to plan your hunt ahead. But frankly, it is boring in the long run.

By Nikolaj Lehmann

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