The possibility that endurance running was an important part of the human niche is quite intriguing to me, especially given the genes (ACTN-3, GDF8, PPAR, PGC1, and others) that we could examine this hypothesis with.
Here are some excerpts from this recent paper in Current Anthropology (link and abstract are below) that describes the effectiveness of persistence hunting (running prey into exhaustion) of !Xo and /Gwi hunters in Botswana. I thought this paper was really interesting. It goes into the details of how such hunts are conducted, compares it to other methods of hunting with actual return rate data, and goes into the unique human physiology that allows such persistence hunting. There's also an evolutionary hypothesis elaboration in the appendix, and a video too!!!
On the two hypotheses for endurance running:
Two possible hypotheses are given for why early Homo would have needed to run long distances. One hypothesis is scavenging. Competition to reach carcasses before other scavengers would have increased the fitness benefits of features that improve endurance running capabilities. Another hypothesis, presented by Carrier (1984), is that early hominin hunters used endurance running to run some mammals to exhaustion.
...and what the author finds:
Data from observations of !Xo and /Gwi hunters of the central Kalahari in Botswana presented here suggest that persistence hunting was a very efficient method under certain conditions. Compared with other forms of hunting, it may have been one of the most efficient.
the basics of how they do it:
The hunt takes place during the hottest time of the day, with maximum temperatures of about 39–42°C. Before starting, the hunters drink as much water as they can. Then they run up to the animal, which quickly flees, and track its footprints at a running pace. Meanwhile, the animal will have stopped to rest in the shade. The hunters must find the animal and chase it before it has rested long enough. This process is repeated until the animal is run to exhaustion.
..and part of their conclusion:
Compared with other hunting methods, persistence hunting is, given the right conditions, an effective method with a relatively good success rate and meat yield. The data presented suggest that it produces a higher meat yield than hunting with bow and arrow, clubs and spears, or springhare probes and about the same as snaring. Only hunting with dogs produces a significantly higher meat yield.
Persistence Hunting by Modern Hunter-Gatherers
CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 47, Number 6, December 2006
Abstract: Endurance running may be a derived capability of the genus Homo and may have been instrumental in the evolution of the human body form. Two hypotheses have been presented to explain why early Homo would have needed to run long distances: scavenging and persistence hunting. Persistence hunting takes place during the hottest time of the day and involves chasing an animal until it is run to exhaustion. A critical factor is the fact that humans can keep their bodies cool by sweating while running. Another critical factor is the ability to track down an animal. Endurance running may have had adaptive value not only in scavenging but also in persistence hunting. Before the domestication of dogs, persistence hunting may have been one of the most efficient forms of hunting and may therefore have been crucial in the evolution of humans.