‘The best-selling author of Born to Run now travels to the Mediterranean, where he discovers that the secrets of ancient Greek heroes are still alive and well on the island of Crete, and ready to be unleashed in the muscles and minds of casual athletes and aspiring heroes everywhere.
After running an ultramarathon through the Copper Canyons of Mexico, Christopher McDougall finds his next great adventure on the razor-sharp mountains of Crete, where a band of Resistance fighters in World War II plotted the daring abduction of a German general from the heart of the Nazi occupation. How did a penniless artist, a young shepherd, and a playboy poet believe they could carry out such a remarkable feat of strength and endurance, smuggling the general past thousands of Nazi pursuers, with little more than their own wits and courage to guide them?
McDougall makes his way to the island to find the answer and retrace their steps, experiencing first hand the extreme physical challenges the Resistance fighters and their local allies faced. On Crete, the birthplace of the classical Greek heroism that spawned the likes of Herakles and Odysseus, McDougall discovers the tools of the hero—natural movement, extraordinary endurance, and efficient nutrition. All of these skills, McDougall learns, are still practiced in far-flung pockets throughout the world today.
More than a mystery of remarkable people and cunning schemes, Natural Born Heroes is a fascinating investigation into the lost art of the hero, taking us from the streets of London at midnight to the beaches of Brazil at dawn, from the mountains of Colorado to McDougall’s own backyard in Pennsylvania, all places where modern-day athletes are honing ancient skills so they’re ready for anything.
Just as Born to Run inspired readers to get off the treadmill, out of their shoes, and into the natural world, Natural Born Heroes will inspire them to leave the gym and take their fitness routine to nature—to climb, swim, skip, throw, and jump their way to their own heroic feats.’
Chris in Conversation
As an introduction, Chris talked to us about his motives for writing. Ultimately his ideas come from stories about normal people (who become ‘Bad Asses’) who then discover/perform abnormal feats of endurance, courage and adventure. His first book Born to Run was founded in this theme – how one self-professed ‘normal guy’ went from asking the question ‘why does my foot hurt?’ to taking part in ‘the greatest race the world has never seen’. His new book is another exploration of this, how resistance fighters and allies defied one of the most brutal war machines the world has on record using only what nature had given them and us as a species; natural movement, endurance and the ability to use fat as fuel.
Paraphrased Q&A (Verbatim, not word for word, sorry for any inaccuracy and for missing some of the answers!)
Q: How long is your creative process?
A: I had the idea for the new book in 2010, just as Born To Run had been published in fact, but then didn’t have a finished article until 2014, so 4 years from proposal to launch. Each part of research becomes its own little tunnel of time. The ideas come from running and taking the time to think whilst running. But then when exploring certain themes, you become interested in accompanying topics which then need exploring to ensure that the story you are telling is factually accurate. For example I started researching parkour and flow state and found the whole practice fascinating and really needed to be able to understand it, how it effected guys who were involved in the movement and then also how that links back to natural animalistic instinct.
Q: Your background is as a journalist in which research is a crucial part of writing on a subject, how do you go about reaching a level where you are comfortable writing about an idea
A: There has to be a story. I am first and foremost a reporter and an informed story teller as opposed to a scientist. Descriptive not Prescriptive.
Q: Trends in running have changed over the last 5 years. Is there anything that excites you or worries you?
A: Chris – I am concerned that running (for example a marathon) has become about surviving or beating the distance. Then once you’ve accomplished it that’s the end of the process. I’d like to see running as a continual process, training, enjoyment, having fun and finding value in the act not just the accomplished.
A: Charlie (Run Dem Crew) – I also find that enjoyment is being squeezed out in favour of financial gain. Can people who can’t afford to run also be able to participate? We need to ensure that running is fun, enjoyable and a vehicle through which people can realise their potential, not a sport which is pushed along with accompanying race fees, medals and product
A: Simon (Like The Wind) – It would be a shame if running became something which needs money and an agenda. People can become overly obsessive about times and kit and it should be about experience, the story and personal achievement
A: Chris – take for example my friend Barefoot Ted, I went to pace some of the Leadville Ultra marathon with him – I got to the aid station at mile 85 of 100 and their were bodies everywhere, people moaning, in pain, then Ted rocks up super happy, no signs of wear, talking non stop and just super excited to be there. He finished in 26hour with a smile on his face having trained for like 20 miles a week rather than 200! I asked Ted about his ‘process’ and he said, ‘I practice pleasure not pain. If it’s fun I come back for more!’
Q: Do you have a favourite place to run or favourite route?
A: Charlie – Hood to Coast run, this is where I went from being a guy who had discovered running in his backyard in Central London as a way to survive, to being part of a relay team running 195 miles. I’d become a runner!
A: Simon – I ran round the alps and Mont Blanc for my honeymoon and this is where my wife and I conceived the idea of ‘Like the Wind’. This was an incredibly liberating moment as we’d discovered what we wanted to spend our lives doing born out of the environment in which we’d found ourselves in that moment.
A: Chris – Running up and down this canal (Grand Union Canal)! There is humanity everywhere! More personally, Pennsylvania which is my backyard. I think when you have a home that you’ve discovered and explored it will always be the place you treasure. The Amish have this idea of your own district / terroir and getting to know it really well.
Many thanks to Like The Wind Magazine (a collection of running stories, personal anecdotes, inspirational tales, reportage, beautiful illustrations and stunning photography) and Run Dem Crew (a collective of creative heads with a passion for running and the exchange of ideas) for arranging the meet the author q&a. It was a great night!