If you read “Born to Run” and loved it…

… then don’t read Chris MacDougall’s latest book, “Natural Born Heroes.” On Friday night, I walked home from work and contemplated what I should do for the evening. I woke up super early before work to get a run in, so I would have a Friday evening free! I had a couple of invites from friends to the bar but if I was being completely honest with myself, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed to warm up and read. So that’s what I did… it was heaven.

I had gotten really bored of the book, “Natural Born Heroes” but I was convinced I would eventually come around to liking it, so I kept plugging away. “Born to Run” wasn’t the most exciting book, but it was really good and informative and just a fascinating read for anyone who loves running or fitness in general. It has taken me three weeks to read this book because I kept avoiding it! I finally just had to finish the book or move on. Life’s too short to read shitty books, but I had loved “Born to Run” so much I thought I would come to love “Natural Born Heroes.” NOPE.

I’m not going to lie, I skipped about 60 pages of the book in the second half. I enjoyed a solid 17% of the book and just gave up reading the parts I didn’t like. Chris MacDougall even admits that he had two solid story ideas for both a book about war times on the Greek island of Crete and a theory of natural movement. He said that he found the connection between the two through the idea of natural born heroes and combined ideas into one book. That was a major mistake. The book was really hard to follow and while I was interested in reading about natural movement and how and why our fitness and weight loss industry makes billions of dollars but people don’t actually get more fit, but the Cretian wartime story was awfully tangled into what could have been a really great book. From GoodReads, this is the book’s plot…

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 firsthand 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.

Despite the 83% of the book that wasn’t great, or at least seemed misplaced and confusing, and for my personal taste – extremely boring – there were pieces of the book that I liked. I think the idea of natural movement and how opposite our current exercise culture is to what our bodies have been doing for thousands of years is fascinating. I think one of my favourite statements was that gyms are the only business that rely on customers NOT showing up. It really made me rethink the culture of gyms and how we are never meant to be stationary. Weight lifting machines and moves that isolate muscles are only meant to make money, not allow you to be the fittest and strongest human being you can be. By human being, Chris discusses moves that humans were meant to do like swim, run, walk, jump, and climb. A guy deadlifting 400lbs might not be able to do sprints, and a marathon runner might not be able to swim, and the fact that body building is a desired “sport” in the fitness world is shocking and so unnatural. It’s the moves that keep us healthy and alive and feeling free that we’ve forgotten about.

The nutrition piece was also really interesting, as it advocated for a high fat, high protein and low carb life (basically, paleo) that allowed the body to fuel itself with it’s unlimited supply of fat rather than our current cycle of sugar rush to sugar rush. I’m always a little skeptical of these books because they present a really extreme case and I like to see well-rounded evidence, but MacDougall made some really great points. He had advocates of the limited carb diet that were scientists, nutritionists, and people who had been researching this type of fat-as-fuel nutrition for decades, only to be rejected by mainstream journals and institutions that were funded by companies like Gatorade and CocoCola. I know, I know, I’m getting into the details here, but it was a really interesting read from a natural movement and nutrition standpoint, I just wish he had been able to expand more on this instead of trying to write about Cretian war ‘heroes’ in the 1940s. If you read that 17% of the book, it’s fantastic!

I really wish MacDougall has split his book ideas and left the natural movement phenomenon as an isolated topic because there is some truth and fact that was distracted by a weird war story. As a public health advocate, I enjoyed the thought provoking information that was provided about why our fitness culture is backwards today and how it’s a profit-fuelled business that isn’t actually about health and keeping people alive and well. There was some truth to it that will stick in my mind and how I structure my exercise moving forward, but I have to say I didn’t really like the book overall. If you really liked Born to Run, don’t read Natural Born Heroes, or at least go in with an open mind to a VERY different story.

Have you read Born to Run or Natural Born Heroes?

Any book recommendations on natural movement?

Have you tried a paleo diet? What did you think?

8 Comments

  1. I am a big history buff, so I loved both his books. Fighting Nazis also will always have a place in my heart. I am primarily a runner, so it encouraged me to expand my fitness to become an actual athlete, not just someone who can move in one motion. I totally get your point. I listened to many interviews with MacDougall about the book so I was excited to read it.

  2. I’ve read Born to Run and did love it! Sorry to hear the follow up wasn’t so great.
    I did try paleo for about a month once, and like Jo, felt amazing. By the end of the month though I found it very hard to maintain, especially since I was the only one in the house doing it. And, I wasn’t sure if I felt great because of paleo, or simply because I literally cut out all the crap for a month. Now I’d say I’m not really on any particular ‘diet’, I just try to eat healthy as much as possible but still enjoy the odd pizza, beers and nachos.

  3. WELL, good to know that book sucks and now I don’t have to read it. War-anything is boring to me. No thanks, goodbye.
    I did love Born To Run – weren’t they supposed to turn it into a movie?

    I did “paleo” during Whole30 and felt amazing. Like the best I’ve ever felt. I think it’s a great template for people to follow but I don’t believe it needs to be so strict unless you have major food intolerances/allergies. I think most people who try paleo and want to continue with the lifestyle become more flexible and end up eating 80% paleo + 20% ‘treats’/non-paleo food afterwards.

    1. Yep – don’t bother – there have to be much better books about natural movement and a paleo diet! Totally, our food environment isn’t set up to help people eat paleo so I think when people realize how great it makes them feel they stick to majority paleo which is great!

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