Born To Run And Natural Born Heroes

Apr 28, 2015

Author Christopher McDougall

The myth of the modern hero is someone with exceptional abilities and extraordinary strength.

But author Christopher McDougall says becoming a hero is just a matter of tapping into the body's capability for natural movement. 

"Our brain is hardwired to react to the natural world."

  Rather than hitting the gym, McDougall told Frank Stasio of WUNC's The State of Things, people should be exercising outdoors through activities that echo the movements humans evolved to do as hunter-gatherers.

"Gyms are designed to move cattle through the shoot," McDougall said. "The single biggest sign that this is a failure is that the dropout rate is 60 percent....Our brain is hardwired to react to the natural world."

McDougall says exercise forms like parkour, CrossFit and free fitness movements like the November Project are more natural, engaging and effective ways to build strength and endurance.

In his latest book, "Natural Born Heroes" (Knopf Publishing Group/2015), McDougall traces the skill of resistance fighters in World War II who kidnapped a German general. The work builds on his bestselling book, "Born To Run," which explored the tradition of a tribe of some of the world's greatest distance runners.

"A single human alone in the wilderness is lunch for somebody else."

In "Natural Born Heroes," McDougall argues that all humans have the ability to tap into the extraordinary physical and mental skills of the Cretan resistance fighters of World War II—the question is how.

"You tend to focus on the daring do and the recklessness; but I became interested in how do you do it?" McDougall said. "Where do you get the calories, how do you shelter yourself and how do you hide yourself?"

McDougall discovered that the group of aging Cretan artists and poets were able to capture the German general because of the way they lived on Crete. They were isolated, agrarian and had to draw on intrinsic skills like throwing, hunting and leaping more than most members of modern society.

Compassion and community, McDougall said, were also important factors in the resistance victory. 

"Today if we have a plumbing problem, we call a plumber. We rely on our phones, not on our friends," McDougall said. "On Crete, they didn't have that notion."

A large part of the ability to achieve the extraordinary, McDougall said, comes from understanding the existing skill-sets in one's community and the assets in one's surroundings.

"A single human alone in the wilderness is lunch for somebody else. Only as a pack are we effective."

Want to see what parkour looks like? Here's a video: