In late 2011 I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and I’ll readily admit it was, alongside Jurek’s similarly named Eat and Run, a key catalyst in my descent/ascent [delete as appropriate] into the wonderful world of ultra running.
You can therefore imagine my excitement when MacDougall’s second book – Natural Born Heroes – came out. After a Facebook voting poll between this and Killian Jornet’s Run or Die (what is it with running books and 3 word titles?) meant I’d be reading Born to Run’s follow-up I picked a hardback copy in Waterstones and set about devouring it.
Except I didn’t.
The book didn’t grab me the way others have. Sure, it had excitement. Nazis, Cretian heroes, Greek Myth, implausible spies and a series of characters so colourful they could have been called Geoffrey, Bungle, Zippy, George, Rod, Jane and Freddy. Yet, as I write this review I can’t help wondering why I didn’t LOVE the book.
First of all, the book’s tagline ‘The Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance’ is a massive missell. They are neither lost nor secret. Basically, eating plants, training with all your body in a natural environment and educating your body to be fat adapted and to run ‘easy’ (Maffetone-style) doesn’t rank anywhere near The Crying Game levels of revelation. And most men approaching middle-age will know exactly what I am talking about there.
Then, the book is all over the place. Jumping between present / near day endurance training in a variety of places by McDougall himself; and to the historical story of the valiant and heroic efforts of a bunch of disparate spies in Crete as they held out some of Hitler’s finest during WW2; whilst also following McDougall’s present day journey in their footsteps.
Perhaps, and this is a personal thing, McDougall gets a bit preachy when extolling the virtues of certain methods. In Born to Run the gospel according to barefoot running kinda grated, and again in Natural Born Heroes there is some of that know it all arrogance coming across in certain chapters. And like in Born to Run there is no true contrast to help the reader get a handle on the difference between writer opinion and scientific fact.
Natural Born Heroes is good. It’s ok. I imagine some will love it for the romance of the war effort, the wonderfully described landscapes and the thrill of the chase. I didn’t. As much as I wanted to. I yearned for insight, challenging concepts, threads to follow and ideas to consider. Instead I got a lot of superficial hearsay and a writer saying lots but little meaningful.