Natural Born Heroes, Chris McDougall – a book review

A few years ago author, Christopher McDougall wrote a book about a secretive tribe who basically showed us all that as a race, humans are indeed Born To Run. It was particularly interesting that this tribe happened to run in sandals made from tires and somehow whole swathes of runners decided that this ‘barefoot’ idea was a good one.
Now, McDougall returns with another book highlighting our predisposition for movement. This time, the setting is historical;  on the island of Crete, he is hunting the story of an incredible wartime escapade.

In honesty, it’s hard to go into too much detail without giving away the story. The book offers a wonderful insight into this element of the second world war, and I certainly had no idea about how much of a linchpin the tiny island proved to be in the war effort. McDougall certainly paints a wonderful picture of the heroic feats, helped in no small part by his own attempt to follow in the footsteps of Churchill’s band of merry men like Xan Fielding and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

The underlying idea of the book is that the Cretans had discovered the secret of the fascia in the body and its ability to move the body better than muscle alone ever could. Ultimately they had re-discovered what we now think of as parkour; natural movement that we seem to have forgotten about since the time of the Ancient Greeks.

McDougall has not really written a running book this time. Instead this is more of a historical tale underpinned by a reminder that natural movement can enable us to do more than we likely believe is possible. I am not sure it is going to spark the same revolution that his former book did, but in Natural Born Heroes McDougall spins a fascinating tale, and I would highly recommend it.

I have been inspired to add some different workouts to my week that will encourage more movement than the simple act of running. Read this book, I am confident you won’t be disappointed.

The Reason I Run, Chris Spriggs – a review

Do you remember in the summer of 2014 when the world went mad for throwing buckets of water over their heads and raising money for ALS? Do you remember what ALS stands for? Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is better known in the UK as Motor Neurone Disease, or MND. In a very unscientific sense, MND is a condition that sees a persons muscles weaken progressively until even the act of breathing becomes too much like hard work for their beleaguered system. By all accounts it is a brutal disease; there is no cure, and it often strikes even when in the prime of life. There is a slightly much better description on the MND page.

 

Chris Spriggs and Uncle Andrew
© West Sussex County Times

 

For author Chris Spriggs the reality of MND hit home when his uncle Andrew, a long time marathon and ultra – runner, was struck down by the disease in 2011. Spriggs had been inspired by his uncle to take up running and ultimately ‘The Reason I Run’ is centered largely around the marathon that the pair undertake together, Chris pushing his uncle Andrew in a wheelchair.

I am reluctant really to go into too much detail about the book – I don’t want to ruin the story, and I certainly cannot hold a candle to the riveting writing style that Spriggs employs. The only real endorsement that I can give this book is to say that it is almost un-putdownable, if indeed that is a word. The focus, of course, is on the act of running, but the the book is so much more than that. This is a story of human endeavour, of facing adversity and telling it to f**k off, if only for a few hours. It is bravery and camaraderie, and family and running, all wrapped up in a few hundred pages.

Quite simply, it is inspirational and it is moving. I borrowed my copy from the library as I happened to stumble across it one day. However, if you purchase a copy you will be supporting the MND association as they will receive a donation from the sale, and you will be buying a thoroughly good read.

You can read more from Chris Spriggs on his blog, ThinkSmileRun, or via twitter.

Lizzy Hawker, Runner – a review

I have long known the name, Lizzy Hawker, almost as long as I have been a runner as she is a phenomenon of the ultra running world; she wins races frequently and beats the boys more often than not, too. What I didn’t know about her was basically anything else.

Published in 2015 by Aurum Press, Runner is tagged ‘a short story about a long run’ and that certainly appears to be an accurate description as its three distinct chapters provide lots of information about Lizzy and her running primarily focusing on the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) and her runs from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu.

In section one we learn all about how Lizzy seemed almost to stumble into the world of long distance running. She describes her incredible first UTMB performance in 2005 in which she just hoped to stay in front of the woman she had overtaken, and eventually she wins – truly making her mark on the world of ultra running from the get-go.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” *

One of the best things I took from the book where some of the quotes that Lizzy shared.

The finish line. The end of something. You are where your journey has taken you. An end begins what a beginning ends.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” **

Section two moves on to her discovery of Nepal, and particular she talks about the challenge of moving from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu under her own steam. The pictures that Lizzy is able to paint with the written word are incredible and she really does transport the reader to get a true sense of how she felt 60+ hours into this phenomenal journey.

Sadly, section three seemed to lose it a little for me though. Lizzy suffered some long recurring injuries which led her to question her own personality and her place in the world at large. It is a question that I often try to comprehend myself; if I can’t run then I can’t be a runner, so what/who else am I?

This is a deep question, and a difficult one to answer. This section of the book is highly philosophical and this isn’t my problem with it, I think it was more odd that throughout this section Lizzy is addressing, You, whoever that is, and it suddenly felt disjointed and almost a little uncomfortable as I felt I was intruding on some personal correspondence between Lizzy and this mystery person.

I think the pictures in the middle of the book are a great addition, but actually I would have really liked some more / better maps or illustrations as well to support some of the pictures she was painting. The final section got a little tedious for me, but that absolutely should not put you off reading this book if you haven’t already.

One thing I was pleased to hear, after reading so much about her injury struggles in the book, is that just a matter of weeks ago Lizzy appears to have gotten it back under control and finished an amazing solo journey around Kathmandu:

 


 

* Carroll, L :  Alice in Wonderland
**Lao Tzu


 

Have you read this book from Lizzy Hawker? What did you think?

Any other running book suggestions for me?