Chris McDougall: “Natural Born Heroes” | Talks at Google


FEMALE SPEAKER: Please join me
in welcoming Chris McDougall. [APPLAUSE] CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
That was great. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, thank you so much. It’s really nice to
get a chance to discuss this book with
people who already know where it came from. And most of the people
I’ve been bumping into are familiar with “Born to Run.” And that adventure,
“Born to Run,” really fed into this one for
a couple different reasons. One was just the research. When I first began looking
into the story of “Born to Run” I didn’t realize there was such
this amazing trove of running and physiological history which
had been kind of forgotten, things about Emil Zatopek,
and Percy Cerutty, and Arthur Lydiard, all these
great masters of the past who had uncovered
this profound wisdom. And then we forget about it. And then we try to reinvent
it again and again. And it was while doing
that research that I first heard about the Cretan Runner,
who I originally thought was some kind of runner or some
kind of marathoner or ultra marathoner, and then
discovered, no, he wasn’t that kind
of runner at all. He was a foot messenger
during World War II. It sort of intrigued me. But it didn’t really fit
the scheme of “Born to Run,” so I put aside. But then something
else happened. And if you’ve read
“Born to Run,” you’re familiar with
Caballo Blanco, Micah True, who lived most of his life out
at Matt’s home town of Boulder, that and the Nederland
region, and then went down to the Copper
Canyons of Mexico to spend his time with
the Tarahumara Indians. Well, a few years after
the book came out, I was in Los Angeles for a
speaking event like this. And when I arrived
at the venue– my phone had died a
couple hours earlier. The battery had died–
so when I showed up, the host came up to me
and said, oh, Maria’s been trying to reach you. Maria Walton’s desperately
trying to reach you. That’s Caballo’s girlfriend. So I borrowed her phone
and called Maria back. And she said, I
think we need help. Micah’s missing. He went for a run and
he didn’t come back. And I’m like, well, that’s what
the dude does all the time. It’s like the story of his life. And she said, no, no, he left
Guadajuko tied up overnight. Now Guadajuko was this
mangy half-coyote mutt that Micah had found down
in the Copper Canyons. This is like a scary,
wild canyon dog. And naturally, he
adopted it and tried to turn it into a pet who
did not want to be a pet. And it’s this, snarly,
mangy, lesioned thing. But Caballo treated
this thing like a baby and cared for it
down in the canyons. And wherever he
went– he actually was back in Boulder, Matt. And you imagine him walking
down the streets of Boulder carrying this dog in
his arms like a baby. And this thing’s snarling. And the one time
he put him down, this thing runs in the
street and gets hit by a bus, breaks its leg. And so now he’s got this
gigantic plaster cast on its leg while
Micah– this thing’s like the size of
a German shepherd. He’s walking around
with this thing. He would site down for a
burger and a beer outside. And he’s trying to eat his
burger over the dog’s back while the dog’s
trying to bite it. So this is his dog. But the bond between
them was really tight. And one thing you
knew for sure was that Caballo would
never ever leave the dog tied up overnight. So what Maria told
me had happened was, in 2013, that race
which he had begun down the canyon a few years
before– and the year we went there, the year I wrote
about, seven of us showed up. Well, over time,
it began to grow. It went from seven to
about 15 to about 50, until that year, 2013, it
had gone from seven to more than 700 runners were turning
up at the bottom of this canyon for this crazy
cross country race that he had created as a way of
trying to blend the cultures, trying to bring people
from the outside world down to the canyons to
let them realize what the Tarahumara knew and letting
the Tarahumara know that there were people in the outside world
who valued and respected what they could do. So it’s this gigantic race. And it was Caballo’s
masterpiece. It was, finally, his
dream had come true. Everyone’s getting together. They’re running, they’re
racing, they’re drinking, they’re dancing. They’re having a
big old festival. And so after the race,
Maria was up in Arizona. And so Caballo
was driving north. And he stopped
off in New Mexico. He always liked to hang
out in the Gila wilderness wherever possible,
because that’s where Geronimo had run free. And it was a kind of
spiritual home for Micah. So he stopped off
at a friend’s place, tied up Guadajuko,
went for a little run, expected to be back in an hour. And then he never came back. So that was kind of distressing. Something was definitely wrong. So again, I was in Los Angeles. I called Luis Escobar,
the photographer who’d been with us on the trip. And he lives in Santa Barbara. And I said, have you
heard about this? And I could hear traffic
around him on the phone. He’s like, dude, I’m
already in the car. I’m coming down. He goes, where are you? I said, I’m in Los Angeles. He’s like, I’ll be
there in two hours. So I came in for the event
like this and said, I can talk. But I can’t answer questions,
because I gotta go. So I gave a 1-hour talk, went
out the door, grabbed my bags. Luis picked me up out front. And we’re on our way
down to New Mexico. And the whole drive
down– we finally had to yank him out of the front
seat and put him in the back. Because the dude was driving
and texting and calling. And he’s mounting this all
points bulletin gathering people to come for the search. And every step along the
way, every couple hours, we’d have to pull
over and meet someone by the side of the road who
dropped their car, hop in ours, and keep going. And at 2 o’clock in the morning,
we stopped off to get gas. And I was reaching
for my wallet. And Luis was like, no,
it’s already been paid for. Someone had Paypalled him money
to pay for gas on the way down. So we get down there. And even though we
had driven straight through like a bullet
through the night, we were not the first to arrive. Other people had come. Scott Jurek had
flown in from Denver. The Scaggs brothers, two ultra
runners who lived in New Mexico had driven out there. A guy from Canada, Simon
Donato, had hopped on a plane. He was flying down. The actor Peter Sarsgaard,
who had met Micah one time and actually didn’t get
along with him at all– found him really insulting and
condescending– he flew out. So very quickly, out of
the middle of nowhere, this search party
began to grow and grow. And I sort took a step
back as it was happening, thinking, you know, it’s
really kind of weird. Because this guy did
not try to make friends. He was a surly– did you
ever actually meet him, Matt? Did you ever run into him? AUDIENCE: No, never met him. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: OK. But you know the type, right–
the Boulder type, just sort of a holier than thou,
ex-hippie kind of dude. And yet he really
struck things in people so much that people who barely
knew him or didn’t know, when they thought he
was in trouble, they all came rushing down to help. We didn’t get there in time. I don’t think there was
any time to get there. And then, the irony
of it was that he been definitively spotted
heading northeast, into the woods. They knew exactly
where he had to be. There’s a quadrant there. Absolutely, to a
scientific certainty, he had to be in the
northeast quadrant. And we spent five days
searching that quadrant until, finally, somebody
like, you know what, if he absolutely has to be
here, then he’s probably there. And he turned around and
went to the southwest, and there he was. He had died by the
side of a creek. Still unclear why,
exactly what happened. The autopsy revealed
an enlarged heart, which really isn’t a cause
of death for an ultra runner. He had an enlarged heart because
he was running like 200 miles a week. But it’s more likely
that he had developed some kind of parasitic
disease which had weakened the walls of his hard. But again, I was struck
by this thought of, man, when Simon got on
that plane in Canada, he had to know that
there was no way that this guy was going to be
alive by the time he arrived. And yet he want anyway. And the same with Scott,
when he flew in from Denver, he knew that he was not
going to find a living guy. And yet that need to just move
and do something really stayed with me. And I wanted to find
out more about it. And that was one
of the things, that was one of the impulses
that had me circle back to this idea of
the Cretan Runner. Because one of
the things I never really understood about
resistance fighters is, why do you bother. When German forces come
and occupy your country, you have two choices. You can keep your head
down, wait for better days. Or you can do what these guys
do, which is rush out there and fight what you know
is a losing battle. And then I started to think
about something else, too. Even physically–
not even mentally, why did you make this choice–
but physically, how do you actually pull this off? Because when I
started to look back into this guy known as
the Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis, and questioned
what he did, what he was doing was physically impossible. So let’s begin at the
beginning of the story. So what happened
on Crete was this. When Hitler began
rolling into Poland at the beginning of World War
II, what he was up against were armed forces across
Western Europe which has devoted to previous 30 years
to doing only one thing, which was keeping all the
Germans in Germany. They know, at some point,
Germany was going to try and bust out. So all that France, and Belgium,
and Luxembourg, and the UK were doing was creating
defenses, both physically and in terms of manpower, to
just bottle up the Germans. Because at some point,
you know they’re going to play some shenanigans again. So that’s what
Hitler was facing. He was facing an
entire continent devoted to stopping him. And they were extremely
effective for like a half an hour. And after that he just
blazed on through. He destroyed every army
in a matter of months. I mean, he knocked
over nine major armies in a matter of months. It was an astonishing
military performance. He was extremely close to
winning the entire war. All he had to do now, after
Western Europe was conquered, is get to Eastern Europe. You knock off the
Russians, you win. There’s no way the US is going
to get involved at that point. There’s no interest
in the US being a combatant in a
war against someone who controls all of
Eastern and Western Europe. But the path to Eastern
Europe leads through Crete. And Crete is otherwise
pretty insignificant. It’s a small island off the
coast of mainland Greece, not strong, not big. There are no resources there. The only thing that it
is useful for is it’s a convenient stepping
stone across the river. So you step on Crete
on your way there. It’s a nice transit spot. So you know, Germans had
knocked off France in five days. So they figure, OK, 24 hours. We can win, lock down Crete. We store all of our equipment,
our supplies, our manpower there. We use it as our big Costco
warehouse en route to Russia. So that’s what he did. They launched the biggest air
invasion in military history on Create, 80,000 soldiers
dropping from the sky. So if you were a
Cretan that morning, you would notice the
sky getting dark. And you would look
out and see, it was absolutely
blanketed by parachutes and gliders and planes coming in
for a quick, massive blitzkrieg aerial assault to
conquer the island. But what the Cretans
did was unique. Because unlike anywhere
else in the world, the Cretans resisted
immediately. It was the only place where
the resistance sprang up before the Germans
even hit the ground. So these guys were strapping
steak knives on brooms and running out the door, as
a unified body, to fight back, which sounds
stirring and heroic. But when you think about it
too, it’s such an anomaly. Because right now, if there’s
a big bang outside that door, I guarantee you,
all of us are not going to react the same way. You know? We’re not going to grab chairs
and go rushing to the door. These guys did. And they put up a fight that was
so determined that the 24 hour deadline came and went. And the Germans could not
get control of the island. So that was day one through
two, three, four, five. Day five, Hitler
sends a telegram to Kurt Student, head
of the Luftwaffe, and says, what’s
going on in Crete. France fell in five days. Why is this island with no
standing army still fighting? It took Student 10 days
to finally get control of the perimeter of the island. And so what this civilians did
was, OK, you got the perimeter. We’ll head up into
the mountains. And they went up
into the mountains to keep fighting back. So at that point, Hitler
was out of patience– not a particularly patient
man in the first place. And so he sent this guy along. This is general Kurt Student–
hang on– it’s General Friedrich Mueller. I think, around his neck, as
you know, is an iron cross. I learned the sign language
for badass recently, which is this, if you
ever want to know. But he is a notorious badass. You win one of those things
for distinguished service in the German army, which is
pretty distinguished service. He was one of Hitler’s
most experienced generals. So he puts him on Crete. He’s like, you know what, no
more messing around on Crete. You rule this island
with extreme brutality. Anybody gets out of line, you
put a bullet in their head. You see any village
up to any nonsense, you burn it to the ground. I want this place secure. I want to get my troops in,
and out, and off to Moscow. So that was General
Mueller’s mandate. Do whatever the hell you want. Ignore the Geneva Conventions. Control this island
any way you can. And he had 80,000 armed
troops at his disposal. But he was up
against forces which might be pretty formidable. Because up against
General Friedrich Mueller, who became known as The
Butcher of Crete, was this guy. That’s George. So George is the guy who
became known as the Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis. He was a shepherd. He had never served in
the military at all. He was pretty small. He was pretty shabby. Didn’t own a gun. Had a nickname as well. The Butcher of
Crete was one guy. He was up against a
guy known as The Clown. The Clown got his name because
he liked to play pranks. He liked the write long rhyming
odes to things, like “Ode to an Inkspot on a
Schoolteacher’s Skirt.” But when the war began, George
ran up into the mountains. And because he couldn’t
really fight, or shoot, or anything, he
just ran messages. And that was the thing that I
started to really dial in on, is, how on earth does
this guy do what he does. So Matt, you’ve run
some long races. Have you run the
London marathon? AUDIENCE: Yes. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Pretty hard? AUDIENCE: Yes. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: OK. Pretty hard. Did it look like this? OK. This is the kind of landscape
that this guy’s operating on. So without exaggerating, what
he would do is– resistance would be holed up
in a cave up here. And they wold say, OK,
tomorrow morning at dawn, we are going to go
down to the coast and blow up some German ships. Tell the other guys. He’d say, OK.
[RUNNING SOUND EFFECT] Tomorrow at dawn, we
blow up the German ships. Ah, dawn’s early. Tell them 9:00. OK, 9:00.
[RUNNING SOUND EFFECT] Nine. And so back and forth,
back and forth, that’s the only way to communicate. No radios, no walkie talkies. Only George running up
and down these mountains. A typical journey for
George, because he wanted to spread the
resistance as far as possible, would be 50 miles. 50-mile trek, deliver a message,
get a reply, 50 miles back. Two ultras, one weekend, no
aid stations, no Clif Bars, no Powerade, no little
silvery blanket at the end. On top of it,
remember, you’ve got a guy called The
Butcher who’s been told to put a bullet in
your head if he sees you. So you’re staying off the trail. You’re going off-trail
as much as possible. You’re trying to be invisible. So these 50 miles are 50 rugged
trail miles with no ground support whatsoever. Again, you’re a fit dude, Matt. If I asked you to do this,
you’d tell me to go fuck myself. AUDIENCE: I wouldn’t use
that language though. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
You’d say no way. No way am I doing double ultras
in a weekend with no support and no navigation skills. And yet this guy did this
again, and again, and again. And he not only pulled it off,
but he survived and thrived. And the common story about
him is he’d burst into cave. He’d have a smile on his face. He’d deliver the message. He’d have a little shot of
moonshine and be on his way again. Not only is the guy doing
it, but it doesn’t seem to be having any physical toll. So you come across an outlier
like this, it’s only one of two possibilities. Either this dude is
Wolverine, you know, with a titanium spine,
and regenerates cells, and there’s nothing
to be learn from him. Or he is just a normal dude,
which he seems to look like, who has learned something
that the rest of us can learn. And that became
my question– what exactly is this guy up to that’s
different than the rest of us? So again, the fact that
this happened on Crete was not a coincidence. Crete is one of these places,
much of the Copper Canyons, which has remained
frozen in time. It has tapped into a way of life
dating back thousands of years that the rest of us have
moved beyond but they’ve never forgotten. And the thing about Crete is,
because it was this isolated island that was constantly
under occupation and invasion by outside forces, these
guys were basically still doing the same
things in the 1940s that they were doing
back in the 1440s. They had essentially
never changed, the same kinds of traditions. And the main tradition was
this Greek art of the hero. All the stuff we read about
Greek folklore and mythology, these were not fantasy stories. These were kind of
like survival tips. This is how you survive
in ancient Greece. And the whole idea
of those Greek myths is to tell people
that you can actually do a lot more than
you think you can if you learn these techniques. So the art of the hero,
again, was not this thing like picking the right guide. The art of the hero was
assuming everybody’s capable and figuring out
what they can do and trying to raise
up their level. So what am I talking about? One thing in particular
was strength. We have this notion, now, of
strength being about size. Right? You go to the gym, you
press some weights. You keep doing this even though
there’s no reason whatsoever that you would ever
have to do this. Yet you go to any
gym in the world, I guarantee you’ll
see somebody doing this for absolutely no reason. You will never in your life have
to do this other than picking up your groceries, maybe. And yet people are always
doing this all the time. Yet it serves no purpose. We’ve also got
this sense, again, bigger, bulkier, more
muscled is stronger. Yet if you were trying to
survive out in the wilderness, I have to ask you a question. Would you want a guy who looks
like The Rock to be out there? Or would you want someone
who looks more like this? [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] -Don’t know why my legs hurt. It’s not even that long. -Why wasn’t he just scared
to do it [INAUDIBLE]. [END VIDEO PLAYBACK] CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: So those
are Fizz, Anti, and Shirley. They actually train here, in
London, over at The Chainstore. They’re part of an
all-female parkour crew. But what I think was really
intriguing about this is, you know, parkour developed from
this thing called the natural method that began
back in the 1900s. And where it sprang
from was, there was a French naval officer
named Georges Hebert who was stationed on
a troop ship just off the island of Martinique. And when the volcano on the
island began to explode, Georges Hebert hops
in his life raft. And he starts steaming
in towards shore trying to save lives. And what he saw were
tens of thousands of people– one of the
greatest natural disasters, at that time, in history–
tens of thousands of people dying
right in front of him because they just couldn’t do a
couple of simple, basic animal movements– a movement that
any kind of little dog, or kitten, or cat
could do, but humans couldn’t do it– like
swim a few yards offshore, or pull themselves up off the
ground, or pick up a child. Any cat can pick up a
kitten and run for it. Yet humans trying to
pick up a 40-pound child were struggling, not because
the weight was very much. I could give you a
40-pound box, you’d pick it up with no problem. But a 40-pound kid,
they’re awkwardly balanced and they don’t have handles. They’re difficult to grip. So if you haven’t done it, for
the first time, it’s awkward. So what Georges
Hebert is looking at, again, are these
needless deaths. And he’s asking himself,
what has gone wrong with us, as a species, where we cannot
even save ourselves with very simple motions? So he went back to
France after this. And he decided to do a test. He took a bunch of his
fellow naval officers and he decided to test them
in some basic human movements, basic human animal movements. And he identified 10 movements. Can you run, walk, and hike? Can you throw and catch? Can you defend? Can you pursue? Can you climb? Can you leap? And can you land? Things like that. And he tested his
naval officers, guys who were supposed
to be physically fit and ready to
defend the nation. And he found that most of them
could barely do at least half of the movements. And the ones who could do them
couldn’t do them well at all. So he began to train them. What he decided to do was strip
them right down to basics. And by strip them,
being French, he really meant strip them down. He had them in these
little thongy things. And he created these big
outdoor obstacle courses, the kinds of things you
see now with Spartan races. And he turned it into play. The number one rule of
parkour is no competition. You can never win. No parkour games. No competition. Secondly, it’s got
to be outdoors. Thirdly, it’s got to
be in all conditions. You don’t do parkour
on a sunny afternoon. You do it at 3:00 in the
morning, you do it in the rain, you do it in the
snow– any conditions. And the last thing was, always
and ultimately collaborative. The goal is to help other
people, to push them along. And what you saw in that
video right there, to me, is exactly what Georges
Hebert was talking about. We’ve developed this
unfortunate inflated notion of what strength is. And it all sort of dates
back to the unfortunate debut of this film in 1972
called “Pumping Iron.” You guys ever seen
“Pumping Iron?” If you haven’t seen it, or
even if you have seen it, it is a crazy psychodrama. You’ve got to check it out. It is a bizarre movie. You saw two things there
which we’d never seen before. One was these dudes
in panties and oil just all conspiring
behind each other’s backs about how they hate
each other and about how they’re going to beat each
other and sort of whispering. And it’s a little
like a cat fight among giant, inflated humans. But the second thing
you saw was something we’d never seen before,
which is the largest humans in human history. I think nobody had ever
been the size of all those guys for a simple reason. We just never had the
technology before. We never actually had drugs. And so by the time
we had synthesized testosterone and created
anabolic steroids, we now had the drugs which
could supersize humans. You combine that
with this exercise we talk about now, too,
where you isolate a muscle. And you just keep
doing repetitive motion until that muscle tears. And when it tears, it will swell
with blood to immobilize it. So what we created were these
gigantic immobile people with damaged muscles. Again, the way you get big is
you shoot something, isolate something, and damage it. And it will swell with blood. So we created the opposite of
what we should have been doing. We were trying to get
people like Fizz and Anti and Shirley who could move,
and adapt, and flow, and laugh while they’re doing it. And instead, we created
these big immobile creatures, which, in a natural
survival setting, is exactly the opposite
of what you want. You take someone like
The Rock or Arnold and you put them in the
jungle, they become lunch. You’re big and
immobile, you’re dead. Something’s going to eat you. But if you put someone
like Fizz and Anti and Shirley in the jungle,
I’d say my money’s on them to actually get out of there
and get out of there alive. They’re quick. They can adapt. They can adjust to any
kinds of circumstances. So what Georges
Hebert wanted to do was reverse this idea
of muscular strength as being the gold
standard and get back to the natural idea of
suppleness and adaptability. The only problem was
he developed this just before the beginning
of World War I. So all these people he
trained in the natural method were obviously fantastic
as front line soldiers. So they all got into
the front lines. His entire teaching
class got wiped out. And the natural method
that Georges Hebert debuted in the early 1900s
was essentially gone. But little vestiges lived on. And there’s a guy named
Erwan Le Corre who I heard about a couple years later. And he went down to– and that’s
a cool female parkour crew. So Erwan Le Corre–
hang on a second. Hang on. Hang on– he read up
on Georges Hebert. And this is a guy selling
trinkets and glow necklaces on beaches in Corsica. But he became intrigued
by the natural method. And so he went down to
Brazil and hooked up with mixed martial
arts fighters. And they basically
camped out in the woods and started exploring Georges
Hebert’s old techniques, trying to figure out whether
they could actually bring them back to life. And this is Erwan in action. And the kind of these he’s
doing right now– he’s a well built guy. But he’s not particularly big
or muscular, but extraordinarily adept and agile. So I met him and trained with
him in the woods for a while. And what I began to
realize is this idea of how the Cretan Runner
was able to survive in the mountains
began to make sense. Because what Erwan
is doing is just using all of the
elastic recoil strength, all the elasticity
of his body as opposed to using muscular force,
which is a big energy drain. You can see how relaxed
he is at all times, just flowing across
his landscape. And so what I think
the Cretan Runner would have been able to do, what
the Cretan resistance was able to do, was tap
into this legacy of elastic recoil strength,
the same thing a boxer uses when he’s in the ring, real
light, and loose, and bouncy. And that was what made the
difference between death and survival was adapting
to the landscape as opposed to trying to dominate
it and overcome it. So my question then was,
well, how can the rest of us learn this. And what’s the benefit of this? The second thing, too– so
that was the strength element– the second thing had to
do with energy input. So even if you are as skillful
as Erwan and the parkour girls, the question then is, well,
how do you fuel this thing. And it led me down
another avenue too, looking at, fat is
fuel, fat adaptation. So most of us are on
this constant sugar cycle whether we call it sugar or not. But you get up in the morning,
you have a bagel, that’s sugar. If you have salad dressing
on your salad at lunch, that’s sugar. Bowl of pasta, rice,
bread– that’s all sugar. These are fast-burn fuels
that go through your body very quickly. If you do a marathon
and you start taking any kinds of those goos,
that in just a pure sugar shot. That is a Mars
bar to your belly. So most of us, all the time,
we are constantly replenishing. We are on a three
to four hour cycle of throwing things down our hole
in order to fuel the furnace. But I met a guy
named Tim Noakes. Does anybody know
who Tim Noakes is? You must– you don’t know that? So Time Noakes is a sport
scientist from South Africa. He’s the guy who created the
whole carbohydrate loading model in the first place. Back in the ’70s, he
was studying the data. And he realized that the best
way to perform endurance sports was to load up on
carbohydrates, fast-burn fuel. And then the next day, you’d
be able to just burn out all this fuel. So all of these
pasta dinners you have before a marathon,
and the pancake breakfast, and the oatmeal, that is
all because of Tim Noakes. It became worldwide. It became a keystone of
all endurance sports. You gotta carbo-load. The problem was Tim Noakes,
about four years ago, suddenly realized that after
running 70 marathons and 15 Comrades ultramarathons,
he was diabetic, which really alarmed him. Because his dad had died
of diabetes and his brother had died of diabetes. And he’s like, I am the
fittest guy in the world, I am the most esteemed
sports scientist, and I am dying of diabetes. So he went back
into the research. He spent two years
analyzing nutritional data. And then he called
a press conference. And keeping in
mind, this guy has written a book called
“The Lore of Running.” He is the go-to researcher
for sports scientists around the world and he has
been for more than 40 years. He calls a press conference. And he gets in front
of the microphones. And he goes, I’ve
hurt a lot of people. I may have kill people. And I’m very, very
sorry, I was wrong. And what he was wrong
about was carbohydrates. He realized that
the very thing he’d been telling people
they needed to eat was the absolute worst
thing they could be eating. It was a poison. He had prescribed
this for years. And now he was paying
the price for it. And since then, he’s
become one of the world’s most aggressive and
zealous spokespeople against this
constant sugar cycle, not only because it
damages lives, but also because it’s the
opposite of what we were trying to accomplish. What George Psychoundakis
was able to do up in the mountains– at one
point, George Psychoundakis went for three days on a
diet of only boiled hay. He put hay in water,
and he boiled it, and he drank the water. Well, there are no
calories in boiled hay. It’s nothing. He just drank some brown water. That’s all he did. Yet for three days, this guy is
running through the mountains. I ask Tim Noakes about this. And he said, yeah,
the reason why is because you have
enough stored fat on your body to go for weeks
without another bite of food. You could put a guy on
a raft in the Atlantic and then set him off to sea. And then three months
later, they’ll rescue him. And he’s pretty much fine. He’ll be pretty skinny,
but he’ll be fine. He’ll be able to stand
up and walk around. And the reason is just that. Your body, at all times,
is making a quick choice. It’s either going to
burn what’s readily available in an
emergency situation or, if there’s no
emergency, it’ll say, OK, we’ll store this for later. Let’s use the body fat that
we’ve already got here. We don’t need the
quick burn stuff. So let’s leave that for later. Your body’s going to go to
whatever it needs in a crisis. So if you go out for a run
and there’s sugar available and your heart rate
starts to go up, your body interprets this
as an emergency situation. OK, my heart rate’s going up. Somebody must be chasing me. What can I burn really quick
that will get me some energy? Oh, there’s some sugar here. Let’s burn the sugar. And that’s what happens. So we’re on a
constant sugar cycle. And then when the
sugar is depleted, your body is thinking,
OK, you know what, we just went through an emergency. We don’t know when the next
emergency’s going to arrive. Let’s store this fat. Let’s not use this fat. Let’s look for some more sugar. And your body starts
to crave that sugar. So what guys like Tim Noakes
did was go back in the research. And they realized that,
throughout history, endurance athletes have
found effective ways of training their bodies to
burn fat first, sugar last. And it’s called fat adaptation. And so Noakes went back to
a guy named Phil Maffetone. Crazy story. It’s too long to
get into right now. But Phil Maffetone was this
chiropractor from upstate New York who became
the go-to trainer for the top Ironman
triathletes in the world, guys like Mark Allen and Mike Pigg. And the reason why
was because this is predating all of the
endurance products we have now. So if you’re doing
an Ironman and you’re looking at like 12
hours of effort, well, you didn’t have Clif bars. You didnt’ have power bars. So what are these
guys going to do? So they became fat adapted. And these guys set records
back in the late ’80s and ’90s which weren’t broken
for the next 15 years. Nobody could touch these guys. Because the stuff
they were doing on body fat was
superior to what anybody was doing on the sugar cycle. What Noakes found most
compelling about becoming fat adapted is it
begins to reverse metabolic syndrome, which
is one of the biggest killers in the Western world. Metabolic syndrome is where
your body is no longer processing the sugars anymore. And your insulin
levels are spiking. And that causes diabetic
related illnesses. So he became a firm
believer in this. But again, where
I became intrigued was all these pieces
of the puzzle started to come together for me. I began to see how a guy like
Psychoundakis could physically, with the strength, run
through the mountains using the same kind of natural
method activities as Erwan Le Core
and Georges Hebert. I started to see this
whole fat adaptation model where you get
off the sugar cycle and you get onto a fat model. When I actually
met Noakes in DC– the dude’s pushing
70 years old– and I offered to take
him out for lunch– and he’d just come out of
a long conference, three hours of talking– and I
offered to take him to lunch. And he was like,
no, no, that’s OK. I ate yesterday. What’d you have? He said, oh, you Americans
have the best bacon. I ate a lot of bacon
and sausages and eggs. And that was it. He hadn’t eaten in 48 hours,
wasn’t hungry, didn’t care. He was about to get on a plane
to Cape Town, didn’t care. But that’s how slow his
metabolic cycle was, how slowly he was processing his foods. So where this left me was
with an adventure story, looking at something that
The Clown and his colleagues on Crete did which
had never been done anywhere else in the world
in modern military history. These guys came up with
a perfectly brilliant ancient Greek
strategy of, you know what, if we can’t
defeat 80,000 soldiers, maybe we’ve just got
to get one of them. You know, it’s a very
Trojan Horse kind of thing. Let’s just use our brains and
then reverse the whole power dynamic. So they decided to do something
which had never been done. They decided they
would go and grab the commanding
general on the island. Let’s go kidnap
The Butcher and go on the run, which is a
really fucking stupid idea. Because you’re on an island. There is nowhere to go. And on top of that, the
reason why nobody ever tried this before is, to
actually get at this guy, you’ve got to get your way
through 80,000 soldiers, grab him, get him back
through 80,000 soldiers. And then you’re running. And where do you run? Because you have
planes overhead. You have boats
circling the island. You have search dogs. You have troops fanning out. You got Hitler, who’s
already pissed off at Crete and done with the nonsense. That’s the situation
you put yourself into. And that’s what
these guys tried. And that’s what they attempted. And where it left them
was, at the end of the war when General Wilhelm
Keitel, who was the architect of the
German war machine, was on trial at Nuremberg,
before they took him out and hanged him
for war crimes, they asked him to make
a final statement. And he said, if it wasn’t
for what happened on Crete, I wouldn’t be
sitting here today. Other people would
be in this chair. It’s because of the
Greek resistance that we lost the war. He didn’t blame Hitler. Didn’t blame Stalin. Didn’t blame Churchill. Didn’t blame the
invasion of Normandy. The people he blamed
were those guys who tapped into that
ancient art of the hero that were able to tap
into these resources and hold up the Germans just
long enough so that by the time they finally got off
Crete and finally started heading into Russia,
it was too late. It had already started to snow. The winter had come down. And as you know,
in Russia, you’ve got to get in and
out before winter. The Germans were
just a step too late. And they lost the war. You know, when we
ask ourselves, why does any of this
stuff matter, there are no Germans outside
invading– but to me, the reason why it’s important
is because– you know, imagine you can go through
life one of two ways. You can be sort of sedentary
and, I’m going to get in shape, I’m going to get ready. Or you can be the kind of person
that is ready all the time. And that were Georges Heberts
thought is, be useful. If you could only accomplish
one thing in your life, it’s just to be useful. If you need to do something,
if someone’s counting on you, can you actually stand
up on your own two feet and step in there and help? And that, to me, was what
the real crowning achievement of Crete was– not that they
killed Germans, not that they ran through the mountains. But the fact was that
they knew themselves. And in a crisis, and
when someone needed them, they could actually step
forward and be useful. Guys, I know that was a
long burst of information. So I appreciate your attention. And I’d be happy to take
any of your questions. Thanks very much. Thanks. [APPLAUSE] MALE SPEAKER: Let’s
ask questions. Could you unplug the– I think
there’s some sound if you unplug this sometimes. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: Sure. MALE SPEAKER: And
who’s got questions? No questions at all. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Strangely incurious for Google. MALE SPEAKER: Let’s swap mikes,
because this one is fine. CHRISTOPHER
MCDOUGALL: All right. It’s a strangely
incurious crowd. AUDIENCE: I have a question. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
There you go. Verity stepping up. AUDIENCE: It’s a
really quick one. CHRISTOPHER
MCDOUGALL: All right. AUDIENCE: I’d just like to
understand what happened to The Clown in the end. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Oh, you know something? I have a little
slide about that. It’s really– see if
I can find it here. That’s what happened
to The Clown. But the fact was– you
know what though, if you’re going to go out, have a little
monument to you for what you did. There’s a lot more
about him in the book, so I won’t go into
that in depth. But the guy went out in
a blaze of glory, yeah. MALE SPEAKER: In
researching the book, did you learn anything
which you’ve now taken on and do daily? What’s the biggest thing
you’ve taken away from it? CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
My favorite thing I took away is this. This is Colette. She’s a middle school
science teacher in Florida. When we start talking about
natural movement, one of them is throwing. And one thing we all know about
throwing is half of the species can’t do it. Do we know which
half that is Verity, which half of the
species cannot throw? AUDIENCE: Um, is this
a diversity issue? MALE SPEAKER: Is
it the male half? AUDIENCE: Is it the male half? CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: Is it? Are you asking me or
are you telling me? AUDIENCE: I’m asking. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Well, I’m asking you. AUDIENCE: I’m telling you. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Who cannot throw? AUDIENCE: The male half. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: You
ever see a female NFL player? Anyway, I’m taunting
you a little bit. We have this whole conception
that girls can’t throw– throw like a girl, girls
can’t throw– which really flies in the face of what
natural movement’s all about. As Georges Hebert
said, if it’s natural, then everybody’s got to do it,
men and women, old and young alike. It’s not natural if only
half the species can do it. So why is it that we have this
conception that girls can’t throw, old people can’t throw? And the reason why throwing
is so important– you guys are in for another 45
minutes by the way– the reason why throwing is
so important– it’s probably the most important movement
ever in human history. Like, the reason why you guys
have your jobs here today is because some caveman picked
up a rock and hit an antelope. Like, that was the beginning
of all creative imagination. Because we’re the only
creatures that can do this. You can pick up a rock. And it’s one thing if the
antelope is right there and you [CLUNKING SOUND]. OK, that’s pretty easy. But if the antelope has other
plans for the afternoon, like, takes off, now suddenly,
the next thing you’ve got to do is calculate a ton of
variables like that. You’ve got to figure out
velocity, and weight, and texture, and force. Hey guys. When you have a chance to read
“Natural Born Heroes,” two of the gentleman
who probably do not want to be pointed
to at this moment are Chris and Pete White,
who just arrived now. You’ve got to pick up this
rock and then do something. You have to throw not
where the antelope is, but where the antelope is not. You have to think
into the future. You have to actually make that
active, creative imagination, creating a reality
in your mind that doesn’t exist yet in the world. And that led to everything else. That created language, and
literature, and technology, and engineering. So I became really
intrigued by this. So again, if throwing so
fundamentally important, what has happened? So that’s one of
the things I started practicing was– I saw these
videos of Colette chucking knives. And she set this
up in her kitchen. So when she was doing
the dishes and stuff, she would just grab steak knives
and just start winging them. But I became intrigued by, first
of all, how relaxed she is. She’s spinning around,
flinging her hair and having a good time,
chucking underhand, and sidearm, and that kind of thing. That’s a dangerous look. And so that’s what I
started to research. So yes, if I learned
something– so one thing I started getting into is this
whole thing about throwing. So I started practicing
throwing knives myself. And you do this whole
thing of no-spin technique. And then I went to
see whether I could teach other people
to throw knives So I started with my daughters. I’ve got a 14-year-old
out there, dating age. And I put some
knives in her hand. And I have no concerns
about her anymore. But one of the
things about it, too, is– I’ve just got one
quick, little demonstration about throwing technique. So we know where throwing
all comes from– actually, since I’ve already
embarrassed you once, Verity– so here’s
this really cool thing about throwing technique. We have this idea of aim
being a cerebral process where you stop, and you
look, and you profile, and you do all
this kind of stuff. But actually– here’s
what we’re going to do. So here’s where aim comes from. If you’d just put your hands on
top of my hands, just lightly. Now I’m going to
move my hands around. OK? And you’re just going
to follow my hands. All right. I’ll move them around here. And I’m going to try
and go faster and faster and try to shake you off. All right? All right? FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s
not going to happen. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: OK. It can’t happen, right? Now let’s do this, let’s
move them apart a little bit, separate our hands by
about an inch or two. Same thing, OK? Follow my hands. Ready? Good. Good. Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. You actually have to
use your brain, right? There’s a disconnect. You’re using your brain
and your eye disconnects. But if I asked you right know,
where’s– point to my hand. Point to the screen. FEMALE SPEAKER: Which screen? CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Yeah, two fists. Yeah, two kinds. But the idea is your brain
actually instinctively knows where it wants to go. Your finger automatically
knows where to go. So to actually turn yourself
into a throwing machine, this whole idea of natural
movement is your body already knows how to do it. Where we get into
trouble is we try to rationalize
everything and turn it into a cerebral process instead
of just a purely instinctive process. So if we worked
for like 10 minutes and had some knives
in your hand, you would be sinking them in
that wall like no problem. Do we have knives? OK. So thanks, Verity. Yeah, there was a
question in the back there too, wasn’t there? AUDIENCE: Yeah. AUDIENCE: I think we need a mic. AUDIENCE: I wanted to ask
you a similar question about takeaways, more
about what you eat. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: Oh,
well first, I want to bring up, when you have an opportunity
to read the book, the reason why there’s a book
is because of this gentleman, Chris White, who I
think– I don’t think there’s any way I can
put you more on the spot than I am right now. CHRIS WHITE: No, that’s fine. Hello. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: So
Chris White is from Oxford. And early on– I’ll get back
to your question in one second. I just wanted to introduce
Chris a little bit more. So when I first
begin this process I heard about a guy named
Patrick Leigh Fermor who had been on Create and had
been involved in the abduction. And he was still alive. And I knew his address. I knew where he lived in Greece. And I’d written him several
letters and didn’t get replies. And so in the
newspaper business, as a journalist, the
next thing you do then, you just door stop them. You show up at a door
and you bang on the door until they come out. And so that was my plan. But on the way there
I had this twinge of, this is probably a bad idea. So I was able to contact Artemis
Cooper and Antony Beevor, husband and wife historians
who knew Paddy very well. And I was able to contact them. And they said, that
is a really bad idea. If you go to see
him, essentially, anybody who knows him is
going to shut you out. It is a really bad thing. Don’t do it. And for very good
reasons, they were right. But what they ended up doing
was actually putting in touch with Chris and his brother
Pete, who probably, I would say, know more about every step
of this journey than anybody else alive. CHRIS WHITE: We do. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: They do. And so I’d like to
introduce– so I’ll answer your question very briefly. And then I’d like to
turn it over for Chris. Do we have time, Christina? OK. So your question, what
do I eat now, it’s funny. You hear a lot of buzz
about the paleo diet and a lot of advocates
of the paleo diet. Essentially, basically
I eat the paleo diet. I think if you cut
out processed foods, you cut out anything
high glycemic, and you stick to things which
are high in saturated fats and vegetables– kind of
like Michael Pollan said, eat real food, mostly
vegetables, not too much. And to me– and I keep hearing
it over and over again– anybody who shifts to an
unprocessed, low glycemic diet, the change is quick
and very long-lasting. So I’d like to introduce
Chris White to tell you a little bit more about
his journey, which actually became mine. CHRIS WHITE: All right. OK. CHRISTOPHER
MCDOUGALL: Thank you. CHRIS WHITE: It’s OK. You have that. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: OK. CHRIS WHITE: Well,
this is unusual. I was in Crete until Saturday. So I just arrived back
having– Peter and I, we’ve walked the
route four times now. Paddy only did it once. But he did lots of other trips
as well, as you might imagine. And what we’ve done is we’ve
found all the caves that were used by Paddy
and with the general, but also some of the other
places that he stayed. And we’ve helped write
a book, Paddy’s account. It’s called
“Abducting a General.” And it’s on sale, or
has been on sale– it is on sale– coming
up, in fact, next month. And we helped edit that. And we wrote an account
of how to walk the route. And we’ve just had feedback
from some folk from Oxford who have followed
our guide and said that it worked very well
as far as they can tell. So we’ve found lots
of caves and things. And I could show you those now. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Do we have time to show some caves and things? MALE SPEAKER: We have
’til about half past. You have about
eight minutes left. CHRIS WHITE: Well, I’ve got to
get a memory stick and plug it in. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: OK. But maybe for another– MALE SPEAKER: We can email
them around afterwards. CHRIS WHITE: All right. I could talk to you
about it another day. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: But
I became intrigued by Chris because– it also gave me a
mnemonic, like when in doubt, find a Brit. Because whatever you’re
interested in, somewhere, there is someone in the UK who’s
been doing this for 15 years and has been studying everything
for no apparent reason. And that’s what– so I
was– am I wrong about that? CHRIS WHITE: No, no. It was very good to do. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: Yeah. And so that basically
became, to me– because as Chris pointed
out, Paddy himself didn’t know exactly
where he had gone. You know, he’s running
through the mountains running for his life. He’s not actually
stopping and checking GPS coordinates
and mapping things. So what Chris was able to do
was recreate this entire thing. So if you’re going to talk
about a physical challenge, you gotta know what
the challenge is. Like, where exactly did they
go and how did they survive? And that, to me, became the
map that the whole story was based upon. Are there any other questions? Yes. AUDIENCE: If you wanted to
do that walk, what time, what season would be best to go? CHRIS WHITE: The
spring is delightful. And that’s when they were
doing it, from April 26 to May the 14th was the time
they were doing it. And in fact, we do
it in April-May. And that’s when Chris did it. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
How long would you think it would take
if someone’s going to do it on a recreational– CHRIS WHITE: I think you should
give yourself eight days. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Just in time. AUDIENCE: And no gels. CHRIS WHITE: No– AUDIENCE: Don’t take any gels. CHRIS WHITE: –gels. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Like marathon goo gels. Yeah, you don’t
know about those? Yeah. CHRIS WHITE: It’s
delightful in the spring. AUDIENCE: We’ve got a question. AUDIENCE: Yeah, hi, Chris. Through “Born to
Run,” you popularized the recent phenomenon
of barefoot running and also the introduction
of chia seeds. Did you come across
a similar food item that the Cretan Runner used? CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL:
Not so much a food item, but a food approach. And it’s funny, I
thought about this. I thought, I tell ya,
if you took the Cretans and you put them in
the Copper Canyons, they would probably
eat and act the same as the Tarahumara Indians. And if you took the
Tarahumara and put them on Crete, same thing. I think what I
became intrigued by was seeing this
consistency of behavior and eating patterns throughout
history and throughout regions. Basically, what chia does is it
acts as a nice slow-burn fuel that allows you to
both hydrate and give yourself caloric density
pretty efficiently. But on Crete, I think
it was actually, the Cretan diet became
the Mediterranean diet, and this idea of
nuts, olives, bit of meet, lots of foraged greens. The other thing I
started looking into too, I found a woman in Brooklyn who
actually prospects– or sorry, forages– for food in
Brooklyn, which you would think would be the desert
of nutrition. And yet what she
was finding was– one of the cool
things she found– I forget exactly what it was. It was sorrel or something. But we were actually
outside the Brooklyn Coop, which is this expensive,
pricey place where sorrell sells for like $7 a pound. She’s like, it’s
actually growing here in the cracks of the
sidewalk outside. But one of the things she
showed me was– and Pete, who is actually an expert
horticulturist as well, was actually able to point
out the things in the ground. And we would see people picking
up weeds and putting them in these blue plastic
shopping bags– but the deeper the color,
the more phytonutrients are involved. So the stuff you’re plucking
from the ground for free is actually more caloric
dense than the stuff you’re buying in the store. But again, it just
keeps circling back to the same things. Like, if you lower the glycemic
level like the Tarahumara did, the better off
you’re going to be. There was another question
over here, I thought. AUDIENCE: Yeah. So this question related,
actually, to a few, so both on preparing for running
and changing the diet. So is there any
research on reversing, let’s say, poor adaptation? So I think, like
barefoot running, people look for an easy switch. So I think it became kind
of a fad in some ways. And people flipped
that switch and did it. And if some people’s
bodies aren’t ready for it, they get hurt. Same thing on paleo
diet, it’s just kind of flicking the switch. And it’s been more of
a fad than a lifestyle. So is there any research
on people reversing rather than just, overnight, changing. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: You
know– is this on, by the way? Is it on? No? OK. I’ll just put this down. The whole idea of flipping a
switch, that’s the problem. How many years ago was it? Six, seven years ago,
2006– [INAUDIBLE] math is nine years ago? Yeah, almost 10 years ago–
I was actually in London for a conference on fascia. And someone
introduced to this guy named Lee Saxby who
does run retraining. And he changed my running gait. And now I’m back here again. And I went right back to Lee
Saxby and his guys again. Because it’s a process
of learning an art. Like ballet, ballet
dancers don’t go, oh perfect, I never have
to take another class. I’m done. You know? So to me, a physical
skill is a skill that you need to
constantly refresh. Again, the problem is– and
I hear this all the time with barefoot running– the
first question every time is, how long does it take. Like, what’s the minimum amount
of time I can expand on this? And to me, there’s no minimum. It’s the rest of your life. But then the question
you have to ask yourself is, what’s the point. What exactly are you
trying to accomplish? Do you want the medal
from London Marathon or do you want to actually
enjoy the physical act for a long time? And the other thing,
too, is the whole idea about even the question
of barefoot running is like, why is it
even a question. Like, you were born with feet. You were not born with
shoes on those feet. So you adapted to
something else. So if you want to be
dependent, you can be. I shouldn’t go into the topic. I’ll start foaming at the mouth. Are there some more questions? FEMALE SPEAKER: I think got
time for one more question. CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: Hope it’s
a good one, burning question. FEMALE SPEAKER: Anyone else? CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: Uh-oh. AUDIENCE: I just wanted
to ask a bit more. So you mentioned that
diet is one thing to make yourself burn fat. Was there any
other kind of thing you could take away as a runner
to try and burn fat more? CHRISTOPHER MCDOUGALL: Yeah. Yeah, so the whole
fat as fuel thing, again, I find it
really interesting. Because it’s so
effective and it’s so simple that it’s almost
nothing prescriptive about it. And the guy I asked
about it, Phil Maffetone, I said, I found the guy. He lives out in the desert. He’s hard to reach. And I sit down like, OK,
now I’m going to get it. And I gave him a pad and paper. And I actually went off to
wash the dishes from lunch. And he was done before I
got away from the table. He said, it’s very simple. You only do two things. You do a thing called
the two-week test, which is you strip out all
the high glycemic foods from your diet for
just two weeks, just to see how
your body responds. And the second thing you
do is, for your training, you keep it below your
anaerobic threshold. You tell your body that
there are no emergencies. We are in a Zen state. We are doing a 10-day
silent retreat. We don’t need any sugar. And you combine those two
things of remove the sugars, remove the stresses,
and train that way. So you basically wear
a heart rate monitor. And whenever it beeps
up, you chill out again. It is really
frustrating mentally, because you want
to go fast, and you want to do this kind
of stuff, and you want a bowl of ice cream. But it’s funny, in two, three
weeks, everything changes. The cravings go. Your body feels better. And for that reason, it’s
sort of self-motivating. Because you just keep feeling
better and keep feeling better. And you want to stick with it. To me, it makes
all the difference. And what I love about it,
again, two, three weeks and you got it sorted out. Good? Well, thank you all very
much for your attention. I really appreciate it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Hello, Chris. Nice to see you.