With his 2009 bestseller “Born to Run,” Chris McDougall inspired countless Americans to follow the lead of a Native American people that succeeded as long-distance runners without wearing any shoes.
For his next trick, the author is hoping to motivate readers to emulate the ancient Greeks by climbing, throwing and practicing other natural movements on their way to fitness, happiness and – possibly – heroism.
The former Associated Press foreign correspondent will be in Charlotte on Wednesday to promote his second book, “Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance,” which was released two weeks ago.
“Born to Run” inspired the barefoot running movement, but if that doesn’t mean much to you, this may put the book’s pop-culture relevance into perspective: Matthew McConaughey has signed on to star in the film adaptation.
We spoke with McDougall, 53, of Lancaster, Pa., about the impact of “Born to Run,” the ideas behind “Natural Born Heroes,” and his current obsession with knife-throwing and parkour (an activity in which participants negotiate urban obstacles by running, jumping and climbing).
Q. So you’ll be leading a group run when you’re here Wednesday. Will you be running barefoot?
A. Probably. Depends on the terrain but usually, yeah.
Q. Because you authored the most popular book about running in the past decade, and because of what it did to change the focus of the running-shoe business, are you self-conscious about what you put on your feet before going to a public appearance?
A. Not at all, because my message from the beginning has always been that it has nothing to do with footwear. Footwear is for protection, and for a long time, the footwear industry had it right: It offered protection. Where things got crazy and continues today is when the footwear industry thinks it can change what your foot does. But I wear shoes for protection all the time. On trails I wear a trail shoe, in winter I wear boots.
Q. Did you have any idea “Born to Run” would have such a significant impact?
A. I hoped so, because I felt that the depiction of running was so false. The normal depiction of running is that running’s painful. It’s no pain, no gain. Fight through the pain. It was always about pain, pain, pain. Yet the people that I know who run, their experience is the opposite – if it was painful, they wouldn’t do it. So I thought, if I can just depict running in a real way, that’s fun, that’s really fun and joyful, then people are gonna respond.
Q. In a nutshell, what point are you trying to make with “Natural Born Heroes”?
A. I think it’s that we have a skewed notion of what heroism is, the same way we have a skewed notion of what running is. We think that heroism is an accident. What I’m looking at is the opposite. It’s actually an art, and it’s an art that the Greeks perfected, and there are really basic human skills that you can learn, and if so, you’re gonna be a much more self-fulfilled person and a more useful person. A lot of that does tap into what the real notion of strength is.
Q. I’ve heard you’re into some activities even more unorthodox than barefoot running – parkour and knife-throwing, for instance.
A. The funny thing about it, though, is they are looked at as unorthodox, yet they’re utterly, completely orthodox. They are what humans have specialized in for millions of years. Knife-throwing, for instance. The single greatest advancement in human culture took place when we learned how to throw. From that point on, we were some of the greatest hunters on the planet, and it fueled our brains with imagination and forethought that we didn’t have before. Yet most of us don’t do that anymore. We just don’t know how to throw. ... Another thing is climbing. Humans are great climbers, but most of us are never off the ground, ever. And we lose that ability to actually get ourselves up off the ground and to be comfortable off the ground. ... Parkour, for example, is essentially about getting yourself off the ground.
Q. The parkour videos I’ve seen on YouTube are cool, but it looks really dangerous.
A. Here’s the reason why: Most people, when they see parkour, they’re seeing the end product. They’re seeing the finish line, they’re not seeing the starting line. When you begin parkour, you learn very basic movements, but the movements are so interesting that you’re very satisfied doing a very basic movement. The progression can be very slow, but it still feels really fun. ... Parkour is fascinating even when you’re bad.
Q. Since “Born to Run” touched off the barefoot-running craze, if “Natural Born Heroes” could spark a “phenomenon” within the fitness community, what would you hope that would be?
A. I think two things. I’d like to see people become fat-adapted, which is learning how to use body fat as fuel instead of an endless sugar cycle. And the second thing is I’d like to see the door of every gym in America chained up. Get outside and move your body.
Meet Chris McDougall
The author will be in Charlotte this week for a group run, natural movement exercises and drills (with parkour filmmaker Julie Angel) and a presentation – as part of his “Natural Born Heroes” book tour.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Charlotte Running Company, 1412 East Blvd., Suite G.
TICKETS: $30 (includes one autographed copy of “Natural Born Heroes” and refreshments).
DETAILS: 704-377-8786; www.racesonline.com.