Are you brave enough to take on an ultra-marathon? Conquer a 10ft wall climb?
Christopher McDougall thinks that we can all do these things, but doesn’t think bravery has anything to do with it.
McDougall, best known for his bestselling running book Born To Run, is on a mission to spread his idea that we’re all capable of amazing feats of athleticism.
What’s more – he thinks that amazing adventure women are the proof he needs.
“It’s time we stopped championing the bullshit sports we created for men” he explains. “The power sports people talk about, all these sports made for guys, by guys, featuring uniquely male attributes.”
“I like endurance sports because humans are not particularly strong or fast, where we shine is athleticism, endurance and ability. Those types of sports? Men and women are performing equally.”
His first book made the ultramarathon runner Jen Shelton famous for her incredible talent and badass nature.
In researching his book Natural Born Heroes, McDougall has found himself drawn back to athleticism in women.
“At Badlands (an ultramarathon in Death Valley, the hottest place on earth) , in the year that Cam Read won, apart from just winning, six of the top ten were women, they’d basically beat the field of men,” says McDougall.
“Look at obstacle course racing now, you usually see the top five and it’s three women and two guys.”
Look at obstacle races. You’ll see the top five and it’s three women – and two guys
The increasingly smaller gap between men and women in endurance sports is exactly the proof McDougall needs.
He believe that once we start embracing sports that suit our physiology, there is no difference between men and women’s capabilities.
“It’s endurance, athleticism and ability where men and women are doing really well, old and young as well.”
One of the female athletes in Natural Born Heroes, Shirley Darlington-Powal, is a freerunner and parkour coach in London.
“It really fascinating with parkour because if you look at a parkour group, you can’t tell the difference between the men and women. They’re all the same.”
“I’d seen this YouTube video called Movement Of Three,” says McDougall. “When I do these talks, I ask people if you were in a dangerous situation, who would you want to rescue you?”
The closing gap between men and women in endurance sports proves that we are all naturally able in these certain sports
“Would you want a muscle bound dude, or would you want these three? I’d want these three, they’d get there.”
So if the closing gap between men and women in endurance sports proves that we are all naturally able at certain sports, are those who can do them brave, or just trained well?
Apparently it’s a matter of skill.
“We have this mentality now where we think you need to disciplined, you need to try and if you have no discipline you’re weak.” says McDougall.
“I was interested in this so I looked at these Cretian foot runners during World War Two. They would have to run a double marathon through the mountains with no food, then deliver a message and run all the way back again.”
“First you think about their bravery and heroism, but I started to think, physically, how did they do it? If they could do it, can we? What are the extractable skills? ”
The answer McDougall came to was simple.
“I teach you how to bolt over that counter. It doesn’t take any courage because you know how to do it, the mindset is secondary” he says, “Why would you need discipline if you have the skills?”
“We have this notion of the hero being really brave but the Cretians were a lot more practical . Just teach everyone the skills they need.”
So, how do we put this thinking into practice in everyday life?
Firstly, we need to embrace our inner monkey and explore moving our bodies in new and different ways than the conventional movements we experience in a work, to gym, to home lifestyle.
Whether it be through starting a sport like climbing, parkour or endurance running, try and stretch out your body as much as you can every day.
Tara Wood, the founder of Wild Fitness, has been working with McDougall to create an idea of how we can all be more natural and more wild in our everyday movement. She puts it down to a mixture of “purpose, enjoyment and survival”.
So the less contrived and the more natural your experience of movement is, the happier you will feel?
“I think it’s a matter of mind set. Most people practice pain. Instead, practice pleasure” says McDougall.
“Most people exercise in the morning and they don’t enjoy it. People like Emily and Tara are all about pleasure. They go in it from a mentality that is not interesting in anything except for the joy of movement.”
“That’s the space where we can all learn the skills. Forget the hero mentality and start conquering these seemingly impossible feats too.”