Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance

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own body fat for fuel instead of relying on bursts of sugar, the way nearly all of us do today.

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Mark Allen, the greatest triathlete in history, made his breakthrough when he discovered a way to burn body fat in place of carbs.

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They understood the difference between heroism and impulse, and they devised an easy, two-step test for telling them apart: Would you do it again? And could you?

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Parallel Lives,

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And what Plutarch taught them is this: Heroes care. True heroism, as the ancients understood, isn’t about strength, or boldness, or even courage. It’s about compassion.

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Empathy, the Greeks believed, was a source of strength, not softness; the more you recognized yourself in others and connected with their distress, the more endurance, wisdom, cunning, and determination you could tap into.

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Theory, meet mountain.

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The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton’s classic espionage novel about bomb-throwing anarchists who avoid suspicion by acting exactly like bomb-throwing anarchists.

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“Who belongs to Class X?” he continues. “I don’t know till I talk to him and then I know at once. It is not, I think, a question of accent, but rather of the gentle voice.” The gentle voice? Yes: the tone of someone who, when asked to do and die, would quite like to know the reason why.

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Every morning, even in subfreezing winters, he begins the day with the ancient Hindu wrestlers’ tradition of stepping outside in the nude and dumping a five-gallon jerrycan of cold water over his head.

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he learned to move his feet as rhythmically as a schoolgirl, usually to James Brown’s “Night Train.”

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“It would be stupid to throw an arrow, right?” he says. “Better to use your muscles to pull back the string and let the string do the work.” He tells me to strip off the rubber band, drop to the floor, and get ready for push-ups. But instead of lowering my chest to the floor and straining my way back up, I’m to reverse it: I’m supposed to spread my fingers as wide as they were with the rubber band, mash my palms hard into the floor, and pull myself down. When I do, I surprise even myself when my elbows straighten with barely any effort. “See?” Steve says. “You tightened the spring on the way down, then it popped you right up.” I try it again, and it feels like I’m being sprung from a toaster. I’m not sure how it’s working—I’m not even sure if Steve knows—but those were the easiest twenty push-ups of my life.

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When you spot a giant ability gap between ages and genders, you know you’re looking at nurture, not nature. Male and female geese differ in size but not in speed; otherwise, migration would be mayhem.

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Lawrence of Arabia loved the same favorite book, which is an even odder coincidence because it’s so awful. The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay

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Europe’s Favorite Guest. From then on and for the rest of his life, Paddy’s motto was Solvitur ambulando: “When in doubt, walk.”

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“Être fort pour être utile,” Hébert declared. “Be fit to be useful.”

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Pursuit—walk, run, crawl. Escape—climb, balance, jump, swim. Attack—throw, lift, fight.

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“Teach your boys to walk, to run, to jump, to box, and to swim, and leave those artificial extension movements, which mean nothing, alone!”

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The Natural Method was never about trying to live forever; the goal was to make a difference before you died.

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he’s convinced the entire multi-billion-dollar health club industry is based on a lie. And judging by raw numbers and results, he’s probably right: fitness clubs are the only business that depends on customers not showing up. It’s

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“Globally, it’s a $75 billion business, and more than 60 percent of people don’t go, even though they’re paying.” Here’s how it works: Every January, gym enrollments skyrocket. Gold’s typically doubles its membership, while other clubs report increases of up to 300 percent. At the maximum rate, that means four times the number of bodies are squeezing into the same amount of space. No facility can handle a stampede like that without the walls bulging.

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With total revenue exceeding fifty billion dollars a year, you should expect at least some visible effect on overall health. It’s a staggering investment in a demonstrably failed approach,

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“Theodore, you have the mind but not the body,” his father said. “And without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You have to make your body.”

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From a fitness standpoint, it was a step backwards. But economically, it was genius. Fight training takes up lots of room, but bodybuilding is about staying in one spot. It requires remarkably little floor space; if you’re not sitting or lying down, you’re standing or squatting.

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But the Rise of the Machines came at a cost. The goal became to create bodies that looked as much alike as possible, and you accomplish that by insisting on exact repetitions of the same motion, over and over. Even the vocabulary changed to fit the factory-floor mentality: our parents exercised, but we “work out.” And like any other factory, progress isn’t measured by whether you mastered a new skill; it’s measured by whether you hit your numbers—in this case, pounds and inches. The Greek ideal of a supple, balanced, useful physique was out. Massive McBodies were in.

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Even kids’ toys and comic books were infected; action figures soon became as artificially overmuscled

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We are what we do, and what we do is move—up mountains, across rivers, through the snakiest rock-face wormholes. We can’t even stay put on our own planet.

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Solvitur Ambulando. When in doubt, walk.

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“The point of your training isn’t to see how fast you can get your feet to move,” Phil said. “The point is to get your body to change the way it gets energy. You want it to burn more fat and less sugar.”

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To free himself from the sugar-burn cycle, Stu would have to go cold turkey: he could stuff himself silly all day, but only on meat, fish, eggs, avocados, vegetables, and nuts. No beans, no fruit, no grains. No soy, no wine, no beer. Whole dairy like sour cream and real cheese were in; low-fat milk was out.

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“Each energy-producing state has specific and real sensory-based references,” he’d learned. “Your body knows this by the way the world ‘looks,’ ‘sounds,’ and ‘feels.’ When you move in a comfortable fat-burning state, the visual information is distinct, expansive, and three dimensional with a peripheral vastness and expansiveness that is unique and identifiable. It’s as though you are in a 3-D surround vision movie theatre.” You’re seeing with the eyes of a hunter. But when your heart rate climbs, you become the hunted. “As soon as you shift into a more challenging sugar-burning state, visual information tends to collapse inward, the peripheral fringes tend to disappear and your attention gets drawn into a much narrower field of vision. Visual images tend to flatten out, become two-dimensional, and you begin to feel as though you are running through a tunnel with the world painted on the inside walls.”

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Maffetone Method,

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Noakes found twelve confirmed deaths by water poisoning in sports events and thousands of close calls. “The ‘Science of Hydration’ is propaganda conceived by marketers who wished to turn a collection of kitchen chemicals into a multi-billion dollar industry,” Noakes declared. “To their credit, they succeeded. To their unending shame, they cost the lives of some of those they were pretending to protect.”

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It’s an inconvenient truth, but a truth nevertheless: animal fat made us who we are. When our ancestors first strayed from the African savanna, they weren’t following the harvest. They were following the herds. They went in search of meat, and wherever they found it, no matter how harsh the environment, they stayed. For over two million years, we lived on the meats and chewy roots we could hunt and gather.

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Only very recently did we switch to farm-raised grains, and since then we’ve seen a decrease in average human height and a spike in obesity and nutrition-deficiency diseases.

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Whether you become fatter or skinnier, stronger or weaker, more alert or lethargic is largely influenced by insulin,

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But here’s the catch: insulin evolved to handle complex carbs created by nature, like leafy greens, not simple carbs created by us, like cereal and bread. Simple carbs are absorbed too fast; your cells get their fill and the rest is turned into fat before your insulin has a chance to dissipate. The still-active insulin in your bloodstream goes looking for more sugar, which makes you feel hungry. So you chow another donut, starting the whole process all over again. Enough years of this abuse and your cells can become insulin resistant;

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they’re tired of being asked to absorb all this glucose, so they just stop responding. What then happens to all that glucose? It goes straight to fat. That’s what killed Noakes’s father and brother: their system needed fuel it wasn’t getting, while storing fat it didn’t need.

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“So basically, we’re talking about Paleo?” I ask. The Paleo Diet is based on the premise that humans are healthiest when they follow the example of our Stone Age ancestors and eat grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and stay away from rice, bread, pasta, and other grain-based foods from the agricultural age. “Basically, yes,” Noakes replies, although for the sake of precision, he’d replace “Paleo” with “Banting”:

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“The Banting plan was the foundation of the Atkins diet in the 1970s,” Noakes explains. “We keep rediscovering these same fundamental principals of nutrition, then we forget them and start all over again.”

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Prosperity was its own peril in the United States. Giant factories constructed to feed the troops were now turning their attention to the family home, using wartime technologies to churn out canned soups, easy-grab snacks, and packaged bread. Orange juice, an exotic treat before the war, was suddenly everywhere; military contractors had figured out how to make frozen concentrate, and as soon as growers realized it could be sold as a “health” food, orange juice production skyrocketed from barely a quarter-million gallons a year to more than 115 million. Three out of every four Americans soon had OJ in

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“Two weeks. Two weeks and you can master it. Two weeks and you’ll be running on fat like your Resistance fighters.”

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So eat all you want, Maffetone urges. Just reboot your belly so it craves the food we’ve always hunted and gathered, not the fake stuff we’ve come to rely on. Once you’ve detoxed from the starch cycle and brought your body back to its natural metabolism, he says, you’ll be free of hunger pangs and afternoon sugar crashes and midnight munchies. It only takes fourteen days, as long as you follow one rule of thumb: nothing high-glycemic. Nothing that jacks your blood sugar, in other words, and causes insulin to start storing fat.

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By the end of two weeks I should be a fresh slate, glycemically speaking, and no longer cycling from sugar surge to sugar surge. Then, once the test is over, I can gradually add processed carbs back to my meals and see what happens. If I eat a slice of bread and feel fine, okay. But if it makes me feel bloated, sluggish, or sleepy, I’ll know it’s too much starch for my body to metabolize efficiently. That’s what the 2-Week Test is all about; it’s designed to reactivate your natural diagnostic panel, so that instead of relying on some diet book to tell you what to eat, you’ll get instant, accurate feedback from your own body. “You’ll actually know what it feels like to have normal insulin levels and optimal blood sugar,” Maffetone explains. So when I get home, I go shopping. I fill the cart with steak, fish, broccoli, avocados, canned squid, tuna, tomato juice, romaine lettuce, sour cream, and cashews—tubs of cashews, because they’ll be my go-to temptation snuffer. Also on the “yes” list: eggs, cheese, whole cream, dry white wine, Scotch, and salsa.

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But no fruit, breads, rice, potatoes, pasta, or honey. No beans, which means no tofu or soy of any stripe. No chips, no beer, no milk or yogurt. No deli ham or roast beef, either, since they’re often cured in sugar. Turkey was fine if you cooked it yourself, but even then you have to be careful.

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For Step 2, Maffetone had me wearing a runner’s heart rate monitor, a basic model with a chest strap and wristwatch console. The alarm was set to go off just before I hit my fat-burning threshold, which I’d calculated according to Maffetone’s quick-and-easy equation. To figure out your fat-burning zone, you subtract your age from 180 and then fine-tune by this scale: If you’ve been sidelined for a while with injury or illness, subtract another 5. If you’ve been sidelined a long time (like recovering from a heart attack), subtract 10. If you’ve been training at least four times a week for two years, add 0. If you’ve trained hard for two years and are progressing in competition, add 5.

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That means I can work out as long, as fast, and as strenuously as I please, but whenever my heart rate hits 130 and my wrist alarm starts beeping, I have to ease off until my pulse drops back below the threshold.

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Maffetone believes your body is content to burn fat as long as it’s not being pushed into oxygen debt. When you need more air, your heart begins to hammer; when your heart is pounding fast, it demands fast-burn fuel. So to wean yourself off sugar, you have to change both supply and demand: you cut the sugar from your diet and keep your pulse within your fat-burning zone.

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“First focus on easy,” Micah True used to say. “Because if that’s all you get, that ain’t so bad.”

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I’d made a lot of right steps: instead of half-assing around with weights for a strength workout, I now climbed the twenty-five-foot rope I hung from a tree limb in my backyard. I practiced Steve Maxwell’s personal invention, the “Traveling Maxercist,” a functional fitness drill that takes three minutes and challenges just about every conceivable body movement. I followed Erwan and Shirley Darlington’s lead and turned many of my afternoon runs into trouble-quests: I focused less on speed and distance and more on challenges, like scrambling up hills on all fours, sprinting from tree to tree, rolling under fences and vaulting over guardrails. Useful stuff. But the key,

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In 2011, at age ninety-six, Paddy returned to England to die. At a memorial, his final words were read: “Love to all and kindness to all friends, and thank you all for a life of great happiness.”