Written by Kevin O'Rourke - http://ultrakev.blogspot.co.uk
He first wrote the amazing book Born to Run: The Hidden Tribe, the Ultra-Runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen which is still in my all time TOP 10 best books of my life and believe me I have read a lot of books in my time.
Then recently he released his latest book Natural Born Heroes: The lost secrets of strength and endurance.
This is a mish mash of stories about the 2nd world war hero's in Crete weaved cleverly with Parkour, strength training and other tales of heroic acts that mystify and entertain.
When I first read BTR as it's now commonly known I was drawn to email Caballo Blanco the mysterious white horse/ghost runner who is the main focus of the book. We conversed many times and I signed up to run the 3rd version of the race with a couple of other UK runners. Unfortunatly due to a stupid injury and cash issues I was unable to make the race and it is still one of my biggest regrets. Not because of not being able to race but also not actually being able to meet Micah True (Caballo).
For anyone who doesn't know the tale this fabled ghost runner died recenly doing what he loved best, running on the trails of the Copper Canyons in Mexico. His legacy will live on for many years with his race the CCUM (Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon) which was set up to help the Tarahumara people which this book BTR is based on.
So enough about BTR what about NBH (Natural Born Heroes).
The Cretan people according to MacDougall's book have long been associated with heroism. Zeus himself was born in Crete and Pheidippides the legendary Greek runner was also from Crete.
Like BTR this latest book has a main character and for me it is focused on George Psychoundakis a Cretan peasant who became a war hero in WW2 by continually relaying messages back and forth across the mountainous terrain of Crete. These routes were often ultra distance and over the craziest terrain I have ever run along.
I developed a huge respect for George with my exploration of a small part of Crete in the week I spent there on holiday in July.
It's not just the mountains, and there are many of them. It's more the punishing foliage that greets you at every twist and turn. Think UTMB on steroids and throw in a miriad of the nastiest bastard thorns along the lines of Barkley.
Not that I have experienced Barkley but I have seen the videos and read the reports and can only associate parts of the Cretan landscape with that sort of terrain.
I ran every day, and every day I got covered in scratches, twisted my ankles, feet and knees in every way imaginable. Now bear in mind I was running for fun, training for my next 100 mile run and so not covering vast distances and certainly not under constant threat of my life.
I did however get chased by a little handbag dog and another nasty little bastard. I learnt a new use for water bottles that day when a quick squirt in the face stopped them in their tracks!
The twists and turns, roots and rocks reminded me of the worst parts of the TDS and CCC in Chamonix. The scenery was spectacular and haunting at the same time. The Cretan people lived up to their reputation as the most hospitable people in the world. They are even a little odd at times as we found out one day on a drive through the mountains.
We stopped at a cross roads, hopelessly lost with a choice of 6 different roads to choose with little or no signage. It was reminiscent of the Northants 35 Ultra where there is a road like this that everyone gets lost at!
Suddenly this tiny old lady who was sheltering from the sun comes up to the car. It's lunchtime, bloody hot and we are in the middle of nowhere up the top of a mountain and there she is sitting in the little shade there was.
A brief unknown conversation starts and we try unsuccessfully to ask directions and she tries unsuccessfully to talk to us. Then she gets in the back of the car!!!
She then proceeds to tell us where to drive. This wily old woman wanted a lift and was going to take us roughly where we wanted to go as long as it was along the route she wanted to go.
We laughed long and hard the whole way as she blithered on in Greek about the towns, the scenery, food, at least that's what we thought she might be saying.
We drove for an hour around the craziest of roads and mountain passes and see some beautiful villages that you would not know existed. Always getting waves and Kalimera's from the lovely few people who lived there, in the middle of nowhere. We dropped her off and found out later that this is normal practise in the mountains for the people who live there.
They can wait for hours for a car to pass and then however many of them can fit will get into a car and be eternally grateful.
The Cretan's are also blessed with over 100 different edible weeds. These weeds it seems are natures Super Foods and all at our feet. Horta seems to be the favourite on the marketplace although Horta seems t be a word associated with a variety of different weeds which all look different. Think of spinach used in a salad or steamed with some olive oil and salt and a gazillion health benefits.
Kalitsounia was a sort of health pie that I searched high and low for but was unable to find. You can buy the sweeten version anywhere but the true Kalitsounia seems to be only available in the mountain villages. This is often made with Horta and local cheese and is supposed to provide immense nutrition to ultra marathon runners.
It seems the Cretans have a endless supply of highly nutritious food growing in abundance everywhere and this is another fabulous fact in NBH. Chris tells you all about the weeds you can eat and how amazing they can be for your body.
So would I go back......
In a heartbeat.
Crete was beautiful, magical and tougher than anything I can imagine. I would love to run an ultra there one day and experience more of the Island.
As for the book Natural Born Heroes.....well lets just say I now have it on Audible too as there are so many nuggets of fantastic information that you can often miss when reading it.
I highly recommend Crete for training camps or holidays but like any Greek island the true spirit is lost in the commercial, tourist parts and the best is always high in the sky. Up those bastard mountains covered in spiky, vicious brambles, tripping over rocks and roots in the trail of the heroes.