I mentioned that I’ve been reading some books about running. I looked up on Amazon one of the books I’d finished to see what the ‘also bought’ suggestions were. I found The Cool Impossible, by Eric Orton, which just came out May 7th. Orton is the coach from Jackson Hole, Wyoming who helped Christopher McDougall (author of Born to Run) go from being unable to run 3-4 miles without foot pain to being able to complete a 50-mile race in Mexico. Given what I learned reading Born to Run, I was anxious to hear about this “Cool Impossible” and how Orton’s advice might help my form and strength.
First, “the cool impossible” is Orton’s name for your big dream that that may seem impossible, but may actually be very possible with the right commitment, training, and technique. The Cool Impossible is filled with advice on:
- Form (e.g., forefoot striking; keeping the body upright, without leaning at the waist)
- Exercises and drills for improving strength and form (e.g., running in place; vertical jumps – both barefoot)
- Training schedules (e.g., a transition phase, which reshapes your form)
- Eating tips for athletes (e.g., imagine you live on a farm, then eat only what’s available there)
- Tricks for mental prep (e.g., visualization; creating a three-word mantra)
Among the strength exercises is a sequence of movements (actually most involve balance – trying NOT to move) performed on one, bare (fore)foot, standing on a slant board, holding poles for balance. The idea is that you train and work on your runner’s body from the ground up. Which makes perfect sense. You need your feet to run as much as you need your thighs and glutes, but you don’t typically hear about work that strengthens your feet and ankles. However, Orton’s slant board (and other) exercises are designed to strengthen your feet themselves, as well as the rest of your legs.
Given that I just recovered from a foot injury – and I don’t really know exactly what it was or the specific cause of it – I definitely wanted to try this out! Apparently, you can strengthen your arch to the point where you go down shoe sizes! Crazy. Don’t know if I’ll be lucky enough for that to happen to me, but it would definitely be welcome. At 5-feet-zip and a size 9 running shoe, I’m like a flippin’ Weeble. Just try and knock me down!
In the book and on his website, Orton shares links for where these slant boards can be purchased. He offers a unique version of his own that is also built to wobble – to make the sequence even more challenging. But the slant boards for sale online are kind of pricey ($50+). And his slant boards can’t be purchased separately; they’re sold in a set with balance poles, a DVD, etc. For $79.99. I’m sure it’s all worth it, but for one, I don’t need all the other stuff – because I have the book to tell me what to do, already! Two, I kind of have a very tight budget to work with. But, I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so I really, reeeally wanted his wobbly version. Lucky for me, I have an uncle who does a little wood work….
I emailed pictures of Orton’s slant board to Uncle Bill, and – three hours later – my mom called me to say that he was at her house with this, sweet prototype:
It’s a little bigger than Orton’s version (his is only big enough to put your forefoot on it), but it functions just the same. Absolutely freaking perfect!
While I was at Mom and Dad’s house testing this dealie out, I explained that I was going to use broomsticks or old golf clubs as the poles for balance. Then my dad said to hold everything; he’d be right back. He returned from the basement a few minutes later with two walking sticks that are I-DEAL for this. They’re nice and tall, and they have convenient rubber tips on the bottom. (Which come off to reveal metal points. So if I decide to pick up trash at the playground down the street, I’m all set.)
Here’s the whole setup in action (inaction?):
My family made fun of me for being so excited about something they perceived as just another way for me to torture myself. But I was literally jumping up and down and clapping my hands like a little kid on Christmas morning!
I just did the beginner (two pole) sequence of just balancing* and (as my brother would say) SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP is it tough! You feel it the whole way up to your hip and in your abs. But I’m super psyched about the possibilities. Gonna get me some uber-strong feet! (*There are other exercises on the slant board – knee raises, etc. Definitely need to build up!)
Anyway, I’ll report back on progress in the future, but I’d like to close with this: I really liked The Cool Impossible, even though it’s a bit overwhelming. It’s just a LOT of information and pieces to put together. (Which days am I going to do the scheduled runs? Which days for strength sequences? Which days for form drills? ACK!) So I’m trying not to put it all together. Baby steps, I say!
But what I liked best about the book was how Eric Orton’s passion for running and for helping other athletes shines through. Not only do you get the sense that he really wants to help you become a better runner, he covers the whole gamut for you like he’s really your own, personal coach. It would have been more than sufficient to just cover the mechanics and drills associated with running itself. But the additional information (e.g., eating habits, mental tips) and the way he writes like he’s giving you a giant pep talk is what really pushes it over the top. The Cool Impossible is not only informative, it’s tremendously motivating and inspiring. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about good running form and improving your own.
p.s. Earlier today I read this blog post that includes how the author imagined that Steve Prefontaine was her personal coach. Eric Orton is SO now going to be my imaginary friend/running coach!