Running has been my go-to activity to keep both my body and mind fit for years. Like any runner, during this time I’ve had my share of roadblocks, usually due to injuries like the infamous chronic shin splints, IT band issues, and the fear of exploding knees. It’s always during those sensitive moments mid-training or mid-race that these issues arise, at the absolute last moment you want them to happen.
It’s not a secret that all of these issues have been linked to poor form. It manifests through, for example, heel striking, weak feet or overdeveloped quads. And you know what? I recently realised that I never addressed the underlying problem that would prop these roadblocks up. I just thought these mishaps were a normal part of my life as an athlete. I was wrong.
What led me to this powerful realisation was reading the book The Cool Impossible, written by experienced runner Eric Orton. I’ve read various books on running, but they mostly focussed on the mental game and grit needed to endure this demanding activity. The Cool Impossible stands out among this bunch as a very technical and empowering read. As with the other books we’ve reviewed so far, do note that Grit Camp is not in any way affiliated with the author, so this is going to be an honest review based on our success putting the advice from the book into practice. If you’ve been in a rut or weakened by constant injuries, this book could help you improve your run.
TL;DR: Personal 5k PR improved by 2mins. This is after just two weeks of conscious rewiring from heel to forefoot striking and feet strengthening exercises.
What is the Cool Impossible?
This book has one massive advantage over others in its category which stands out from the first page. It’s written in second person. That’s right, from start to finish YOU are going through a journey of mastering your miles by implementing the various technical tips and tricks as one of Eric Orton’s trainees. This is surprisingly empowering and engaging. Whilst reading, you can use visualisation techniques to your full advantage because hey – the book is about your adventure in the trails of Jackson Hole with a personal natural running coach. I finished this book in just few hours and it’s not the shortest read either.
Your training kicks off with very specific techniques to eliminate the most common runner’s mistakes. These include strengthening feet with wobble slant boards (a game changer), ski poles for stabilisation, and core exercises, correcting your upper body form and various other drills. In the end, having put all of these techniques into regular practice, you become a well-rounded athlete regardless if you’re an obstacle racing maniac or if you prefer to stay a weekend warrior.
So what is the Cool Impossible? This is naturally left to your interpretation, but speaking generally, it’s that zen-like state you experience during the perfect run. You’re performing your best with your mind and body synced up in every breath and with every step. I’d say looking for that high is why a lot of us stick with running, even after we’ve hit a few of those annoying roadblocks.
Finding my Cool Impossible
I was impatiently patient with this book. I picked it up because I wanted to deal with my fear of breaking down in long-distance races or while under extreme cadence stress. On my first read-through I marked the potentially useful things I did not know. Then later on, I went over all of the advice given, jumped into my gear and hit the trails right away.
My first few runs I superset with foot strengthening and drill exercises, which felt very awkward. Having been a long-time heel striker (the equivalent of a mouth breather in the running world) these exercises made me realise just how inflexible and fragile my legs were. I could feel all the shock from running being absorbed into my quads and calves with absolutely no impact felt in the glutes and hamstrings. It is this imbalance which leads to chronic aches and exploding knees.
Another good takeaway I incorporated into my Cool Impossible was wearing minimal shoes. I’d never be able to run barefoot, especially not during obstacle races, but a lot of popular brands offer minimalist OCR shoes with a good flat sole but which still protect your feet. One example is Reebok’s All Terrain series which we’ve reviewed before. Wearing a minimal shoe is the key to making a successful transition away from heel striking and so improving your running form.
Being a fan of quantifying my training, I measured my 5k run PRs before and after improving my form.The difference was significant: suddenly two minutes were shaved off my usual time. And finally it was all of my legs that felt battered rather than just quads and calves. You want to aim for whole leg involvement. Take note of the feeling in your legs the next time you run. If it doesn’t feel right or if it feels like you’ve plateaued, you should pick up this book. At the very least it can help you optimise your running form and and its best, it might just help you achieve that feel-good run you want to tweet about every single time.