How to make a Cool Impossible Slant Board

The Cool ImpossibleThis blog post shows you how to build your own slant board so you can follow the core strength routine featured in Eric Orton’s new book, The Cool Impossible.

Eric is the coach from Born to Run, so he knows a thing or two about running efficiency and injury proofing the body. He uses the slant board in a series of balance and strength exercises illustrated in the book. I’ve found it quite a difficult piece of equipment to source outside of the USA. He sells his own model through Born 2 Run but it comes packaged with a set of walking poles which makes it quite expensive.

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I’ve channeled my inner carpenter and knocked up my own version for less than £4.

My inner carpenter proved to be a bit of a cowboy so don’t look too closely at the photos or you’ll feel disillusioned. I can confirm that although my sawing and sanding may be a bit ropey, the overall design is solid and the finished product can withhold 16 stone of balance practice.

Constructing a Slant Board

I built my slant board from a slab of plywood found on the street, knocked it together with assorted screws from my toolbox and finished it off with a strip of skateboard grip tape sourced from Ebay for £2.50. I have enough tape left for about 6 slant boards!

The original Eric Orton slant board has a 6″ square base but I couldn’t find any details on the angle of the slant. Checking out Amazon for potential substitutes I found that slant boards tend to come in either 15′ or 22′ angles. I built my first slant board with a 22′ angle but found it to be too steep so used my spare ply to create a more manageable 15′ board.

You’ll need to mark up and cut out 5 pieces of wood, 2 sloping sides, a top and 2 supportive struts – front and back.

The measurements I used were:

Top: 15cm x 18cm
Sides: 16cm x 5cm (you need 2 of these)
Back: 5cm x 11.5cm (you might need to adjust the width depending on the thickness of the wood you use – mine is 1.5cm ply)
Front: 2cm x 11.5cm

Here’s the view from the underside so you can see how I assembled the support struts (back and front pieces).

A DIY Cool Impossible Slant Board

I initially tried to assemble the pieces with a combination of glue and nails but it was a stressful experience, on the second attempt I used the drill which proved to be far more successful. If I’d had the right length of screws it would have been entirely successful, unfortunately the last screw in my tool box was too long and I managed to secure the slant board to my table top!

The Cool Impossible is a very interesting book, offering all comers, the chance to reach their running goals regardless of their starting point. He achieved miracles for Christopher McDougall in Born to Run and I’m very happy to give him chance to repeat the process with me.

When I say the book is interesting, I probably mean it is odd. It starts off as a bit of a make-believe travelogue. Eric has the reader “pretend” that they have just landed in Salt Lake City and then travelled down to Jackson to join a face to face coaching week.

You grab your bag, running shoes dangling from the handle, and exit the plane directly onto tarmac. You take a deep breath. The air is exhilarating and the sky astoundingly wide and close. As you follow the concrete path toward the terminal, you turn to look at the mountains, and its like they’re right there in your face. Your eye traces the wild, zigzag lines of the peaks – dominated by the central massif, the truly majestic Grand Teton – and follows the canyons cutting up in deep, dark Vs between the rises. You try to imagine running there, following a trail up to the Teton Crest. It seems like another world. Another you, perhaps.

I can’t say I like the style but as I’m in the planning stages for another US road trip, I’ve probably cut the tourist sales pitches a bit of slack. When you cut through the style to notes on running form, strength routines and running programs the book does really come into its own.

Slant Board Balance Exercises

The balance exercises start with hiking pole assistance. You work the 3 different foot positions, Uphill, Downhill and Forward initially with two poles. When you can hold each balance for 2 minutes comfortably you will move to one pole balance exercises and then the no pole exercises.

Cool Impossible Slant Board Positions
Cool Impossible Slant Board Balance Sequence

Slant Board Movement Exercises

At the same time as the balance poses above, you will also conduct some movement routines, again with two poles for beginners.

Side Lift – conducted with feet in Uphill mode
Frog Lift – with feet in Downhill mode
Knee Lift – with feet in Forward position

Cool Impossible Slant Board Movement Sequence

In addition to the strengthening exercises there is a fully customised 20 week running program designed to help you reach your own Cool Impossible. The customisation involves specific heart rate and speed zones which are determined by your performance in two preliminary tests – the mile run and the 20 min steady state run. I’ve never really invested much time in heart rate zone training but my interest has been piqued and I’ll be working out my zones over the next week so I can embark on the full Cool Impossible program.

I’m excited to embark on this core strengthening program and I’m hopeful that it will be the perfect supplement to my Running School practice. At the very least the balance practice should improve my sock dressing performance which is a little wobbly at best.


Hitting the Trails with Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS

Vibram FiveFingers SpyridonI’ve been meaning to review my new trail specific Vibram FiveFingers for some time now. Unfortunately my opportunities for trying out the Spyridon and putting them to the test have been seriously curtailed by the opprobrium with which they are viewed by the family. If I venture within 5 yards of the “frog shoes” I am met with screams of disgust and ultimatums are laid down which make it clear that if I dare put those on my feet, I will be going out alone.

I thought I was a little hard done to, in my mind the Spyridon has a fantastically exciting design, admittedly I would have preferred the orange version but the green camouflage styling has its merits.

Capturing the Vibram FiveFingers ZeitgeistI put it to the great zeitgeist monitor, Facebook, and was alarmed by the horror expressed in the comments. The world apparently shuns my new shoes.

As the summer holiday approached, I seized my opportunity and snuck them in the suitcase, I might not have been allowed to wear them in public but I thought if the public was entirely foreign and never to be seen again, I may just get away with it. Add to the fact that the only other shoes packed were the barefoot earthing sandles and a pair of hideous blue swim slippers, I was on to a winner.

I had intended to run while I was away but it was hot, hot beyond compare.
If I wasn’t moaning about the heat, I either had an ice cool Mythos in my hand or I was bathing up to my waist in the refreshing Aegean. There just didn’t seem to be a good time to jog off into the sunset.

We did walk though and I took the opportunity to try the Spyridon LS shoes in a mountain scramble to an isolated chapel. It was a good test for a trail shoe, it involved navigating the stony bottom of a desiccated river bed, tearing through savage, dehydrated monster thistles and scrabbling up scree and a sharp rock face. Not a typical terrain choice for a pair of barefoot shoes but they fared well.

As the only trail focussed shoe in the Vibram FiveFingers range there has been plenty of time to design and construct an outstanding model. To my mind Vibram have managed to deliver an excellent shoe with the Spyridon. The sole is thicker and grippier than my Vibram FiveFingers Speed and very importantly the sole moves up and over the tip of the toes, thereby providing toe stubbing protection which was really appreciated on my Greek scramble.

I’ve just noticed that at 3.5mm thick, the sole is only 0.5mm thicker than the sole on the Speed but they look far more aggressive. Despite the apparent thickness, I didn’t lose ground feel through the soles, I was very much aware of the terrain underfoot and although it didn’t exactly hurt I was quite careful about foot placement especially on the riverbed section. When we moved into the steeper climbs I felt much more comfortable and appreciated the freedom to grip the ground with my toes.

If you’re tempted to buy a pair I would recommend getting these and other Vibram FiveFingers properly sized up. Mine are a tiny bit too big which means that my little toe regularly pops out, especially on uphill climbs, which is a bit annoying, they were very snug on the way back down though and a snug pair feel so much more comfortable.

Overall I would happily recommend these to trail runners or walkers. You might find it easier if you were single or at least partnered up with someone with equally dubious taste in foot attire though.

Earth Runners Minimal Earthing Sandals

Flip flop sandals have always filled me with fear, particularly the thong style with inter-toe strap, which seems like an horrific big toe accident waiting to happen.

Obviously I’ve been intrigued by the huarache sandals made famous by the Tarahumara and the book, Born to run. Intrigued, but not even slightly interested in wearing them – far too hardcore for my barefoot dabblings.

Earth Runners CircadianHaving said that, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so when Mike offered me a sneak preview of the new Circadian Earth Runner I jumped at the opportunity to try them out for size. The Earth Runner series include copper studs and coils which are designed to conduct electricity and “ground” you to the earth. I was of course deeply sceptical about this “grounding” stuff but when my sandals arrived I was disappointed that the grounding studs seemed to be missing. I needn’t have worried, the conduction system is still there, just a little less conspicuous in the Circadian model.

I don’t know if I’m feeling the benefits of being earthed but I do enjoy wearing them. I’ve taken to wearing them around the house like slippers, I feel good in them. I don’t apparently, look good in them, so I won’t be bothering you with photos of my sandals in action – I was not blessed with photogenic feet.

It is odd to feel the strap between your toes but I am getting used to it and the Earth Runners are amazingly customisable for such a simple product. The strap angle can be altered by shifting the buckle position and there are a few videos on the website to help with finding the perfect fit.

I’ve run with these on the treadmill but I’m taking it easy, I can’t shake off the vision of the big toe accident and so I’m nervous to take these out and run with abandon over trails where I risk snagging the sole and turning the lace into a cheese wire. Maybe I’ll get over this in time and relax into my Earth Runner, I hope so because they give a fabulous feeling of freedom. The underfoot experience is very similar to the RunAmoc Moc3 but the upper is more cabriolet style.

Earth Runners are currently running a kick starter campaign to send the Circadian into full production. It looks like they have hit their target so hopefully they will be available more widely soon but do check it out if you’d like to place an order and take advantage of the early adopter discount. I would strongly recommend the product quality and the comfort will only increase over the coming months as the footbed moulds to the shape of your foot.

I’ll be taking these on my summer holidays even if they do play havoc with my sex appeal.


New Balance Minimus Zero

The New Balance Minimus Zero is a surprisingly light shoe, the shoe box was so light that I half expected it to be empty. I know it’s billed as a minimalist shoe so was hardly likely to be bulky but it has such an imposing sole that I was expecting it to feel slightly more substantial.

20130301-144901.jpgThe Vibram sole is fabulous.

It’s like a field of Eden projects – colourful geodesic bumps forming a flexible platform.

The pod design enables excess material to be cut away and explains why the shoe is so light. The dark pods have a firm and grippy layer to extend the life of the high impact areas.

20130301-144922.jpgThe rest of the shoe doesn’t excite me as much the sole. The upper is made from a lightweight, almost transparent mesh and I’m afraid when I put my feet inside the sight of my hairy toes just ruins the visual appeal. I don’t think it is entirely my toes fault – not many feet are attractive through semi-transparent mesh.

With the New Balance Minimus all the design efforts appear to have gone into the sole and the upper has been left rather stark. The mesh is both unattractive and feels a bit harsh. For a shoe designed to be worn without socks I would have preferred a softer fabric. The ankle opening has slight padding but it has no structure and gapes quite unpleasantly when I wear it. The tongue is made from a soft felt-like material but it isn’t firmly attached to the shoe which means that it is a faff to get it to lay flat when you’re wearing it. It’s very easy to create a fold that would create a blister after a few miles of running.

I’m not overly impressed with the New Balance Minimus. It looks great until you put it on and then the minimal design of the upper lets it down. I have no complaints at all with sole which performs well for a midfoot or barefoot running style but the Minimus won’t be tempting me away from my barefot stalwarts the Vibram Five Fingers or the Softstar Moc3.

Soft Star Shoes – Moc3 Barefoot Running Shoe

Soft Star shoes are my guilty pleasure, the fashion habit that I feel somewhat obliged to hide from the family.

RunAmoc Moc3

I’m threatening to turn into one of those old biddies who wander round the streets in their slippers, but when shoes are this comfortable who really cares?

Soft Star shoes are as cutting edge and hip as elf made, barefoot shoes get. The original RunAmoc (reviewed here) was hard to beat but the elves have got a new recruit and he’s brought some tried and tested science to the shoe making table, resulting in the release of Moc3 RunAmoc. These are fantastically comfortable and have odour resistant properties that Vibram FiveFinger runners will envy.

I prefer the thicker sole option for trail running but they are also my gad about shoe of choice especially when camping.

Soft Star The RogueI’ve just discovered their latest casual shoe offering, The Rogue, and I’m wondering if I can get away with these combined with a suit for work?


Newton Terra Momentus Review

I’m in search of the ideal trail shoe for next months Great North Trail Run, to be held around Keswick in the Lake District. I’m not really at half marathon fitness so I feel the need to be kind to my feet which are going to be painfully slow plodders.

20120527-222042.jpgSearching around the net I was drawn yet again to the Newtons. It’s hard to avoid them in their full green livery but its less the style and more the concept that intrigues me.

Newtons encourage the efficient forefoot running stance by the existence of the unique cushioned actuator lugs under the metatarsal region. These are designed to encourage the idealised barefoot running style. See this external review if you want to know more about the construction of the Terra Momentus.

Unlike the more minimal barefoot shoes such as Vibram fivefingers and Vivo Barefoot which can lead calf injuries if adopted in too gung-ho a fashion, the Newtons come with an acclimatisation guide and the store where I bought then sent me an email with similar information and a link to a video guide.

That’s corporate responsibility.

My first run was on the treadmill, not really the designed terrain but as I was acclimatising slowly, I thought it would be ok. After 2k I felt the lugs burning into my feet, rather as though I had a pencil taped under my shoes.

Quite irritating really.

By the time I took these out on to the trail I had replaced the insoles with my custom pair from profeet. That combined with the appropriate terrain removed my awareness of the lug. I knew it was there though and did have a fear of scuffing it on twigs and sending myself sprawling.

It didn’t happen thankfully.

Its hard to tell without video evidence, whether the Newtons affected my running style. I did find that I completed the Mitcham common circuit in double quick time but that could still be the Zombie effect.

My sense with these shoes and indeed with efficient mid to forefoot running styles, is that they are more suited to the faster runner than the plodder. I think they benefit and indeed encourage greater lift, which is easier with pace. I will keep at it though and keep you informed if I experience an epiphany.

Sportpursuit – Sports Gear and Gadget Deals Site

I was recently asked to blog about a new flash sale website that focuses on sports gear and gadgets.

20120526-104956.jpgI normally avoid this stuff like the plague as I’m not interested in seeing my inbox fill with fabulous offers that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.

This one seemed a little different and as I can’t resist sports gadgetry, I took a look and then I ended up signing-up and now I’m at serious risk of bankrupting myself.

If you’re not familiar with flash sales, it’s all the rage at the moment and featured on The Apprentice last week. It’s based around the concept of time limited offers with significant discounts. Sites such as Groupon put forward fairly generic offers and bombard you with treats such as laser hair removal, teeth whitening and golf trips on the Costa Brava but Sportpursuit has a focus – individual sports. This of course means that almost every offer is going to feel highly relevant and therefore a huge risk to my wallet.

At the moment they have offers from the likes of Vibram fivefingers, Vivobarefoot, Zoot, Cebe and a snowboarding brand that I’ve never heard of.

Vibram fivefinger dealsI’m particularly interested in the barefoot running deals. The Vibram fivefingers look fab – I know I already have a pair and I’m not really doing a lot of barefoot running at the moment but the Women’s Bikilas look great and they are being offered at £66, down from £115, that is quite an offer and it’s not a brand that you often find deals on.

If you want to expose yourself to some great run, bike, swim deals, I recommend that you take a look at Sportpursuit. If you want to keep hold of your money – ignore this post!

Barefoot Rowing

I was scheduled for another run this evening but after watching Biggest Loser UK and seeing myself get thrashed by one of the contestants over the 5k distance, I didn’t feel much in the mood for running.

20120104-222617.jpgI opted to row instead and as I’ve been reading about the new rage for barefoot and/or strapless rowing I thought I’d go back to my roots and give it go.

It’s supposed to hone your technique but maybe that requires you to have some to hone.

It turned me into rather a pants rower. Everything dropped – pace, power, stroke rate. I kept thrusting myself off the back of the machine.

Better improve before the biggest losers show me up at that sport as well.

Plantar Fasciitis and General Running Woes

My running outlook is looking grim again but I’m not completely despondent. I feel the opportunity for experimentation. The sort of experimentation that probably got me into this mess in the first place but blogging fodder nonetheless.

I’ve just been to see my latest running guru and as expected it has resulted in yet another path opening up to me. Another path for me to hobble along and bemoan the runners curse that is plantar fasciitis.

Why don’t experts ever agree?

Of late I’ve dabbled in normal running and then barefoot running of both the truly barefoot and the partially shod variety. I’ve crosstrained, army trained, occasionally weight trained and swung kettle bells to destruction.

Along the line I’ve taken my dose of injury from ITB, spondylolithesis and plantar fasciitis. It would be tempting to pin each ailment to the latest fad but my records are just not that clear.

Almost everyone else is happy to blame barefoot running for my latest spate of crippling PF and although I know it is not conclusive and despite suffering with PF before I discarded the shoes, I’m tempted to go with the crowd and abandon all hope of truly minimalist, pain free running.

Today’s guru was the podiatrist who told me my calves and backside are too weak for barefoot running and that I need to abandon the running school with its fore foot running focus, until I see some improvements in the pain level.

This all makes me feel a little glum.

She did instruct me to find a functional trainer for lower limb strength building and a pool for a spate of aqua jogging. Now that could be fun. Or highly embarrassing.

Time will tell.

Lobsters and Cats

Having just returned from 6 hours wandering around the Westfield centre we weren’t terribly eager to go out again and foolishly felt a treadmill mile showdown might be the perfect low energy Juneathon offering.

I was sent some really interesting Tabio sports socks to try out today but unfortunately they were about 4 sizes too small and I had to watch jealously as Lynn nicked a pair for the evening run.

She took the intriguing lobster model and opted to run barefoot or sock-footed for the mile. Apparently the Tabio socks were a huge improvement on the usual sports socks and showed no signs of causing blisters which tends to happen quite quickly with a standard slippy sock and a rough treadmill track. I’ll do a proper review when I’ve had to chance to play with my own. I might also have a pair that I can give away on the blog – more on that later.

The cat was mesmerised by the repetitive pink flash and almost caused carnage in her attempts to grab the lobsters mid stride.

Lynn set the bar at 11mins 51 secs for the barefoot mile and although I had the advantage of going last I had to damn near kill myself to break the barrier by another 5 seconds.

Day 4 Tally
Runs: 4/4
Run Distance: 1.6k / 9.06k total
Runs where I beat Lynn: 4/4
Stella Pint Equivalents: 1ish in the form of champagne