On Monday I was able to attend a special media reception at The Finish Line Physical Therapy with special guest Eric Orton, the coaching star and featured character in Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run (the runner’s book). Eric is an elite mountain runner, world-renowned running coach, and adventure seeker. The man has even raced for up to 36 hours. In short, he knows a thing or two about running. In his first book, Cool The Impossible, Eric guides runners to becoming better, faster, and stronger runners. The book goes deeper into all this, but Eric shared his five tips to become a better runner because he firmly believes that there’s always room for improvement and everyone can be a better runner.

Coach Eric Orton

Our feet are vital to our athletic equilibrium. They set the stage for our running and determine how well we run. Lack of foot strength is a lack of stability. You can’t separate foot strength from leg strength because they’re connected. It’s not about creating bigger muscles but inviting more muscle (the muscles you have!) to the party.

Exercise: With or without a slant board, lift one knee and stand on the opposite forefoot. Simply go barefoot and try to balance on one forefoot. This fires your heart, legs, core, and glutes. No position is wrong. Do this every day. It’s so simple, but it will change your world according to Eric. I’ve done this for two days already, and I never realized how week my foot was. I can’t wait to see how this affects my running.

We never learned how to run. Did you ever think about that? But there is a way to run “correctly” or more optimally. The most common mistake is that people think running faster means moving your feet faster. That’s actually incorrect. What dictates speed is how high we lift our knees. The higher the knees are, the further we are able to propel ourselves and run faster. Don’t push your legs back, but rather lift your knees. Pu power into the ground and drive your knees forward. If you have tight hip flexors like I do, please refer back to tip number one. Training your feet takes pressure off your hips.

Exercise: run in place slowly. Increasingly lift your knees faster and faster. This is how you should be running. Run form is not hard. It’s the muscle memory that needs to take hold when you’re actually running. Keep it up!

Endurance, speed, and strength are the foundations of running. What really helps develop muscle memory is developing a sound foundation of endurance by backing off your pace. Run slower. It’s hard to run incorrectly when you’re running slower. Are you breathing correctly? How is your form?

Exercise: Test your efficiency. Slow down. How long can you go breathing through your nose? If you’re breathing through your mouth as I often do, you’ll burn out and hit a plateau. To build strength, add multiple 8-10 second sprints within your regular run.

Vegetarian. Pescatarian. Paleo. Vegan. Gluten-free. X Diet. Can I eat this? Or can’t I? Let’s not get caught up in the categories and dogma of what we are, but rather let’s focus on not eating chemicals, junk, and sugar. When it comes to nutrition, frequency and consistency is key. It’s about what you can maintain long term rather than what diet you can do for a limited amount of days. Eat consistently and daily. Aim to eat 95% clean. If you eat five times per day (3 meals, 2 snacks), you’re allowed two cheat meals. That’s 95% clean and 5% dirty. So go crazy with that 5%.

Exercise: Cut out sugar for 20 days. You’ll be amazed to see how much sugar is hidden in your diet. Sauces, salsa, yogurt, granola, juice, and more are sneaky and are high in sugar.

If there’s a better way to do items one through four, then there’s a better way to think and deal with fear. Fear is what drives our ambition. When we have opportunities, we asses risk and calculate the outcome before we even try. The answers and results don’t come to us until we cross the finish line. Why would we ever stop ourselves from running the race?

Rather than allowing fear to limit us, we need to embrace it. We need more of the unknown to lead us to a path of greatness. If there is not fear, then it’s not a worthy goal.

Exercise: Learn to love fear. Run to it.

I love all these tips from Eric Orton and can’t wait to see how it affect my run life. Eric firmly believes that everyone can run and that everyone can not only be better, but that everyone can be great. As I’ve been getting faster and stronger, I’ve wondered when I should give up and at what point should I be satisfied with my running ability. Eric’s answer is never. Why limit yourself? There is ALWAYS room for improvement. It may not be speed, but I can definitely breathe better, my stride can be smoother, or I can burn fat better. Whatever it may be, always push yourself and tackle the cool impossible.

For more on these tips, please pick up your copy of THE COOL IMPOSSIBLE.