In reality, however, running on sand is hard. Interestingly, that’s partly because it’s so gentle: Sand absorbs much more force than a rammed-earth road, track, or even trail, says Kate Baird, MA, ACSM-CEP, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery. This means that you have to push yourself a lot more to cover the same distance in beach races. The sand at the beach can also be sloping and/or uneven, adding a challenge to your balance and stability.
But that doesn’t mean running on the beach should remain a vacation fantasy. Use these expert tips for safe sand racing.
How running on the beach challenges the body
Because you’ll be pushing harder while running on sand, all the muscles that normally tire during runs—glutes, hamstrings, calves—will fatigue faster, Baird says. Having to stabilize yourself on that soft, unpredictable surface also means the intrinsic muscles on the bottom of your feet are going to work overtime, he says, especially if you’re going barefoot.
New York Road Runners group training coach Gordon Bakoulis says the plantar fascia, the network of connective tissue that covers the bottom of the foot, will also be challenged, so take extra care when approaching running on the arena if you have had problems with plantar fasciitis. or any type of foot injury.
You may find that your ankles have to work harder, too, especially if you’re running on uneven or sloping sand. Baird recommends trying to find the flattest part of the arena, at least to start with.
The benefits of running on sand
While the biggest benefit of running on sand is probably that you’re running in a beautiful and relaxing place, there are also benefits to your body, such as strengthening your feet and ankles, Bakoulis says, which can make you more resistant to injury. . over time. And a silver lining to running on such a soft surface: You’re not pounding on your joints as much as you would on roads or concrete, she says.
Also, running on sand can feel great once you learn how to do it. Sweating by the ocean even offers unique mental health benefits. And, as Baird points out, “the beach feels like a safer place than the jungle or the forest.”
How to make running in the sand easier
With the added challenges on your muscles, it’s essential to start slow and short to avoid extreme pain and injury, and to condition your body for the increased demands of running on sand.
Bakoulis says you should expect to run up to two minutes per mile slower than a similar effort on the road. But instead of looking at your watch or attempting road-to-sand conversions, just follow your perceived exertion, he says: An easy run in the sand should feel just as easy as an easy run on the road, which means you’ll inevitably be much slower. (And yes, unless you’re an experienced sand racer with access to a relatively flat stretch, your sand runs should probably be easy.)
The same goes for the length of your runs: Start by logging just a few miles at a time in the sand, suggests Bakoulis, and always cut back on the length of any runs you’d normally do on the road, as you’re “getting more bang for your buck.” in the sand, she says.
And if you’re training for a long-distance race like a marathon, don’t try to log all your training miles in the sand while on vacation, Bakoulis cautions. Try it out one day for your easy run, or go for a mile or two in the sand before transitioning to the road or treadmill for the rest of your run. (For what it’s worth, both Bakoulis and Baird give you permission to take a discreet week off during your vacation.)
A logistical tip for running on Bakoulis Beach: Since beach runs will inevitably be back and forth, make sure you don’t head out too far. “When you’re at the beach it feels like, Oh, I could run forever,” he says, “and the next thing you know you’re four miles from home and you’re exhausted and you don’t have any water, or a storm could come from the nothing”. If you’re planning to go four miles, for example, one strategy is to go one mile in one direction, come back, and then go one mile in the other direction.
Even if it feels easy at the moment, don’t make the mistake of doing too much and hurting yourself. “Many times people feel that if it feels easy, then my body must tolerate it very well,” says Baird. “And that’s not always true, maybe the next day you’ll wake up and realize what you were really asking of your body.”
How to approach your form of running in the sand
Should I change running on sand? as you run? In general, Baird says no: trying to change the way you run is usually not a good idea, and since you’ll already be running on a new surface, adding another new element to the mix will only make the experience more unfamiliar. your body.
That being said, a few simple cues can make running in the sand feel less of a burden. For one thing, Baird says he’ll want to focus on taking shorter, faster steps, since long strides will be next to impossible. And Bakoulis suggests making sure you remember to lift your knees so you don’t drag yourself across the sand, which is inefficient and a tripping hazard. He also recommends slightly widening your stance for better stability if you’re comfortable.
To fit or not to fit?
There is no perfect answer to the question of whether or not to wear shoes when running on the beach. But there are some factors to consider. How hard and compact is the sand? If it’s stiffer, stick with the shoes, as the surface will be more similar to what you’re used to. If it’s smooth, you may want to go barefoot to avoid filling your shoes with hundreds of tiny sand particles. Also consider how familiar the area is and whether you can safely go barefoot without worrying about stepping on broken glass or sharp projectiles. And if you have a foot condition or injury, opt for shoes, Baird suggests.
There are benefits to being barefoot. Baired points out that he feels fine; you can spread your toes. Barefoot running also gives your feet and calves an extra workout, Aaron Keil, PT, previously told Well+Good. But since it will be a new challenge for your feet, cautiously work up to barefoot mileage. (Bakoulis suggests doing most of your run in shoes, then going barefoot for the last half-mile and seeing how that feels.)
If you’re going to wear shoes, don’t wear any that you don’t want to get wet and dirty. Trail shoes with waterproof features can be a good choice if they’re not too heavy or clunky, suggests Bakoulis. An older pair of your sneakers will work as well, but don’t wear anything with a large amount of padding, which would only make you feel even more unstable.
More tips for running on the beach to keep in mind:
Beat the heat: If you have the opportunity to run on the sand, that may mean that you are in a hot environment. Avoid running during the hottest part of the day, go for a run early in the morning or late at night (which will also help you avoid the crowds), and don’t forget water and sunscreen.
Research the tides before you go: Look for high tide and low tide so you don’t have to turn your run into a swim.
Beware of the slope: Know that a super steep surface will probably slow you down even more. Try to balance by running equally in each direction (because one way your left foot will be higher and another way your right foot will be higher). Or, Bakoulis suggests zig-zag running up and down the beach to avoid the problem altogether.
Share the sand: If you’re running in the middle of the day, you might be jumping around sandcastles, boogie boarders, and fishermen. Please be courteous and allow others to enjoy the activity in the arena of their choice.
Prepare for pain: As with any new activity, you’ll likely feel more pain after the first time you run on sand, and possibly in places where running normally doesn’t hurt, such as the bottoms of your feet and ankles. That’s normal, but take it as a sign not to do too much too soon, and pay attention to any sharp pain or extreme pain.
“Make sure you do an adequate amount of warm-up, stretching, and cool-down,” says Baird, “so you don’t end your beach vacation feeling like you just ran a marathon, when all you did was run on the beach for three days”.