Running on the beach sounds idyllic: You’ve got visions of your new, pure self waking up at sunrise, logging a few miles up and down the coast, then returning to your beach-house to sip coffee and revel in your new fit way of life. The reality, of course, is you’re more likely to hit snooze and end up sore and sunburned when you try your first long run on the sand at high noon.
Sand running is, quite honestly, not an easy feat. But you can make it easier on yourself and actually enjoy those beach miles, by following this expert advice:
ASSESS YOUR RISK
Before you jump into your long run on the sand, think about your injury history. “I always tell people that if they are prone to sprains or tendonitis, or if you’re healing from any type of leg or foot injury, that this type of exercise probably isn’t the best idea due to the uneven terrain,” says Jamie Hickey, a certified personal trainer/nutritionist at Truism Fitness, who leads beach runs at the Jersey Shore. So, if you’ve been struggling with injuries this year, don’t try sand running — walk instead.
SEEK FLAT GROUND
Sand is challenging enough without adding a side slope that makes you run with a hitching stride on one side. “When you’re running on the beach, part of the resistance comes from the uneven terrain,” says Caleb Backe, a certified personal trainer for Maple Holistics. “That being said, you should try to avoid particularly sloped areas of the beach to avoid unnecessary pressure on your knees and ankles. Running on a sloped surface also increases your risk of a twisted or sprained ankle, so look ahead when you’re running to make sure that the ground is as even as possible. A low tide creates the most hard-packed surface that’s ideal for an even running surface.”
WEAR RUNNING SHOES
It’s tempting to picture the classic Baywatch-esque beach runs: The sun coming up over the water, and you, running barefoot — unencumbered by shoes — as you effortlessly float down the beach. Unfortunately, if you’re not used to minimal shoes, this might end up stressing your feet. Opt to wear your normal sneakers for most of your run, and take them off for the final couple minutes to feel the sand between your toes. “I always try to encourage people to take their shoes off for the last part of the run, it’s a completely different feeling and workout and this is a great way to get yourself used to it,” says Hickey.
WALK BEFORE YOU RUN AND HAVE A WORKOUT PLAN
“Build up to running on sand. Start with walking. Sand places higher demands on your leg muscles, especially your calves, so you need to progress into it sensibly,” says Martyn Binnie, physiologist at the Western Australian Institute of Sport. He’s done extensive research on sand running and has seen the upsides and downsides.
“Sensible progression is key and having an understanding of workout intensity is important. Sand can be used to get the same intensity for a slower speed or to achieve a higher demand for a similar/unrestricted speed session. It just depends on what you want to achieve.” Don’t start sprinting for the first time on sand or adding intervals you’re not used to. Stick to your normal workouts.
START ON HARDER SAND
“I like to start on the harder sand down by the water just to warm up and get used to the feeling of the sand, says Hickey. “Start on the harder sand near the water, then move to the softer drier sand. Make sure to do this on even terrain, not on a hill or slope. I’ve seen too many people roll their ankle when doing that!” Do the majority of your sandy run down by the water where the sand is firmly packed, but do fartlek-style intervals into the soft sand for an added challenge. (Hickey also recommends timing your runs with low tide, when the sand by the water tends to be more firmly packed and flat.)
EXPECT TO BE TIRED
“The biggest surprise to the newer beach runners is how quickly you get tired as opposed to running on sidewalks or roads: It definitely lets you know that you’re using different muscles and getting a better workout,” says Hickey.
Binnie agrees and explains our running posture even changes as we try to stabilize to stay balanced on shifting sand. Our posture running casually on sand actually mimics our posture running hard on the road. Both Hickey and Binnie note the energy expenditure from running on sand is much higher than running on a hard surface, so if you normally run 3 miles on the road and swap that for 3 miles of sand running, you’re actually burning more calories in the same distance.
HOP IN THE WATER AFTER
“Sand is great: It lessens the load of running on the body, and you have access to a natural recovery bath to top it off!” says Binnie. So don’t forget the most fun part of your day: Dive into that chilly ocean water to rinse off when you’re done. That might just be the best part.