5 Tips for Running on the Beach
It's not as hard as it looks.
How does something as soft as sand make everything…harder? You kill it on the volleyball court but when you take your game to the beach, it feels impossible. Yoga in a studio is a breeze until you bring your mat shoreside. And when it comes to running on the beach? It’s like an entirely new (difficult) sport.
“Running on the beach strengthens your arches, ankles and calves, and improves your cardiovascular conditioning,” says Run Faster coach Martise Moore. “It also requires more power, which helps you feel lighter and faster when you go back to the pavement.”
According to this study, running on the sand forces your body to work ten percent harder than it does on other surfaces. So next time you want to level up your running routine, hit the beach and keep the below tips in mind.
1. If you’re running long distances, wear shoes.
When you’re running in sand, it can feel counterintuitive to wear shoes. But doing so will protect your feet from injury, especially if you’re running longer distances. “If you’re doing shorter, faster efforts then I think it’s ok to go barefoot,” says running coach Carl Leivers. “But if you’re going for a longer run, run in shoes. Any time you run on an uneven surface instead of pavement, you’re going to use a wider variety of muscles—particularly in your lower legs and feet. Running in the sand will also often involve more resistance than pavement. As you push off, some of the energy you’re producing will be absorbed by the sand in a way that it isn’t on a harder surface. This means running on the beach will be more challenging, often slower and can cause you to run with mechanics that are not the same as you’re used to running with. All of this can combine and lead to injuries if you try to do too much too quickly, or do it barefoot.”
Founder and lead coach at Running Strong Janet Hamilton prefers some type of footwear when running on the beach, as well. “There are hidden sharp objects in the sand—some natural like broken seashells and some not so natural like broken glass—that you may not see,” she says. “Wearing some type of footwear will protect the soles of your feet from this danger. Most athletes don’t get the option to run on sand on a regular basis, so I tend to recommend they opt for footwear, and only introduce barefoot running on sand after they’ve acclimated for several weeks.”
2. Find a flat surface.
Not all beaches are created equal. If you’re running in sand that has flat and slanted sections, choose the former. “The number one rule in running is to run balanced: that includes running tall and doing the same exact thing on your left side as you do on your right,” says Moore. “In general, it’s not a good idea to run on anything slanted because it puts uneven pressure on each side of your body. If you do run alongside a slanted beach, double back the same distance and pace so that the other side of your body gets the same amount of work.”
Moore says that instead of running alongside a slanted beach, a better option is to run up hills for a cardio and power workout. If you’re not into that, Leivers says to just skip the slanted run. “Running on a slanted service puts your body in such an unnatural position that you greatly increase the risk of injury,” he says. “If your only option on the beach is slanted, I would encourage you to run on the boardwalk instead and save the beach for walks instead of runs.”
3. Burn more calories with sprints.
The calories consumed by any running activity are generally related to the speed at which you run. The exception to the rule, however, is running in sand. When you run (even slower) at the beach, you’re likely burning just as many calories. “You’re not as fast, but you’re working harder because the surface is giving way beneath you and you need to impart a greater force to cover the same distance,” says Hamilton.
One way to level up an already calorie-torching workout is to go faster and harder. “Sprinting in soft sand, especially uphill, is one of the fastest ways to burn calories on the beach,” says Moore. We’re talking short, hard efforts in loose, deep sand. Leivers even recommends adding in some jumping exercises and running drills to really get your heart rate up.
4. Ease into it.
As with any new workout, be gentle with your body and accept the fact that you’ll have to practice to get better at it. “Any time you change from your usual surface (like asphalt) to something novel (like sand), you have to appreciate the fact that the loading patterns will be different and may not be well tolerated,” says Hamilton. “Introduce changes gradually and evaluate your body’s response and then progress accordingly. Don’t just assume that because sand is a soft surface, it’s going to be less likely to cause injuries. It’s not.”
For beginners, Leivers says dry or damp sand that’s fairly compacted and relatively level is ideal. Schedule your beach run for a time when the ocean is at low-tide, which can be more accommodating for longer runs.
5. Pack the essentials.
Before your beach run, don’t leave home with a few key items that will make your pre- and post-run routine perfect. For Moore, this means sunblock, water, a hat and socks. Hamilton likes a post-run snack, sports beverage and good sunglasses. “Don’t underestimate the solar radiation and its effect not only on your performance (heat load) but also on your skin,” she says.
Finally, Leivers recommends an anti-chafing product that you can use on your feet and in between your toes. “If sand gets into your shoes, it can rub and cause blisters in all kinds of places you’re not used to dealing with on regular runs,” he says. “After a beach run, I would also bring some sandals to put on until you get a chance to get all the sand out of your shoes.”