Ever since Baywatch immortalized beach running, it has become an integral part of popular culture. Nothing makes you feel more alive than going for a jog along the seafront, especially as the sun sets on a warm day.
But it turns out that beach running is more than just a fun pastime. It is also something that could dramatically improve your fitness.
In this post, we take a look at some of the benefits of beach running and how you can prepare for it properly, without injuring yourself.
Keep Your Body Guessing
Running on concrete is something that a lot of runners do as part of their training. But it’s not a natural experience. Rarely in human evolutionary history would people have run continuously on a hard surface except, perhaps when climbing mountains (and that’s far fetched).
Unfortunately, in the modern world, most people run on concrete without even thinking about the consequences. The ground is the ground, right? What difference does it make?
Well, it turns out that our bodies are very clever. They’re continually making micro-adjustments to compensate for the surface underneath our steps.
Imagine when people used to run across the savanna in Africa, it would have felt soft underfoot, forcing the small muscles in the bottoms of their feet and legs to adjust.
With modern training shoes and uniform, hard surfaces, our feet and legs no longer have to make these adjustments. So when we train, our development starts to deviate from natural adaptations that should be happening. And that’s when injuries can start.
Running on the sand, though, is different. Unlike concrete, it does deform, forcing you to use all those tiny stabilizer muscles you neglect in the rest of your training (this can be true with technical trail running as well). And that keeps your body guessing. Then when you return to running on hard concrete surfaces, you can feel the difference. Often, you’ll feel lighter than air and able to run faster than you could before (and you can tell how hard your road is).
Beach Running Feels Great
Most runners report that their running hobby gives them a kind of “high.” It feels good, so they go back to it time and time again.
Running on sand, though, feels even better (once you get the hang of it). It’s accompanied by beautiful scenery and the sound of the waves crashing along the shore. At dawn and dusk, the experience is even better.
Less Force On The Ground
Running on pavements and other hard surfaces isn’t ideal for your health either. Over time, runners can develop shin splints – small-scale damage and stress fractures to the bones at the front of the leg. These can then develop into larger and larger cracks, leading to full-blown injury (and not being able to run).
Running on sand, however, helps to counter this. According to experts, the impact of a foot strike on sand is about four times less than on concrete, so training on sand is often much more sustainable. You’re not driving impact as hard up your legs that could damage your muscles/bones/ligaments/tendons.
Beach Running Works You Harder
Long-term runners can get into bad habits, doing the same route over and over again, without really challenging themselves or pushing their boundaries. While running still feels good, this approach to the sport is the main reason people plateau (and get injured). They try to push themselves consciously, but the environment doesn’t play ball. There’s no reason for their body to adapt and progress. It just gets beat down.
Running on sand, however, provides a massive shock to complacent muscles. Data suggests that running on sand is around 10 percent harder than running on grass. That’s because the foot depresses into the ground and can’t spring back up as easily using elastic energy contained in the muscles (the stretch reflex). When running on soft sand, you feel like you’re just plodding along. This will be slower at first, but that’s a good thing.
Works Stabilizer Muscles
Runners rely on their stabilizer muscles to keep them upright as they run. But, unfortunately, poor training routines can leave these muscles undertrained. And that invariably can lead to injury over the long-term.
Running on sand, however, provides gentle training and stimulation for practically all the stabilizer muscles in the lower body, including the hip muscles, hamstrings, glutes, ankles, and feet. When you run on a treadmill, you’re running on a perfectly flat surface that doesn’t challenge you. But when you run on an uneven surface (like sand or a trail), you recreate the primal conditions that evolution designed the human body for.
How To Prepare For Running On Sand
Running on sand is great for all the reasons we describe above. But, as with anything, there are drawbacks.
The biggest issue is the risk of an ankle/foot sprains. When you run on sand, the foot sinks into it, increasing the chance that you will twist it in an unnatural way. Sand runners are also at a higher risk of tendinopathy which happens when the tendons themselves fatigue.
The trick here is to approach sand running gently. Don’t immediately run a half marathon along a beach (even if that’s your normal distance). Instead, include sand sections in your regular route (if possible). Then, when you’re feeling up to it, increase the amount of time that you spend running on sand. Don’t try to force it too soon. Listen to your body.
Sand is also highly reflective (more than most people think), which can potentially damage your eyes. Which means wearing sunglasses should be a part of your beach running routine, and with an easy click here, you can browse a selection of sunglasses with special UV filters to protect your retinas.
You’ll also want to improve your nutrition and hydration if you decide to go for a sand run. As mentioned, it will force you to expend more energy. So if it is a hot day, remember to take more fluids with you. If you use gels while training, you also might want to carry more with you, just in case your blood sugar levels fall too low (ask me how I know this…).
After sand running, your muscles will probably feel a little sorer than usual. Thus, it pays to be smart with your training. At first, try to avoid multiple beach running days in a row – you’ll wear out your stabilizers. Instead, listen to what your body is saying and only train if you feel recovered.
Lastly, if you’re running near the water on wet sand, you’ll want to consider wearing trail running shoes to protect your feet from stones and sharp seashells. If you’re running on drier sand, then you might want to omit shoes entirely and enjoy the full bare foot running experience.