While visiting Destin, Florida, I fantasized about the relaxing morning runs I would take along the shore. The sand between my toes, the sun hovering over the horizon and my footprints trailing behind only to be washed away with the tide. But after my first attempt, I learned that this was a silly pipe dream.
My feet slipped into the sand, my face was pelted by the sun’s unrelenting rays, and my knee was aching from the uneven impact of a slanted terrain. It was only through trial and error (and some useful online sources) that I finally learned the secrets to running on the beach without feeling miserable.
Read these tips before you take that first vacay run. Take care to avoid making the same mistakes I made so you can have the run of your dreams.
If you want to read my post on running basics, click here and find Running for Non-Runners: How to Start Running when You Weren’t Born to Run.
Shoes or Barefoot?
It’s clear what we want the answer to be. We want to feel free, the sand between our toes and the gentle waves washing up to our ankles. But unfortunately, that’s not very realistic, at least not at first.Running along the beach barefoot is just like running a six-minute mile: it’s possible, but after some practice.
Our feet and ankles aren’t used to sand as terrain. It falls under our weight and is less firm than pavement. If we haven’t yet adapted to this new ground, we are more prone to injury and we must be careful to avoid any sharp objects, like sea shells, in the sand.But there are benefits to running through sand barefoot. It can strengthen your ankles and allow you to run more naturally.
For the best of both worlds, wear shoes on your first few beach runs. Just like running on pavement, it’s important that you start slow and build up. For sand running, that means starting with protective footwear and building the strength in your joints until you’re ready to go shoe-less.
Soft or Firm Sand?
Typically, you’ll find firmer sand near the water’s edge and the softer further inland. But which is better for running? The short answer is both!
Both types of sand have pros and cons. Firm sand is more similar to pavement. But soft sand can put less stress on your joints, work different muscles, have less impact on your body as a whole, and lower the likelihood of injury.
One helpful trick I found online is the “Zig Zag” technique. Every few minutes, switch from running on the firm sand to the soft and vise versa. This way, you will get benefits from both and not overwork yourself on one type of terrain.
Unfortunately, the beaches in Destin were mostly slanted. Throughout my run, one side of my body suffered more than the other, since the impact on my legs were different.
If possible, it’s best to avoid slanted beaches. But if you’re like me and they’re unavoidable, the only solution is to work each side evenly. Be sure to run down the beach one way, then run the same amount of time the other way, to give your harder working side a rest.
If nothing else, be aware before you start a beach run that it will be much different. You’re going to use muscles you’ve never used before, and you’ll have to work harder than you typically would.
Similar to your first time running on pavement, you’ll need to take longer breaks, allowing your body to slowly acclimate to the change. Take it slow and don’t worry about distance, as the work you put in will not take you as far as it would on a paved path.
Instead, focus on time. Time your runs, walks and breaks, and overtime, you can decrease your walking time until it is nonexistent.
Running on the beach can be challenging (and after your first time, a little intimidating). But if you know the right techniques, you can turn it back into the beautiful, relaxing exercise you always imagined.