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Training & advice

Revealing the bare facts in the sand

There are few greater pleasures than running barefoot on the beach in the summer and, not only is it a great workout for your cardiovascular system and strength-endurance but it can reveal a few home truths about your running style.

Sand is a great tool for perfecting running technique and the savvy runner will make good use of both soft, dry sand and firmer, wet sand to do this.

Soft, dry sand

Training in soft sand is hard work! Let’s make no bones about it. Because the sand is not a stable surface and shifts as you move, your body is forced to work harder to stablise and balance itself. In order to propel yourself you have to go through a greater range of movement, not only forwards but upwards as you sink lower into the loose sand. The muscles, tendons and ligaments in your lower legs get a great workout and the muscles in your core and upper body come into to play help maintain your balance. Over time this makes you stronger and more fluent in your running movement.

Firm, wet sand

Running on wet sand can show how your foot strikes the ground can help you to analyse and then improve your running technique.

One way to do this is to mark out approximately 80 metres on clean sand. Split this into 20 metre sections then move from start to finish, wearing running shoes. Increase your pace as you go from walking to jogging, to steady running to fast running. Then go back and look at your footprints. Take note of where your foot was striking or where the greatest impact was on each section. Most people strike with the heel when they walk and then move further forward along the foot as the pace increases. A good model would be:

Walk – heel strike

Jog – flat foot strike

Steady run – mid-forefoot strike

Fast run – forefoot strike

If you don’t move onto your forefoot as your running gets faster then your running economy is compromised. Try the same exercise barefoot on a firmer section of sand and see what the difference is. It is unlikely that you will heel strike when you are running on a firmer surface because it would hurt your heel. We have a nice, fatty pad underneath our foot and it is much more comfortable to land on that! It is more economical to land with a flat foot or on the forefoot underneath your centre of gravity so if you’re landing on your heel in front of your centre of mass in shoes some barefoot running would be good training for you.

Barefoot running on the sand can also highlight any weaknesses or imbalances you have. Do both feet look symmetrical? If one seems to land more heavily than the other or if one is less on the forefoot than the other it could be that you are protecting one leg for a reason, for example, you could be more weak in your gluteal muscles on one side or you could have a knot in one of your calf muscles and so you are protecting it. By identifying a problem you may be more likely to address it and put some prehab work in place.