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Training & advice

Running in sand

Running on the beach, breathing in the sea air is one of running’s great pleasures and, not only does it feel good but it boosts your fitness levels too.

Wet and soft sand offers resistance that develops strength-endurance as it works all of the lower leg muscles, ligaments and tendons  against the resistance of the sand. The most effective way of doing this is to run barefoot but you should beware of moving straight from running in shoes on tarmac to running barefoot on a beach. Running on a softer surface means that you sink lower and so put extra stretch and load on your achilles tendon and so this needs to be done gradually so that you don’t wind up with an achilles tendon injury. It’s not only about the lower legs though. When you run on sand you will notice that you work hard to drive your knee through and so your hips and even your arms get a great workout as they go through a greater range of movement working against the resistance.

Like any other type of running training you must progress gradually to allow your body to adapt to the stress. To start with you should run on the beach in running shoes so that you get used to the surface before you add the extra stretch and stress that occurs barefoot. You should also cut down the duration of the run from your normal run on the roads. Once you have got used to this training and feel comfortable with it you may want to try running barefoot on soft or wet sand for just 5 minutes initially and build this gradually. You need not worry that your running session is shorter than normal. Running on soft and wet sand burns more calories and uses more energy than running on the roads, giving your cardiovascular system a better workout, so you can get the same fitness return in less time. When you first start, 5 minutes will feel like you’ve done an interval session and you can build it from there.

Once you have built up to 20 minutes you may want to have a go at putting intervals into your sand running session but, again, you will need to shorten the duration of the intervals as they will feel harder than they do on a track. The beach is a great place to practice your running drills so don’t forget to put these in after you have warmed up and before you do your interval session. Your drills are best carried out on firm sand if you are using them to encourage good running technique. Soft sand alters your running posture because it offers less traction and so you tend to push off more on the front of your foot, lean further forward, drive your knees higher and your elbows further back than normal. Soft sand is great for going through a greater range of movement but not for perfecting a good running technique. However, if you are using your drills to work the cardiovascular system then soft sand will certainly do that!

You may use the different types of sand for the effort and the recovery of your interval session. For example:

  • 10 minutes warm up on firm sand
  • Drills/dynamic stretching on firm sand
  • 6 X 2 minutes effort on soft, 3 minutes easy on firm
  • 10 minutes cool down on firm sand.

If you have access to sand dunes this is a great way of developing both cardiovascular fitness and strength- endurance. Not only do you have the resistance of the sand but also the hill. 10 minutes of running hard up and down sand dunes makes for a very tough but effective session!

Running at the edge of the water can be great for your cardiovascular fitness and your running technique as you will tend to pick your knees up higher as you splash through the water and it is also a lot of fun!

We should mention some of the dangers of running on the beach. Blisters can be a problem as the sand can cause friction on the skin and, of course, debris on the beach may be hazardous. The trick is to find a clean beach with plenty of space to manoeuvre and avoid any hazards but if in doubt leave your shoes on. Running on the beach in shoes is still a great workout.

Don’t forget that recovery is a very important part of training and what better way to recover than a dip in the sea to cool the legs and wash away the sweat?!