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Beach Running

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Here are some beach-running pointers for vacationers and coastal runners.

It doesn’t take science to figure out that running on sand is more challenging than running on pavement. Just ask anyone who’s ever been on sand. But science can tell us just how much more challenging it truly is.

In 1998, three researchers in Belgium published “Mechanics and energetics of human locomotion on sand,” and their conclusions on beach-related exercise was intriguing: running on the sand takes 1.6 times more energy than running on a hard surface.

If you live near the beach, or you’re heading out for a vacation this summer, you may be interested in taking your love of running to the shoreline. Many runners in coastal areas do this to get a change-of-pace workout in one of the most serene places on the planet.

“I kind of put it in the same category as hill running. It’s resistance work,” says Brian Clarke, a running coach and author in Honolulu. “I think it’s also going to help people develop more resilience, especially in the calf and Achilles.”

With a little preparation and a little bit of an idea of what’s in store, beach running can be an enjoyable workout. Before you head to the sand, here are some pointers to get you ready.

1. Which Sand?

Depending on the tide cycle, you may have multiple surfaces to choose from. And they are night and day in terms of difficulty.

The soft sand is the surface that’s completely dry. It has a lot of give, which makes running on it difficult (hence, why it takes 1.6 times more energy than pavement.)

The wet sand, or packed sand, is what’s left behind as the tide recedes. It’s much more firm than soft sand. If you’re new to beach running, go to the wet sand. If you want to do a soft-sand run, get ready for a great workout.

“If it’s true resistance work, soft sand is better,” Clarke says. “But if you just want to go out and go on an enjoyable run, you’d rather have a nice, level, sturdy surface.”

2. Check the Chart

To get the most wet sand to run on (or the most area to run on, if your beach is narrow), make sure to go at low tide, or at least when the tide is receding. Tide charts are easy to find on the Internet.

If you head out during high tide or when the tide is rising, you won’t have any wet sand to run on—or at some spots, you may not have any beach at all.

3. Barefoot or Shoes?

The wet sand is sturdy enough that you can run with shoes and not worry about sinking in. But of course, the sand is a soft enough surface to make barefoot running possible, if not preferable.

If you choose to go without shoes, do so with caution. Your feet are used to the support, and at the end of even a short beach run, you might notice that your ankles, achilles, calf muscles or the top of your feet are fatigued or hurting.

“You’re going to have to deal with the issue of running without an elevated heel,” Clarke says. “That’s a very relevant issue. Some people have to learn how to do it and then get used to doing it.”

4. Be Cautious

It’s important to know that beach running is a workout that will “shock” your lower legs if they’re used to pavement—particularly if you go barefooted.

Don’t push the intensity your first time on the sand. Make it an enjoyable workout. Stay in the wet sand, keep the mileage low, and slow down a little bit. Going out hard could lead to injury.

“Find an entry level workout that basically minimizes the shock,” Clarke says. “No more than a mile or two or three at the most, at a slow pace.”

5. Solar Power

That big body of water you’re running next to can act as quite a reflector. You’ll also notice many beaches lack trees. This can cause the sun to really beat down on you.

Pack sunscreen. Wear a hat and sunglasses. There’s no better place to burn than at a beach.

6. Natural Soundtrack

Once last piece of advice—if you can’t leave home without your mp3 player, just try to this one time. The crashing ocean waves trump any playlist you put together. Put the earbuds away and enjoy it


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