(And why your next trail run should be on sand)
This soft, natural surface gives you all the body benefits of a dirt trail—stronger muscles, ligaments, and tendons from an uneven surface, a major endurance build, and more. And while the give of sand can make for a hearty, challenging workout, its impact-dampening nature is also easier on joints than a harder trail (and way easier on your joints than a road), at least in my experience. Plus, it’s hard to beat the enjoyment of running along the water’s edge—the scenery, sound of the waves, cool breeze, and ability to jump in the water, post-run.
Here are five tips to make the most of your beach running experience:
1. Check the Tide Charts
The configuration of most beaches varies greatly depending on the tides. High tide means less sandy surface, and sometimes, the high tide covers the entire beach, water slamming up against a barrier like a rocky cliff. Low tide leaves the most surface available for running (and walking, playing, and lounging). Check online for your local tide charts.
Since low tide yields the biggest sandy surface, with the most hard-packed, even sand available for running, try to run at low tide or in the hours that surround the listed time for low tide. While a deep sand run can be a great workout (see number 2), running on the hard-packed sand, closest to the water’s edge, will give you the springiest, most even surface for your run. Over time, you’ll get used to the patterns of the lapping water. But if your shoes do get wet, not to worry. They’ll dry (and you don’t have to worry anymore about keeping them dry on your run).
2. Caught at High Tide? Keep it Short.
If you have to run when the tide is high, due to scheduling or if you didn’t check the charts before your run, be ready to adjust. Higher tides can erase any flat, hard-packed sand, which means you’ll be running in the deep, soft stuff, which can be a major challenge. It can also be a great way to get in a super-hard, strength-building and cardiovascular workout in a short amount of time, but it’ll kick your butt. Give yourself a break and shorten your run.
3. Dress the Part
Even if you’re not running on a particularly hot, summer day, beach climates are humid (read: sweat-fest). Wearing technical fabrics—sweat-wicking, breathable shorts and tops—will keep you comfortable longer. And wear something you don’t mind getting fully wet after your run, either shorts that dry quickly (and have a drawstring) and a sports bra, and/or a comfortable bathing suit underneath your running clothes. Trust me (see number 5). You'll also want to wear sunglasses to cut down on the sun’s glare off the water, and from overhead. And wearing a lightweight hat or visor will both block the sun from your face and eyes and absorb sweat.
Aim for minimal footwear. Sand moves under your feet and actually morphs around your footstrike. Footwear is a matter of personal preference, which you may need to dial in by trial and error, but some find that wearing minimalist footwear—more minimal than they’d wear on a road or hard-packed trail—feels better on sand. Others may seek a supportive platform to counter the give of the sand. And wearing running shoes with a tight or completely closed mesh upper will help keep sand out of your shoes.
Thin, airy socks will be the most comfortable, and will dry quickly if your feet get wet. Consider socks that extend over the anklebone if you find you’re getting sand in through the top of your shorter socks. And, of course, there's the allure of running barefoot, which can be blissful for short distances but raises the potential for injury.
4. Go in with a Training Plan
Sure, running on the beach is a good time, but you still want to make the most of your workout. When you hit the sand, be sure to run in both directions. All beaches are slanted, with the low side meeting the water’s edge. Since running on a slant messes with your gait—which can irritate feet, ankles, knees, and hips—run an out-and-back. If you do a looped run, traveling one-way on the sand and returning on roads and trails, make sure you go the other direction on your next run to try to maintain balance in your body.
The beach is also a great place to run Fartleks for speed training. Pick a lifeguard tower, someone walking up ahead, or people playing Frisbee and increase your speed until you reach it/them. Jog for recovery to the next beach element, then run another interval. If you’re running at sunset, consider setting a goal such as, “get to that lifeguard tower before the sun dips into the water.” Using the natural environment makes intervals and speedwork fun.
5. Reward Yourself
After your run, take off your shoes, socks, and whatever else you don’t want to get wet. Wading into the cool water can help your legs recover. And diving under—fully submerging your head—will undoubtedly make you say, “Ahh…” No matter how cold the water is, you won’t regret this post-beach run ritual.