Written by Kirsten Todd: Hooked on Running
The mercury is rising and the days are getter longer, which means summer holidays are just around the corner. And for many of us living on the coast, that means lots of beach time.
If you’ve pictured yourself running on pure white sand next to crystal clear waters this summer, a light sea breeze keeping you cool before putting your feet up with a hard-earned gin and tonic, that picture might not seem quite so romantic when the reality of beach running kicks in!
Be a smart runner and avoid these common beach-running mistakes.
Mistake #1: Kicking off your shoes
A quick google search of “barefoot running” will yield many thousands of articles. And you’ll find that even the staunchest advocates of barefoot running will advocate taking it slowly. Many will suggest building up to a reasonable amount of barefoot running over a period of at least six months. That’s what smart runners do… But somehow, when you’re on holidays, common sense flies out the window. We strip down to our bare feet and run miles and miles. If you’re going to run on the beach this summer folks, do it with shoes on, unless you already run barefoot. Your calves, Achilles and the planter surface (underside) of your foot will thank you for it.
Mistake #2: Running on the soft sand
Whilst soft sand running can be a great way of developing strength in your lower leg and foot, if you’re not used to it, you’re going to suffer! Running on the soft sand is a LOT harder on your legs than running on a harder surface. You’re working all your muscles more, particularly the smaller stabilizing muscles which may not have been called upon to do much work if you’re always running on a stable surface. Not only will soft sand give your muscles a workout you’re likely to feel for days, the unstable surface might well cause knee, hip and lower back issues, particularly if you’re already suspect in those areas.
Mistake # 3: Running on the hard sand
You’d be hard pressed to find a beach anywhere that doesn’t slope at least slightly down towards the water. The camber is usually more marked as you get closer to the water’s edge- which is where the oh-so-much-easier-to-run-on hard sand tends to be. Running on this sloped surface will throw your body out of its natural alignment, putting your hips and knees at risk. Even if the camber is only slight, it will affect your gait. Imagine running in one shoe, and you’ll get the picture.
When you’re running on a slope, the leg on the high side needs to operate on a shortened stride, possibly causing ITB issues or problems with your piriformis muscle, which can literally be a pain in the butt. The leg on the lower side needs to stretch more than usual, which might cause a few issues, with your hips particularly.
The whole imbalance can play havoc with your pelvic alignment and aggravate any pre-existing lower back issues.
So What To Do?
If you can’t run on the hard sand, and you can’t run on the soft sand, and you can’t run without shoes, you might be tempted to skip the running part and head straight to the G & T’s!!
That’s one option I guess, but if you’re smart about it, you can successfully incorporate beach running into your summer holiday training. Here are a few tips:
- If you’re planning on running barefoot, start to spend some time walking around your house barefoot.
- Do some simple balancing exercises every day to strengthen stabilizing muscles. Put yourself into a clear space so there is nothing for you to fall onto. Stand on one leg. For more of a challenge, you can close your eyes, and for something even more challenging, you can stand on a wobble board, balance disc, or even a rolled-up towel.
- Start by walking on the soft sand for 10-15 minutes each day, and start to incorporate a small amount of running into your walk after a week or so.
- You could run most of your run along the boardwalk, then finish off for the last 5-10 minutes on the beach
- If you’re running on the soft sand, consider the risk of broken glass, needles, and other beach debris.
- If you’re opting to run on the hard sand, make sure you’re running at low tide, when the sand is the most firmly packed, and the camber of the beach is likely to be less severe. And keep your shoes on to afford some cushioning, if that’s what you’re used to. Hard sand can be pretty hard!
When it comes down to it, a few days of running along the beach is probably not going to do you too much damage, but if you’re already at risk of injury (high volume of training, pre-existing conditions) you might want to keep off the sand altogether, particularly if you’re training for an upcoming race.
About the Author
Kirsten has over 15 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry. She’s on a mission to have more women astounded by their own achievements.
In 2007 she founded Hooked on Running, in response to the growing demand from busy women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, to train smart and make the best use of their scarce training time. As a small business owner and mother of two, (and a past life working in the corporate world) she knows first-hand the juggling act that’s required to fit training around family and work commitments. She coaches women online locally, interstate and internationally, runs weekly group interval training sessions in Sydney and conducts Learn to Run training courses for running novices.