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Because it’s supposed to SNOW tomorrow here in Vermont, I thought I would torture myself and all of my fellow Northerners with warm thoughts of running in paradise. You are welcome. A common question I’ve been asked over the years, mainly by runners planning on putting in some miles on vacation, is “how do I run ON the beach?” It may seem obvious at first…you put on your shoes and run…but believe it or not, running on the sand and seashore presents a number of unique concerns that are not present in everyday running on the paved road or groomed trails. Headed on vacation? Take me with you. But seriously, here are six tips to keep you comfortable and safe when running on the beach.
Yes, sand between your toes feels amazing, and truly is the novelty of running on the beach, but there are numerous reasons why it might be a much safer idea to wear your normal running sneakers. First and foremost, wearing sneakers will help keep your feet safe from the wide variety of debris you may encounter on the shore, such as sharp seashells, rocks protruding from the sand, broken glass, or other man made debris. Have you ever stepped on a broken clam shell? Not fun at all. Once I ran 3 miles barefoot on the sand, and blistered and chafed my feet in a way that can only be described as it felt like I scrubbed my soles with sandpaper. That pain wasn’t worth the barefoot novelty, I assure you.
Second, if you are used to running in sneakers, putting in significant mileage barefoot may cause serious discomfort or even injury to your feet and legs, as your running form naturally changes, and you engage more muscles. If you choose to run barefoot, start with very short distances, and slowly ease into longer runs as your body adjusts to the change in foot strike that occurs when running barefoot.
Lastly, that beautiful, soft, sandy beach might not be as long as you thought..and in order to get in substantial mileage, you may have to cross rocks or berms that might be uncomfortable if you are barefoot.
Wear High Socks
Avoid miserable chafing by not only wearing socks, but wearing high socks (crew length or higher). Sure they aren’t as cute or trendy as the no-show socks, but neither are blisters. The higher the sock comes up on your ankle, the less likely you are to get sand in the socks.
Sun safety is no joke: research shows that runners are more susceptible to skin cancer, including deadly forms such as melanoma, due to their often excessive outdoor exposure. So while sun safety is a concern for all runners who exercise outdoors, but is even more important while running on the beach. The dangerous UV rays of the sun are often reflected off of the water, magnifying possible effects. Further, there is typically little to zero shade available on the beach, so it is important to protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun. Be sure to wear sunscreen, as well as protective clothing, and sunglasses if necessary. Avoid peak sun hours; run early in the morning or later in the afternoon if possible.
Check the Weather
In most locations, weather can change in an instant, but on the coast it often happens more quickly. When on the beach, you most likely won’t have any protection from the elements, such as if a thunderstorm unexpectedly blows in. Further, be sure to check the heat index when you go out. As mentioned above, there is typically little to zero shade available, and that sun beating down on you can not only feel miserable, but may be quite dangerous.
Check the Tide
This is an obvious one to people who spend a lot of time on the coast, but maybe not so much to vacationers: check the tide. Running in the deep, dry sand is significantly more difficult than running on the wet, hard packed sand closer to the shore. If you are new to running on the beach, you will want to start out in the wet sand. If you want an insane leg and ankle workout, run in the deep, dry sand. Checking the tide charts before planning a beach run will allow you to plan your run around low tide, when the beach typically has more surface area available for running, much of which is the hard packed, wet sand.
Also, if at all possible, try to run on the flattest areas of the beach. Running on shoreline that is significantly sloped may cause unnecessary strain on your lower body. If you cannot find level ground, be sure to do an out and back run, which may even out the wear on your body.
Have you noticed a theme with all of my advice articles? DRINK UP. Dehydration is so common among athletes, and yet so easily preventable. In addition to the lack of shade available on the beach, lack of freshwater sources may also be a concern. Be sure to properly hydrate prior to your run, as well as carry a water source with you if at all possible.
So there you have it, 6 simple tips that will hopefully make your beach running adventures more safe and enjoyable. Have any tips to add? Please comment below!