Running on the Beach: 8 Tips to Conch-er the Sand

A woman runs along the shoreline.

Among the millions of people visiting the beaches around the world to swim in the ocean or lay out in the sun, there will be runners ready to log some miles in the sand. Hitting the beach for a run can be an exhilarating way to change up the routine, but it isn’t anything like running on the road, treadmill, or trails–it’s an entirely different experience requiring different muscles, therefore resulting in potential aches and pains if unprepared.

If you’re vacationing on the beach and ready to log your miles, here are some things to consider.

1. Focus on effort

A woman runs along the water.

Even the most experienced runners can throw their pace and distance goals out the window when running on the beach. Beach sand, even when packed firmly, is not the same as the packed earth that forest trails may offer or the hard, even asphalt of roads. On the beach, there is always a little give in the surface of sand, which may mean less impact stress to bones, tendons and muscles, but the biomechanics are decidedly different as your feet sink in and your body’s kinetic chain reels to find balance across the varying terrain

Expect to tire quicker than normal when running on the beach, so build in rest accordingly. For example, try integrating a minute or two of walking for every 10 to 15 minutes of running.

Also, expect to be sore the next day, especially in the muscles throughout your feet and calves. Soreness may occur more prominently on one side of your body, depending on how uneven the surface is and how much you overcompensate given the additional challenge.

You can modify your form by shortening your stride, but if the sand is too boggy, simply focus on keeping a forward momentum, and walk whenever necessary to recover from the extra effort it takes to run on the beach.

2. Protect your feet

The first question to answer before you take off running down the beach is whether to go barefoot or wear shoes. It’s easy to dart out there without shoes (because who wears shoes on the beach?!) but consider that the sand may be hot enough to burn your soles, seashells may be sharp enough to slice through your skin and barefoot running strains your feet in ways that can cause injury and discomfort if you haven’t slowly worked up to running comfortably without shoes.

If you choose to run barefoot, it’s best to run short distances to see how it feels–starting with two to five minute bursts–and have a back-up pair of shoes waiting, just in case.

3. Guard against blisters

The type of shoes best for running on the beach are usually hybrid road-to-trail models that are lightweight, breathable, have enough tread to get traction in the sand, and those that bounce back quickly from an unexpected wave rolling over them. Wear moisture-wicking socks to help keep your feet dry. With the combination of water, humid air, salt, sand, and heat, blisters may be difficult to completely avoid, but using a skin protectant like Body Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter may do the trick.

Best Hybrid Road-to-trail Shoes

4. Use sun protection

It might be hard to imagine a run completely without tree cover or shade from city buildings, but running on the beach often means being in the direct, blazing sun without any shade or protection whatsoever.

It’s important to apply sunscreen before every run, and to bring additional applications for long runs, or on runs that will include intermittent ocean swimming. Be sure to wear UV-protective sunglasses and a hat.

A sweaty runner takes a break while they run on the beach.

5. Hydrate strategically

Make sure to hydrate well before embarking on a beach run. The additional difficulty level and risk that the new environment presents, along with the direct sun, humidity, and heat may cause dehydration to occur more rapidly.

Getting electrolytes is crucial as well, so make sure to consider mixing these into your water, or choosing hydration options premixed with everything you’re likely to lose while you’re out running on the beach.

6. Scout your route

Beaches aren’t always long stretches of packed sand perfect for running. Beach terrain is almost always off camber and conditions can range from rocky and full of sharp shells to deep, dry sand that bogs down the feet to small strips of uneven earth that get pounded by a wave every 30 seconds.

There are also cases where the beach is fine for the first few miles out, but the dry land that was present on the way out isn’t there as the high tide comes in. Make sure to scout the route thoroughly before taking off to avoid getting a mile or two in and having to bail out.

A woman runs under a dock on the beach.

7. Keep your bearings

It’s easy to get lost in a maze of running trails, but it seems impossible to get lost on the beach. However, with the ocean on one side, and the dunes, houses and hotels often blending together on the other, it’s easy to get disoriented and find that everything begins to look the same along any given stretch of beach.

To avoid losing your bearings, make sure to identify unique waypoints so you’ll know where you started, and make note of anything unique along the way to keep track of where you are.

8. Enjoy the experience

Even though beach running can be harder than expected, remember to have fun with it. Take time to walk and recover between challenging stretches. Take in the scenery, and feel the wind on your face. There’s nothing quite like being at the beach with the sound of the waves, and the feeling of freedom that comes along with a vast horizon of sea and sky.

If the idea of running through the sand doesn’t sound fun to you, feel free to stick to the sidewalk. Most coastal towns have pathways or boardwalks right next to the beach for runners and walkers to enjoy.

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