Running on the Beach – Runners Beware

beach runningRunning on the beach may seem like the best idea ever, but it can quickly put a halt to your training if you’re not careful.

Sure, if you’re not training for a specific race and just out to enjoy the sand between your toes and a refreshing breeze, the beach is a great venue to get your run in while enjoying the wonderful scenery during the summer.

However, if you’re training seriously or preparing for a big event, beach running can quickly put a halt to even the best training plan and dramatically increase your injury risk, even for a short run.

Reason 1: The slope of the beech

We all know that the coast is sloped downward towards the water. Even at the very lowest of tides, their is still an angle to the beach sand that poses a great risk to your knees and hips. Even if you can’t see it, the slope is there, much like the crown on many roads in colder climates.

Running on this imperceptible slope increases the strain on your hips and knees because one leg will always be lower than the other. The leg that is on the upper part of the slope will often become tight from having to shorten the stride, which may inflame your IT band or your piriformis muscle. Likewise, the leg that is on the lower ground will have to stretch more than usual to maintain proper foot strike, which puts excess strain on your hips and knees.

While the slope may be slight or you may be running for only a short time, when you’re training hard and pushing your body to its limits, it only takes a slight change in your form or a tight muscle to start the injury cycle.

Reason 2: The sand

The sand at the beach is often loose or very wet, which creates a surface that may be too soft to run on if you don’t typically train on very soft surfaces. Loose sand forces the tiny muscles in your foot, ankle, shin, and knee to work very hard to stabilize your body. When you’re not accustomed to the excess stress, you can easily strain a muscle.

Likewise, loose sand changes your foot strike and requires your foot to remain in contact with the ground longer as you attempt to solidify the foot and ankle before take off. Few runners train in conditions like this on a daily basis, so the increased demand on the smaller, supportive muscles can lead to injury.

Even during a short 2 mile run, you can put undue strain on muscles that aren’t used often. This situation would be akin to performing bicep curls for 20 minutes with a weight that is heavier than you’re accustomed to.

Be careful of going barefoot

The recent barefoot running craze has inspired more runners than usual to try their hand at barefoot running at the beach. Like mentioned in the previous paragraph on the dangers of the loose sand, if you haven’t been religiously running barefoot prior to your beach excursion, running even a mile or two will put a massive amount of strain on your plantar fascia, ankles, achilles, and calves.

We advise runners that are transitioning to barefoot running to spend the week running no more than 400 meters 3-4 times during that initial week. On the beach, this gives you opportunity to run around, play frisbee or some bocce ball, and otherwise enjoy yourself without too much injury risk. Even if you’re a seasoned barefoot runner, the loose sand can require more effort from your foot and ankle than you’re accustomed to, and you still have the issue of the slope.

The summer is a great time to enjoy yourself and have fun. However, you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your training plan, so don’t let it go to waste by getting hurt trying to run on the beach. Sure, it’s a scenic place to exercise, but if you really want to maximize your racing results this Summer or Fall, you owe it to yourself to be careful.

Feel free to ask any questions you might have about summer training, we want to help you stay healthy and maximize your fitness!

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References

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4 Responses on “Running on the Beach – Runners Beware

  1. Good article! This is how I strained my calf last summer. Thought is would be fun to race my kids barefoot on the beach. It was fun indeed but calf strain followed all the fun! Will be much more wise about my beach running in the future – Thanks for the article.

  2. Not to mention sharp shells and rocks, dead slippery seaweed and jellyfish, fish bones, bird bones, beach fire embers… best wear those 5-fingers instead of going barefoot.

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