Is Running on the Beach All It's Cracked Up to Be?

As the summer hits, many of us will no doubt be heading south and hitting the beaches. If you’re like me, vacation won’t be all poolside relaxation and taking in the sea air beneath a beach umbrella. Even on vacation, I’m all endurance runner.

One thing the shore offers that you can’t get anywhere else is the opportunity to run on the beach. We all know that different terrains offer different running experiences. Pavement is smooth and even but can be harsh on the joints. Dirt and trails are easier on the body, but the unevenness can prove to be a hazard for tripping and falling.

But what about running on the beach?

If you’ve ever been to the beach, you know that trudging through the sand can be a tough experience. Running in the sand seems like a trial by fire!

But studies show that, for runners, it can be highly beneficial.

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4 Things You Need to Know About Running on the Beach

1) Running on the shoreline increases endurance.

According to research, you have to work 10% harder to run on hard sand than you do on grass. You get the most benefit from loose sand, but you can reap rewards even from firm, packed sand near the shoreline. Why is this? Because sand is soft and malleable, it absorbs much more of the elastic energy in your tendons. In short, you have to exert more energy to move when you’re running in the sand.

A study in The Journal of Experimental Biology showed that you have to produce 1.6 times more energy to run on sand than on a paved surface. When you combine not just the energy you have to use, but the fact that you’re running on uneven, changing, and often unpredictable terrain which requires your knee and hip-stabilizing muscles to work overtime, you build endurance fast.

It’s quite the workout!

2) Running on the beach decreases the risk of injury and inflammation.

Because the surface of the beach is so soft and low-impact, you also run a lower risk of injury as you run—at least from overuse. The further you get from the shoreline (harder packed sand), the less impact there is on your joints and the lower your risk of inflammation and injury from overuse.

That said, training for a marathon on the dunes isn’t without risks.

3) It comes with its own set of hazards.

While there are massive benefits in terms of impact and building endurance, running on sand can be a double-edged sword. Sudden shifting terrain can increase your chances of rolling an ankle or having another injury. You also have to contend with uneven ground, surprise waves if you’re running on the shoreline, crowds depending on the time of day, and potential heat and sun damage.

It’s critical to wear appropriate attire, sunscreen, and carry plenty of water with you.

4) Not all beaches are ideal for runners.

You’ll definitely want to scope out a beach ahead of time to see if it’s right for running. You may prefer to run on the beach barefoot, for example. But if a beach is littered with debris, be it garbage or seashells, you won’t want to risk damaging your feet!

You also want to ensure that the beach is as flat as possible. A beach with a slant or crown isn’t great for runners because running on a sideways incline can lead to injury.

Lastly, consider length. If you run into a pier, cliff, or river, it will put a big damper on your running route. Make sure to plan in advance and try to select a stretch of beach that is at least a mile uninterrupted.

Running on the beach can be enormously rewarding in building your endurance. Whether you’re on vacation or you have year-round access to a shoreline, it’s worth making part of your routine if possible. My advice is this: be diligent in taking all the precautions you would for any other day at the beach and then some. Hydrate. Wear sunscreen. Listen to your body and pay close attention to your terrain.

If you do, you may just find a great new way to up your endurance training.

What is your favorite terrain to train on? Let me know in the comments.