Regardless of the type of terrain your next race is on, there are plenty of benefits that can be enjoyed by spending some time with the sand beneath your feet.
Specificity is the key to most success found in training. If you’re doing a mountain race with lots of vertical gain, then spending as much time as possible in the hills is the goal. If you’re planning on doing an event with technical single track, then rack up the miles in that environment, so when it comes to race day you’ll feel right at home. But there are benefits from spending time doing complimentary exercises that expose you to other adaptations. Weight training and core work are two examples that most are happy to embrace. But there’s one type of training that is often overlooked, and that’s beach running.
It’s understandable why. It can be hard, uncomfortable, slow, isn’t always accessible and above all else, if introduced in the wrong way can lead to injury. Before delving into our advice for implementing beach work, here’s ‘why’ you should do it. To begin with, it’s lower impact than pounding the pavement. Yes, there’s hard, compacted sand on many a beach. But for the most part it’s relatively soft, and even on the firm stuff you’re usually moving in a way that means you’re not beating your legs up too much. Then there’s the leg strength gains, as well as in your feet. The struggle against the soft ground and mechanics of running in sand, particularly the really soft stuff, works wonders for improving calves and lower leg strength overall. Another plus is that doing some time on the sand can be a great tool for increasing your cadence.
Here’s the ‘how’ of introducing sand running into your raining program. First thing, don’t just launch straight into a 10km beach run on your next summer holiday. That’s what a lot of people do and end up sore, which is why it often leads to runners saying beach running just gets you injured. Like all new forms of training, it should be gradually introduced. Start with one run a week, using a short run and walk approach. Head out for a 15-minute jog where you break it up into 30 second intervals, with equal distance walks between. Do it on a rest day or as a second run to compliment your normal workout. Focus on short, fast strides and don’t fight the ground. Try to be light on your feet and wear shoes. Barefoot running will tighten your calves and load your plantar and Achilles too much. After doing this a couple times, make the run a continuous 15 minutes of running without the walks. From there, add five minutes each time you head out, and once you reach 25mins instead of doing it as a second run, make it a workout in its own right. I suggest capping the time spent on the sand at 60 minutes.
After each of your beach runs it’s important to do a little bit of maintenance. I highly recommend some foam rolling, getting a golf ball into your plantar and massaging your calves. Achilles pain is common and if experienced, back of the duration of your beach runs and don’t increase the distance until you’re pain free.