Running On the Beach: Benefits and Tips

Pounding the pavement can be as therapeutic mentally as physically. Somehow, the stress of the day seems to melt away as the minutes and miles pass. The same is true for beach running, but in some respects for different reasons. Have you contemplated running on the beach?

There are benefits to running on the beach, whether you are talking about loose sand or wet, packed sand running. If you choose to bypass the actual sand running, simply running near a beach can be good for your heart and soul.

Benefits of Running in Loose Sand

beach running
Photo Credit: Anneke Sipma-Cerri

If you are running on loose sand, you will get a very different feeling. Why? Because running on loose sand works different muscles. If you are accustomed to running on pavement, sand will feel very different and you should expect to slow down some as you acclimate. For example, muscles in your calves work differently in the sand. Also, your hips and knees have to work harder to stabilize your body while working through the soft substance.

According to some, running on sand can be equated to some strength training. Your muscles work up to 10% harder on sand than on pavement.

Another benefit is that the sofer surface has less impact. If you are prone to injury or logging big mileage, this is a huge benefit.

Sarah Wiliarty
Sarah Wiliarty

Wiliarty does not like running on the beach, but finds ending at the beach can be a very positive experience. This run, ending at Cape Cod, turned a run she describes as an “utter suck-fest” into a “fabulous memory” due to the “beach magic.” 

Another bonus to beach running? Your pup will love it.

running with dogs
Photo credit: Maisey Ann

Rio loves to run on the beach! When Maisey Ann takes her for a run on the beach, she takes advantage of the opportunity to cool off in the water. 

Packed Sand Running

Many runners love the beach but prefer to avoid loose sand running. Fresh, wet, hard sand is a surface that is easier to navigate.

Most runners who prefer packed sand running have a pair of shoes they dedicate for this purpose. Although a traditional running shoe works, you may find you don’t want to have to empty the sand out and clean your shoes every time you hit the beach.

If you run close to the water and the shoes get damp, you can just stuff them full of newspaper and they will dry before your next run!

Veteran beach runners would suggest you begin your transition to beach running on packed sand, then turn to loose sand, and only then try barefoot sand running. This seems to be the preferred way to avoid injury while learning a new way to run!

Heather Orman-Lubell
Photo Credit: Heather Orman-Lubell

Tips From An Average Joe:

Heather Orman-Lubell was thrilled to see the beaches of New Jersey open for exercise recently. She sticks to the hard-packed sand to risk injury, but stays there is nothing like running near the water to clear your brain. 

Katie Last: “I love it so much! Love being able to breathe in the fresh sea air rather than fumes from cars, and having a glorious view the whole time!”

Barefoot Beach Running

Some people run wearing shoes, but others race across the sand barefoot. It is advisable to start small if you plan to run barefoot so you are easing into it. You should start with 15-20 minutes and work your way up to longer runs. Also, you should always be watching your step with barefoot running. Shells, sticks, and other unknowns lurk just beneath the surface of the sand.

Running barefoot can lead to plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and Achilles` problems. Word of caution: be careful!

Try to avoid running on hot sand at the warmest parts of the day and wear sunscreen. The tops of your feet are not always exposed to sunlight, and the bottoms will need to get used to the heat of the sand!

Bob Smith
Photo Credit: Bob Smith

Tips From An Average Joe:

Bob Smith says, “I love the sights and sounds of the beach. A benefit of running at the beach is it is more difficult than road running. The downside is that after running a 5K distance barefoot, I had blisters all over my feet.” The above photo was taken at the US Beach Running Championship in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Beach for Atmosphere

Some race directors recognize that while beach running is brutal, most people truly enjoy the beach atmosphere. These directors place races by or at a beach, but do not necessarily have you running on sand.

Ragnar Reach the Beach relay, for example, has you end on a beach but that stretch is roughly a quarter of a mile. In case you aren’t familiar with Ragnars, teams of either 6 or 12 people complete about 200 miles on foot with the other runners traveling alongside on vans.

Ragnar Reach The Beach Relay
Photo Credit: Marie Davis

Ragnar Reach The Beach Relay – Mount Washington to Hampton Beach, NH. 

Carla Hayes
Photo Credit: Carla Hayes

Mad-Chi Ragnar – Athletes race Madison to Chicago. Photo of Jessie Scheer post 2012 Ragnar at the beach party, cooling off in the water.

Challenges to Expect

Whether you are planning to run on packed or loose sand, expect to slow down a bit. Especially when you first start, beach running will feel like a lot more work than running on pavement. Also, since the sand will absorb and reflect heat, prepare to be warm. You should be sure you adequately hydrate before, during and post-beach run.

Remember to start small (a fraction of your normal run), perhaps by running to the beach then finishing up on the sand. Don’t set your expectations too high for your first few runs!

If you are planning to hit the beach, if you’re heading there for joy you will certainly find it. If you are hoping to work some different muscles prepare to be challenged as you decide if packed or loose sand best fits your needs.

Most importantly, plan to get your feet wet. Turn off your music and listen to the crash of the waves. Listen to the birds. Open your ears and heart, smell the air, and relax your body. Feel the joy. For a brief moment, none of the problems or stress of the world have to exist at the beach.

Photo Credit: Katie Last; Mordialloc Beach in Melbourne, Australia
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