For a runner, nothing says "beach vacation" quite like a run along the water's edge, feeling the tropical sun on your shoulders and the cool ocean breeze in your face. And let's not forget the post-run margarita (hey, carb loading and sodium replenishing). Yes, squeezing in a few training runs on vacation can be equal parts relaxing and exciting. But if you aren't careful, that beach run could also leave you with painful sunburns and blistered feet, neither of which sounds very relaxing. So before you hit the beach hoping to mark off some miles on your training calendar, check out the following beach running tips.
Don't make me shake my mom finger at you...wear your sunscreen. Sun safety is no joke: Research shows that runners are more susceptible to skin cancer, including deadly forms such as melanoma, because of their often excessive outdoor exposure. Although sun safety is a concern for all runners who exercise outdoors, it is even more important when running on the beach. The dangerous UV rays of the sun are often reflected off the water, magnifying possible effects. Further, there is typically little to no shade available on the beach, so it is important to protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun. Be sure to wear sunscreen, protective clothing, and sunglasses if necessary. Avoid peak sun hours; run early in the morning or later in the afternoon if possible.
I get it, sand between your toes feels amazing, and truly is the novelty of running on the beach. But there are numerous reasons why it might be a much safer idea to wear your normal running sneakers.
First and foremost, wearing sneakers will help keep your feet safe from the wide variety of debris you may encounter on the shore, such as sharp seashells, rocks protruding from the sand, broken glass, or other man-made debris. Have you ever stepped on a broken clam shell? Not fun at all. I once ran three miles barefoot on the sand and blistered and chafed my feet in a way that can only be described as it felt like I scrubbed my soles with sandpaper. That pain wasn’t worth the barefoot novelty, I assure you.
Second, if you are used to running in sneakers, putting in significant mileage barefoot may cause serious discomfort or even injury to your feet and legs, as your running form naturally changes and you engage more muscles. If you choose to run barefoot, start with very short distances, and slowly ease into longer runs as your body adjusts to the change in foot strike that occurs with barefoot running.
Finally, that beautiful, soft, sandy beach might not be as long as you thought...in order to get in substantial mileage, you may have to cross rocks or berms that might be uncomfortable if you are barefoot.
Wear High Socks
I mentioned it already, but let's picture it again: Imagine what it must feel like to rub sandpaper on the soles of your feet for 30 minutes straight. Sounds miserable, right? That's because it is miserable. Sand in your shoes can end up feeling just like that. Avoid chafing by not only wearing socks, but wearing high socks (crew length or higher). Sure they aren’t as cute or trendy as the no-show socks, but neither are blisters. The higher the sock comes up on your ankle, the less likely you are to get sand in it.
Check the Weather
In most locations, weather can change in an instant, but on the coast, it often happens more quickly. When on the beach, you most likely won’t have any protection from the elements, such as if a thunderstorm unexpectedly blows in. Further, be sure to check the heat index when you go out. As mentioned above, there is typically little to no shade available, and that sun beating down on you won't just feel miserable, it may be quite dangerous.
Check the Tide
This is an obvious one to people who spend a lot of time on the coast, but maybe not so much to vacationers: Check the tide charts. Running in the deep, dry sand is significantly more difficult than running on the wet, hard-packed sand closer to the shore. If you are new to running on the beach, you will want to start out in the wet sand. If you want an insane leg and ankle workout, run in the deep, dry sand. Checking the tide charts before scheduling a beach run will allow you to plan your run around low tide, when the beach typically has more surface area available for running, much of which is the hard packed, wet sand.
Also, if at all possible, try to run on the flattest areas of the beach. Running on a shoreline that is significantly sloped may cause unnecessary strain on your lower body. If you cannot find level ground, be sure to do an out-and-back run, which may even out the wear on your body.
Lastly, ditch your GPS and ENJOY your surroundings. If you live near the shore, this may be a common sight for you. But if you are on vacation, then do what you came out here to do: relax. Don't worry about your pace (besides, the soft sand will probably slow you down anyway). Enjoy the view, the new scenery, the warm sunshine, and salty ocean smell. The world is a beautiful place; don't forget to take it all in and enjoy yourself!