Hitting the beach this summer? Running on a sandy surface can be a real challenge, but a well-planned beach workout can be a great addition to your training program while you’re on vacation.
A beautiful backdrop can inspire and motivate you as you are taxing your body, while a sunrise beach running routine can also provide you a healthy dose of perspective. No matter the suffering you are going through on the sand, there’s tranquility and inspiration beyond you in the surf.
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A good beach workout can strengthen your body in multiple places at the same time. Benita Willis, one of the best distance runners to come out of Australia and a gold medalist at the 2004 World Cross-Country Championships, has been doing beach workouts for years. Willis grew up 100 meters from a long stretch of water and found that the pros of working out on the beach far outweigh the cons. “The benefits of these workouts include getting really fit aerobically and also strengthening your ankles and stabilizing muscles,” she explains. “There is a fair bit of give even when running on hard, wet sand at low tide. Another benefit is it forces you to run on feel so you’re not relying on a watch or obsessing about particular paces.”
One caveat about beach running is that it’s tough on the body, so if you’re vacationing for a week, just pick one workout to try during your time at the beach. Treat your beach workout as the hardest effort of your training week.
Here are three workouts that you can try the next time you want to do some different running on the beach:
Post-Run Hill Repeats (On Sand)
How long: A timed run anywhere from 75 to 90 minutes.
How to do it: Find a long section of beach that you can run out on for 35-45 minutes before turning around. Your starting/ending point should also be close to a sandy hill that would take you about 45 seconds to sprint up. Willis suggests that you do this particular run during low tide so that the sand is more compact. “If you train at high tide, the sand is really soft and you run slightly differently—this can cause tendon soreness in your shins as you run with a slightly different gait to grip the sand each time you push off the ground when running,” she says. At the end of your run, cool down for 2 minutes and then immediately climb the hills at full effort. Walk down the sand hill for recovery. Aim for a total of 5-8 repeats.
What you get out of it: Treat this run like a challenging trail workout. Running “against” the sand will build calf and ankle strength
How long: 3-5 miles.
How to do it: This is one of ASICS Aggies coach Joe Rubio’s staple beach workouts. Warm up for one mile with an easy jog and then use the waterline as a way to enhance the traditional fartlek workout, interspersing some faster intervals (30 seconds to 2 minutes in duration with an equal amount of jogging recovery afterward) into your 3-5-mile run. Rubio suggests that athletes run as close to the water as they can without getting wet. Do this for the middle 2-3 miles of the run and then cool down for your last mile.
What you get out of it: Rubio says that besides the leg turnover you build by increasing your speed, you can also have some fun during your workout. “You generally have to accelerate fairly briskly to get away from the incoming tide which results in a nice mental break and a way to get some quick turnover in an unstructured manner,” he says.
How long: Three to five 400-meter repetitions at a fast pace.
How to do it: Time this workout during low tide to take advantage of the firmer running surface. Warm up with 1-2 miles of easy jogging down the beach, then estimate the distance of your 400m repeat by running fast for the amount of time it would take you to run 400 meters at your 5K race pace on the track. Jog for 30-45 seconds for recovery between repetitions and cool down for 1-2 miles afterward.
What you get out of it: These beach quarters build strength in your lower legs and also teach you to gauge effort in your reps due to the softer sand as well as the wind that is usually a factor on the beach. The lessons you can learn about conserving energy to run consistently for each rep can be used in a race to prevent you from going out too fast in the beginning.