Running on the beach is great exercise as long as you take appropriate precautions

Winter break is over, but that doesn't mean you're not ready to escape to the beach, even if it's just for the day or weekend.

And, once you're getting a break from the city, you may want to jump into your New Year's resolutions. And, if that includes running more? Well, a beach trip could be the perfect time to start.

After all, it's cooler by the water. Plus, it's much prettier than your pathway by the bayous. So, running on the beach sounds like a great plan, right? Well, it is. But if you’re planning on logging miles on the sand, there are a few things you need to know. 


Is Soft Surface Running Safer? 

When you run, your body absorbs the impact of your foot on the ground. For that reason, you might think training on hard surfaces can hurt your feet. And running on softer ground could prevent injury.

Of course, you're not alone. Where to train is an age-old runners' debate. Some people swear the trails are the safest spots. Others feel best protected on treadmills. Still others think the where doesn't matter. (As long as your running shoes offer the right support.)

As it turns out, every one of those opinions could be wrong. First of all, know this: science can't link hard running surfaces to injuries. (Yet, at least.) Plus, this study shows your body stiffens up when you run on soft surfaces like sand. And that creates the same force you'd feel running on concrete. Which is why sand running actually puts you at higher risk for Achilles injuries.

So where can you run safely? The answer is easy: pretty much anywhere. There are risks to running on hard or soft surfaces. But if you wear the right shoes, and train safely, you should be in good shape. And that's why we're offering tips for running safely at the beach.

Even Great Runners Need to Build up to Beach Runs

Running on sand is different than any other kind of running. So, even if you've been logging 20 miles a week on the treadmill, it's important to follow this five-step plan. 

1. Build Slowly

Running on the softer surface of the beach puts less impact on your joints. Still, it can feel a lot harder, since your feet may backslide. Because that's the case, don’t expect to log a typical training session on day one. Instead, try walking on the beach for the first few days of vacation before trying out shorter beach runs. Work up to the longer runs depending on the length of your getaway.

2. Wear Shoes

Unless you’re always a barefoot runner, don’t ditch the sneaks. First of all, they will they protect you from sharp objects like shells, rocks and driftwood. But they will also keep your body in a more familiar running pattern, which can help prevent injury.

3. Run on Hard Sand

The packed sand near the water is far more supportive than the softer sand dunes at the top of the beach. Keep in mind, though, that the beach is more sloped at the coast. To stay safe and train smart, run in both directions. This can prevent you from creating an imbalance in your body, and suffering an overuse injury.

4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Regardless of the time or distance you plan to go, bring lots of H2O. You may not realize how much fluid you are losing with the cooler water front temperatures. In fact, you may not even feel sweaty, thanks to that cool breeze. Still, every time you exercise, your body loses fluid stores. So drinking early and often throughout your run will keep you out of danger.

5. Bust Out the Sweat-Proof Sunscreen

We suggest an SPF 50 or higher when you train outdoors. Make sure that it is clearly labeled as water-resistant. That will guarantee that your protection can withstand the ocean spray and your own sweat. 

Bonus Running Facts to Keep You Safe  

Of course, even by the water, and even following these guidelines, you may 'run' into trouble when you train in the sand. And that's when it's time to come see me. But in the meantime, consider these three running facts: 


1. Running could PREVENT injury: While so many of my patients worry that their running regimens will leave them injured, a study in December 2016 actually found that 30 min of running lowered inflammation in runner’s knee joints! Of course the same can’t be said of longer training sessions but, still, the news is exciting! 

2. Running may be problematic for women: Women tend to have more running injuries than men, and Stephen Messier, director of the J.B. Snow Biomechanics Lab at Wake Forest University has made it his mission to figure out why. His current theories: women tend to have higher arches, point their toes more when running, tend towards heel strikes and have less hip and core strength as compared to male runners. Stay tuned for more updates on this front! And be extra cautious during and after your runs. Be sure to listen to your body after a hard training session, too. Ignore a small ache after Monday's run, and you may be sidelined from your training for the rest of the week, or even the month. And that's certainly not something you want to let happen. 

3. Age doesn’t necessarily matter when you run: Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, says that there’s no age at which running is no longer beneficial for you. Older runners just have to train differently, avoiding chronic long-distance training sessions in favor of shorter distances or even brisk walks.

Aside from these facts, there’s one more thing about running that I want you to remember: if it hurts you when you run (and not in the good way) you need to get checked out by a podiatrist to avoid the risk of serious injury. Give me a call and we can talk about how to get you running pain-and-injury free.

 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.
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