Tips For Soft Sand Running

by www.completefitness.com.au ( Personal Trainer )

So you want to run on the soft sand? This type of running is definitely not for softies, so you need to get ready for the race with a good aerobic base and a solid program of preparation and soft sand running technique....

Running on the soft sand is definitely a step up from road running when it comes to intensity but with the right preparation you too can be a soft sand runner! It's a real buzz to be out on the beach in Manly: what an amazing place to be training and doing laps on the soft sand is very rewarding.....as well as being hard work! This article will outline the essential aspects of soft sand running and looks at how to get ready for the race like the Manly Soft Sand Classic or the Bondi Barefoot.

There are three very important aspects of soft sand running:

1. Aerobic fitness
2. Local muscular endurance and feet/skin toughness
3. Technique specific to soft sand running


1. Aerobic fitness
Just like road running you need to have a good oxygen or aerobic capacity to be able to run in the soft sand. On a simple level, running, like any fitness activity, requires your body to burn a lot of energy or calories, and it functions best and can keep going for longer when it gets plenty of oxygen into the lungs, blood stream, and muscles to break this energy down with! (see our article on VO2max for more info on oxygen capacity).

So you need a good aerobic fitness base to tackle the soft sand, and in practical terms this would mean being of 'average' fitness or being able to currently run around 5km on the road in a comfortable manner. If you are unsure of whether you are up to it, dont panic, because a quick test run on the beach will soon tell you if you have the puff to make it in the soft sand!

2. Local muscular endurance and feet/skin toughness
Another important part of soft sand running is your local muscluar endurance and your feet/skin toughness. This is just a fancy way of saying you need to have the muscle strength and skin toughness to handle the difference stress that soft sand running places on the body. It's probably the main area where road runners suffer the most when making the transition to the soft sand, so good preparation is essential!

Tough muscles, strong calves
Soft sand running requires a different running technique and posture to road running (see the technique section below) and places greater stress on your calve muscles particularly. People will often get very tight and sore calves after their first sand run! As such, you need to build up your local muscle endurance for soft sand running, something which can only be done with consistent training on the sand.

Other areas of concern can be your quads which will be working harder on the soft sand, and your lower back muscles due to the 'pointed toe' running technique. Be aware of any muscle soreness or tightness and stretch your legs thoroughly after each soft sand session.

Tough skin
We assume you will run in the soft sand without shoes or socks on as this is the best way to maintain your speed and get maximum grip on the sand (see the technique section below). Trouble is, running without shoes means you obviously lose the protective benefits of the shoes and your feet are exposed to continuous and abrasive contact with the sand! For the uninitiated soft sand runner this can cause some major blisters, especially around the underside of your toes.

So apart from soaking your feet in a salt bath each day you need sufficient and gradual preparation to build up the toughness of your feet! The training implications of this means you should start out with some shorter runs before tackling a long sand run. Be very aware if your feet are getting too much work in the early stages of your soft sand program, and if in doubt, we recommend stopping as serious blisters will hang around for up to a week and this puts your program on hold.

If you absolutely have to run with blisters or the beginnings of them, try taping your toes or the affected area. Be sure to use some industrial strength tape because we've found your common band-aid just doesnt hold up on the soft sand!

3. Soft sand running technique and tips
Running on the soft sand requires a very different technique to road running, obviously due to the unstable surface you are running on. It's definitely tougher to run the same distance on the sand as on the road, but with a few key tips you can make your soft sand running more bearable!

a. Point your feet down into the sand
Unlike road running where the surface is stable and firm, in soft sand running you'll need to dig your feet into the sand to get purchase and grip from which to push off from. This requires a 'pointed foot' technique that as mentioned above puts a lot more stress on your calve muscles as well as the skin of your toes and feet. If you do find your calves getting fatigued or even cramping then run for a minute with more of a 'flat footed' technique to allow them rest before resuming the pointed foot technique.

b. Scrunch your toes
Another part of getting good grip on the sand is scrunching your toes a bit ot make a stronger platform for pushing off. You might like to think how a ballet dancer squishes their toes up and this is what you are aiming for when on the on the soft sand. Doing this will avoid too much abrasion underneath your toes or pain in your feet from having your toes splayed by soft sand running.

c. Tighten your abs and run upright
You need to be cautious about your upper body posture now that you've pointed your toes and scrunched your feet because it over accentuates your normal lumbar spinal curvature. Too much curve on your lower back can over work these muscles so be sure to 'tuck' your bum down and use your abs on the front of the body to maintain a normal lumber curve.

Also, be sure to keep a normal upright posture when soft sand running (or running in general!). Too many people bend forward and hunch over, probably because it's a posture that communicates how hard they are working on the soft sand! You should keep shoulders back, chin in and chest up with a normal arm swing and relaxed upper body.

d. Race tips and strategy
For the big day you'll need solid preparation but some strategic tips can make all the difference! The main race tip is to always try to run behind someone and 'trail' them as following a persons foot prints where the sand has already been compacted is significantly easier than toughing it out on fresh sand. To make the best of this try and match up to someone of similar height so that their stride length matches yours.

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