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If you’re lucky enough to either live by a beach or travel to one, you may be eyeing the coastline and wondering if you should reach for your running shoes. The answer is: Yes! Hard-packed sand provides a forgiving natural surface for running, while deep sand creates a seriously tough workout that works crucial, stabilizing muscles and makes you stronger overall. Plus, the bordering ocean or large lake both gives off a cool breeze and creates a tranquil environment.
Legendary triathlete Scott Tinley—2-time Ironman World Champion and lifelong beachgoer who’s been a lifeguard at Del Mar beach in Southern California for upwards of 40 years—offers his tips for how to get the most out of a beach run.
“Just like how trails and roads change with weather conditions and the varying times of the day, so do beach conditions,” says Tinley. “The sand changes with the tides, the temperature, and the amount of people around. Sometimes there are a ton of shells; sometimes the sand is smooth. All that variation keeps running on the beach interesting, but it also requires flexibility in your running. If you head down to the beach with the plan of running five miles at low tide and the shoreline is super slanted due to high tide when you get there, be willing to change your plan.”
Check tide charts.
If you have the ability to run at any time of day, check the tide charts and aim for running when the tide is the lowest, which will give you the most flat, springy surface if you run nearest the water’s edge. Check tide charts by searching: “tide chart for [area you’re in],” and look for the times of the day the tide will be the lowest. Low tide happens twice a day, with the tide staying relatively low for an hour or two of those times.
Run at high tide, but for a short amount of time.
If it’s high tide, consider kicking off your shoes and doing a deep sand workout. “Run in deep sand for maybe a mile without shoes,” says Tinley, “and you’ll strengthen all those tiny muscles in your lower legs and feet.”
Wear shoes on longer runs.
“A lot of people think about running barefoot on the beach for miles, but if they haven’t built up to that, injuries can happen,” advises Tinley. Wear decent shoes on runs of any significant distance—“more than a mile” he says—to give yourself proper support.
Run in both directions.
Even at the lowest tide, the sand slopes downward toward the water’s edge. Just how much it slopes varies by the beach, the tide, and other factors. To try to keep your hips from getting out of alignment due to the slant, run in both directions. (Avoid running one way down the beach, and returning on the pavement or boardwalk. Instead, run both directions on the beach.)
Part of the beauty of running near the ocean or lake is that giant body of water that can cool you off at the end of a run. Kick off your shoes and wade in. “Shuffle your feet if you’re at a beach known for stingrays to scare them away,” says Tinley. The cool water can help muscles recover. And jumping all the way in or even just dunking your head can change any mood into a good one.