Two of my favorite things in the whole world are running and going to the beach. As a lifelong Jersey Shore resident, I love nothing more than a day of sand and sun. And as a fitness buff, I love nothing more than the rush I get from a good run. So you would think that I’d have been going for beach runs for years.
After all, what’s more Run Jersey than a few miles in the sand, right?
Until a few weeks ago, I’d never tried running on the beach. Maybe I couldn’t get past the idea of running barefoot.Maybe I didn’t like the idea of running in my swim trunks without a good place to change. Or most likely, I just love lazing in my beach chair and couldn’t muster the motivation to harsh that mellow.
But one Sunday morning recently, I slept too late to get a run in and get down to the beach at a reasonable hour. So I made up my mind: I would run on the beach. I tossed an extra T-shirt, a sweat towel and my phone armband into the beach bag and my wife and I got on our way.
We are public beachgoers — none of those fancy clubs with cabanas, valet parking, teenagers to carry and set up your gear… So after we got our chairs situated, our umbrella opened up and our sunscreen applied, I strapped on the armband, warmed up and got moving. Obviously on the beach you have to do an out-and-back; I ran about a 5k total.
Here’s what I learned:
Barefoot is definitely the way to go. When I’m sitting on the beach, I often see runners go by with their running shoes on. I don’t get that. The shoe is supposed to cushion you on hard surfaces. The softness of the sand will do that for you, and it will alter your stride — particularly your launch. So if you’re rocking a stability shoe, at best you’re getting no benefit, and you could be doing harm. Plus, the feeling of the sand between your toes is big part of the attraction here.
There’s a sweet spot right by water’s edge. The key to being able to go more than a couple hundred yards is to find the right track. If you get too close to the water, you’re running in mud. If you go too far up where it’s totally dry, the sand has too much give. But about two yards away from where the waves break is a compacted, semi-hard area where you can get some traction and go. That’s the line to stick to.
But it’s not a straight line. All sorts of factors — such as the way rock jetties alter the current — cause the waves to break a little closer to shore in one spot, a little farther out in another. If you just try to run straight, you’ll wind up either in the dry, soft stuff or the wet, mucky stuff. Pay attention. You also may have to run around or over a jetty or a spot where the water pools and doesn’t flow back out.
Watch out for little kids! Adults and even most teenagers who are frolicking at water’s edge will generally see you coming and make an effort not to collide with you. Little kids, on the other hand, are completely oblivious to everything except the bucket of sand they’re running with. Keep your head up and try to anticipate moving obstacles.
Keep an eye out for shells and rocks. If you stick in the sweet spot, you won’t see too much debris, but you will encounter an occasional broken clam shell. Those can really hurt when you’re barefoot.
Shorten your stride and slow down. This is not the run to try strides or fartleks. Your gait will naturally be different than when you’re on a hard surface just by virtue of the give of the sand. Don’t over-stride. Keep a manageable pace. Otherwise, you’re asking to get hurt.
Enjoy yourself! There are few views as beautiful as the ocean. And if you’re a beach lover like me, you’ll also enjoy the sound of the surf, the hustle and bustle of kids playing, the sea breeze on your face, and the smell of the salt water. And you get to see miles of coastline from a vantage point you probably wouldn’t otherwise.
Experience the world’s best cooldown. After you’re done and you’ve caught your breath, you’ll surely be hot and sweaty. Make sure you stow your electronics, and then take a dive into the water. Nothing –and I mean nothing — is more refreshing than cool ocean water right after a great run.
Ever since my beach run, I’ve been jonesing to do it again. And inevitably, I’ve failed to plan ahead with my towel, armband and extra T-shirt. But there is no way I’m going to let this summer — the most beautiful summer I can remember in New Jersey in years — go by without at least one more beach run.
And I hope you’ll give it a shot, too. You won’t regret it!