Why running on sand helps improve your running
Credit: Dougal Waters / Getty Images
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How to run on sand and why it's good for you

To nail a race on the beach like Red Bull Quicksand, or to improve your run from the sea towards T1, use two-time Olympian Andy Baddeley’s five tips for running on the sand.

Running along the beach sounds great. The natural soundtrack of the rolling waves, soft landings for your punished feet and the prospect of a cool down dip in the sea, but it isn't always as easy as it looks. We are used to planting our feet and gaining stability to move forward, but with a shifting base combined with heavier terrain, it is up to 1.6 times more difficult to run on sand compared to the tarmac.

Sand can therefore be a tough surface to run on and the last thing you need when you’re running from the sea into T1...


But there is a reason that so many world class athletes dedicate parts of their training regime to pounding the sand dunes - and it’s not (all) for the views and great scenery. Due to the uneven surface, running on sand is not only more difficult to plant your feet but also to lift your feet back up.

Core stability

Running on the sand, you are going to expend on average 1.6 times more energy than you would running on the road. With this in mind, you need to prepare your core so that your body is not in total shock when you start your run.
Building up your core can be easily done with this series of exercises ahead of racing along the beach.

  • Single leg bodyweight squats - focus on keeping your knee central over toes; this promotes balance, core, glute and quad strength. For the more advanced, try this on a bosu ball. The easy-to-do version of these can be done while your brushing your teeth...
       
  • Classic Plank variations - adopt the standard front plank position on your elbows, trying to keep a neutral spine. First of all, just practice holding a standard plank for 60 seconds then build up to longer times coupled with lifting alternate feet, or moving up onto hands (into press up position) and back down onto elbows again. You can even try side planks, ensuring your spine is still neutral, for 30 seconds on each side.
      
  • Leg lowers - Either on the floor, or lying on your back on a bench in the gym, focus on maintaining your spine position as you lower your legs from 90 degrees down to the floor and back up again. Easier option with knees bent, and one leg at a time. Hold on to the bench next to your head to help.


Be cautious

Don’t even attempt breaking any personal bests when you’re running on the beach. Running on sand can be like running with ankle weights on, it will be tough at the best of times. Make sure you set off at a sensible pace, race the course and the terrain, not the distance as you know it.


Give yourself a chance to really push yourself in the closing stages rather than having to slow down in the middle section of the race.  

Try it first

Running on sand will be a shock to your body (and specifically lower legs) regardless. To soften the blow on race day, make sure you give yourself ample time to get used to the terrain. If you know the exit from a swim is onto and sandy transition, practice accelerating in the sand over short bursts before the race.
Herb Elliott, winner of the 1,500m at the 1960 Rome Olympics, regularly incorporated sand dune running into his training and eventually broke the then world record to run 3:54.5. 


To avoid your legs burning, your lungs bursting and your heart rate going through the roof inside the first minute, practice running on the sand before race day.

Better your transition speed

While sand is an unpredictable surface to run on, you can be smart when choosing your perfect route for exiting the water into T1. Following a tough swim, running even a short way on the sand can be a shock to your legs that haven’t felt any impact in the race to date. Pre-race look for the firmer, faster sand for your quickest route to transition, and map it out, avoiding any sandcastles or beach holes along the way.

The extra pain in the legs isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can eventually result in faster times when you’re dashing towards the blue carpet. It may also be a great way to fire up the legs before a stint on the bike.

Include sand training in your triathlon training

If you are lucky enough to live near a beach make sand running part of speed/run training. You’ll feel the benefit when you next attempt to better your 10km PB - whether it be off the bike or just or a straight run.


Go old school

We all love our running gadgets. Whether it is the swanky new GPS watch, a heart rate monitor that gives you a new number every tenth of a second or magic headphones that make you forget you’re hurting.


However when you are destined to run a race with ups and downs, don’t let the technology be a distraction. Push yourself without needing to know the pace you’re running, the readings will prove inaccurate compared to your road running.
Enjoy the time without numbers, switch off and enjoy the views.


Want to test yourself on sand? The Red Bull Quicksand takes place in the beginning ofSeptember in Margate, Kent. Entries cost £30, to sign up and get more information head to redbull.co.uk/quicksand


 
 

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