7 Tips for Running at the Beach

How to get in miles by the water without injury or sand-filled shoes.
Photo via Dirima/iStock.

Running at the beach always seems like a good idea. Get up early, clock some miles, and catch the sunrise before the shore is sprinkled with families and happy dogs. Finish dewy and refreshed for a day of doing absolutely nothing. In reality, you forget to check the tide schedule and end up playing tag with the Atlantic while rubbing sweat, salt, and sunscreen out of your eyes, while sand sloshes around your shoes.

But running at the beach doesn’t have to suck. Local running coaches Julie Sapper and Lisa Reichmann of Run Farther & Faster offer their tips for hitting the sand without ending up with sore muscles for a week.

Gradually Transition
Running on the beach has many benefits—the softer surface means less impact to joints and improved core stability—but those used to hitting the pavement or treadmill should manage their expectations. “Heading out for your typical 5K run along the beach on the first day of vacation can lead to injury, particularly in your calves and ankles, because your legs and feet aren’t accustomed to the challenges of running on the softer sand,” say Sapper and Reichmann. They suggest walking on the beach for the first few days of vacation before gradually transitioning from shorter beach runs (no more than ten to fifteen minutes) to longer runs.

Wear Shoes
“Unless you are used to running barefoot, wear shoes,” they say, explaining that any changes from your typical routine and what your body is used to can cause injury if you don’t gradually transition. Shoes also protect from sharp objects in the stand (ever have a piece of buried driftwood jab the arch of your foot?). They suggest designating one pair of running shoes for just beach running.

DC coaches Lisa Reichmann and Julie Sapper of Run Farther & Faster. Photo by Andre Dunston.

Run on Packed Sand
The packed sand near the water provides more support than the softer, flatter sand toward the dunes (plus, it’s cooler by the water). Sapper and Reichmann advise switching direction, though, since the slope toward the water creates an imbalance in your body’s alignment that can cause injury if you only run in one direction the whole vacation.

Go by Feel
Nobody’s setting a PR at the beach. Running along the sand makes your core and legs work harder, so trying to keep up your typical pace puts more of a strain on your body, say Sapper and Reichmann. Plus, the heat can cause your body to work overtime, they say, which can make your heart rate spike if you try to hit your usual pace. Put the Garmin away and “go by feel,” aiming for a conversational pace.

Bring Water
Regardless of how far or how long you intend on going, bring water. Also, hydrate early. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking around 17 ounces of cool fluid two hours before exercise, and then at regular intervals throughout as you sweat. Be sure to replenish afterward.

Wear Sweat-Proof Sunscreen
“Make sure you don’t spend the rest of your vacation wincing in pain from sunburn,” they say. Use a sunscreen that’s at least SPF 50 and is labelled water-resistant, meaning it’ll survive the ocean and sweat. 

Jump In!
You’ve earned it. A dip in the cold ocean also promotes healing and prevents post-run soreness, say Sapper and Reichmann.

Just be sure to check that tide schedule beforehand.


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Kim Olsen
Associate Editor

Kim Olsen joined Washingtonian in 2016 after moving to DC from Pittsburgh, where she earned an MFA in nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Alexandria.