Running on Sand vs. Running on Land

There are many reasons why I love escaping to Long Island during the summer- such as visiting my family, seeing old friends and eating wonderful food…but my favorite reason is the beach.

It’s true that you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Since I moved to the Raleigh, NC area almost a decade ago, it takes me around an hour and a half to drive to the nearest beach, located in Wilmington, NC. Meanwhile, when I was growing up on Long Island, Jones Beach was a 5 minute drive away.

It was good to be back.

A Gritty Argument

Throughout my personal experiences with running, training in the sand is not only a great workout; it also helps to build strength in your lower body as well as serve as a total body conditioning exercise. Why is this?

When you run in sand, you’re running on an uneven surface, which forces your body to work harder to stabilize itself. For a somewhat extreme visual, picture yourself running in quicksand. How much harder would you have to work to propel yourself out of a sinking position versus if you were running on a hard surface, like a paved road?

Some opponents of running in sand claim that doing so may increase your risk of injury due to surface instability, citing that not every runner has the wherewithal to constantly readjust themselves to the variable terrain (source). Other risks of running in the sand include developing plantar fasciitis or ankle sprains due to the lack of support and/or instability of the ground beneath you. Most injuries related to running on sand have to do with not being careful. As podiatrist Marie Bovarnick, D.P.M. stated in a 2004 Runner’s World article:

Running in the sand can strain your Achilles tendons or calves since they’re stretched farther than when running on a hard surface… And when barefoot, you can develop plantar fasciitis or ankle sprains because you don’t have the support of shoes. You may also suffer a puncture wound if you step on something (source).

To me, the benefits of sand training far outweigh any negative aspects. According to Bet Rifkin at, when you run in sand (or grass), you increase the number of calories burned with each step (source). Additionally, Jeff Ray over at The Running Advisor, had the following to say about caloric burn in beach running:

In addition, you’ll also burn 1.6 times more calories per mile on each run. The reason is that running on sand consumes more energy. The impact force on sand is lower allowing for better running with less strain/pounding on the body (source).

Play it Safe; Start Out Slow

Running in sand is both mentally and physically challenging. You may be quick on your feet when it comes to hitting the pavement, but as soon as you swap pavement for sand, all bets are off. Suddenly, you feel like it’s taking F-O-R-E-V-E-R to complete what should have been a simple 5-mile run.

Before you ditch the shoes and start running barefoot along the beach, consider going on a few trail runs at the park (with shoes on). For instance, whenever I go for runs at Umstead Park, I usually wear a pair of super lightweight trainers. This does one of two things: A) It allows me to get a better feel for the ground beneath my feet and B) Because there is less stability/support in the shoe, it forces my body to work just a little bit harder to stabilize itself.

For beginners who aren’t used to beach running, running on trails to start is a great way to build up foot strength- particularly in your ankles, which is where you’ll need it most when you start running on the beach. Once you make your way to the beach for your first run, keep your running shoes on, and start off by running closest to the water.The sand is harder in this area and will provide a little resistance without completely overwhelming you. Once you’ve gotten used to running in compact sand, you can try a few minutes of running in the softer, deeper sand. Alternate running in soft sand with running in the compact sand, and you’ll have a nice little workout. For newbies, 20 minutes is more than enough to start.

Once you’ve gotten a ‘ground feel’ for beach running, you can ditch the shoes and try 20 minutes of zig-zagging between soft sand and hard sand. For additional workout ideas, Runner’s World has some great suggestions at the end of this article. In the meantime, check out some of the pros and cons to running in sand below.

Benefits of Running on Sand:

  • Strengthens your ankles
  • Strengthens the arches of your feet
  • Torches calories
  • Softer surface provides better impact for joints

Dangers of Running on Sand:

  • (Barefoot) Stepping on things that might injure your foot (i.e. stingrays, jellyfish, shells, debris, etc.)
  • Straining your Achilles tendons and/or calves
  • Tendonitis
  • Developing Plantar Fasciitis
  • Ankle Sprains

Who does not love the sea? The beach is a place of healing and joy. The salt cleanses us and the sun embraces us in its warmth. The ocean heals the heart, mind, and soul. –Anon.


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