Friday, May 16, 2014

You versus the sand: How to win

Races like the Beast on the Bay offer athletes a different type of fun.  The competitors are never quite sure of what they might encounter along the race course which can make training for the event a bit tricky.  Participants in the upcoming Beast will know one race twist: they will be running in the sand. 

Running on the sand is challenging.  It requires 1.6 times more energy than running on a hard surface.  When your foot lands in soft sand, there is no flat, resistive surface to greet it.  There is nothing to help stabilize your foot during toe-off.  Instead, the foot lands on a surface that is soft and shifts.  Moving in sand forces your foot and calf muscles to work hard to steady your foot.  Sand workouts are really more of a whole body workout requiring all of your muscles to work together to control ankle, knee, hip and core motion.  An athlete not prepared for training in sand faces an increased risk of injury including plantar fasciitis, calf strain and hip flexor strains.  On the flip side, athletes who train regularly in the sand report improvements in overall strength, agility and endurance.  Runners who regularly run in the sand report faster times and improved performance when they move to a sand-free environment.

It takes time to build up the muscle strength in your legs and core and to build your stamina in order to run well in soft sand.  If you are not used to running in the sand, experts recommend you start with a slower pace.  You will find that you are forced to take smaller steps and foot strike on the middle or front part of your foot.  Initially, your calves will seem to take the brunt of your new workout. 

Start out with an alternating running program:  run for a couple of minutes on firm surface (hard packed sand at water’s edge or road), run for 1-2 min in soft sand for a total of 15-20 minutes.  If you try to go too fast for too long, you increase your risk of pre-race injury.  Run on the flat parts of the beach because running on an angle is hard on your knees, hip and back and can result in injury.

For you science geek runners, check out the following article:
Heglund, N.C., LeJeune, T.M., & Willems, P.A. (1998). Mechanics and Energetics of Human
Locomotion on Sand (1998).  The Journal of Experimental Biology, 210.  Retrieved from

Look for more to come in the weeks to follow from our healthcare experts at Saint Vincent!

Laura McIntosh, MD
Saint Vincent Sports Medicine
Saint Vincent Hospital

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