Many runners find it hard to hang up their shoes while on holiday. They need their running fix and, of course there’s the lure of unchartered territory. Whether it is on the road, the beach or trails, holiday running could require a shift in strategy if you’re not accustomed to the terrain.
“Your feet, as well as the rest of the ligaments, tendons and muscles in the biomechanical chain that is recruited when you run can be impacted by sudden changes in training or terrain. Running on the beach, for instance, is far more intense than running on the road,” says Greg Robinson, Podiatrist at Ubuntu Family Health Centre.
Beach running basics
Citing a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, he says;
“Beach running takes 1.6 times more energy than running on the road. This is great because it will burn more of the festive season calories you will be consuming. However, running on the beach also requires your muscles and tendons to work much harder due to the sand’s unpredictable surface. This can cause strain increase the risk of injury.”
He cautions against running on the hard sand next to the water. While it might be easier to run on, the sand next to the water is usually on an incline. Running on an incline in the same direction all the time will put stress on the one hip and knee due to the inclination. On the other hand, running on soft, deep sand to quickly will put strain on the calves.
“If you are new to running on the beach, it is important to allow your body to get used to the terrain. On the first day, just walk to get used to the sand. When you are ready to run after a day or two, start with short, easy runs. On sand, you’ll want a shorter stride, quicker turnover and more arm pumping to stay balanced.”
He adds that running on the beach without shoes requires experience and he advises runners new to beach running not to go for their first run without shoes. Running barefoot on sand can lead to plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, or even Achilles injuries because feet don’t get support from running shoes. Muscles stretch longer than they would on a harder surface. Instead, wear light running shoes with a mesh that doesn’t let sand in.
Trial the trails
Robinson also suggests some trail running, which can be a refreshing change-up for road runners. “Trail running puts less pressure on your bones and joints than hard surfaces such as the road or pavement. The uneven terrain forces you to vary your stride length and direction, which increases your range of lateral movement. This is helpful for strengthening your core stability, balance and coordination because your whole body is constantly adjusting.”
He adds that trail running can also help improve your hill fitness, as you are generally more likely to encounter more hills when running on off-road tracks. What’s more is that running on unstable surfaces improves proprioception, which is the awareness of the position of the body, as well as your balance.
“Take it easy and focus your eyes on the track ahead of you. For the majority of smooth gravel trails, footpaths and grass, your road running shoes would be adequate, provided the grip isn’t worn. But, for more extreme trails with mud or boggy ground, you will need to invest in some trail shoes. They have better grip while being more flexible to allow your feet to adapt to the uneven terrain. They do have less cushioning, though and might feel strange when you first try them out. They should fit snugly around the mid-foot to keep them in place while being wider in the forefoot to give your toes space to splay out and grip the trail.”
Tips for the tar
For people hitting the road for the first time, or those switching from trails to the road, he has this advice: “Take short, light steps so that your feet do not extend too far out in front of the body. Aim to have your knee above your foot and your shin vertical as your foot touches the ground. Proper form reduces the risk of injury, and good posture is essential for good form. Stay upright and lean forward slightly to propel your body forward. Make sure that you do not lean forward or backwards from your waist. Your back should be straight.”
It is also important to ensure that your shoes are roadworthy, adds Robinson. “If they are worn out, are ill-fitting or you have pain during or after a run, then you should visit your podiatrist or a specialist running shop for advice.”
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.