Kilian's Quest S4 E05 - More than a sport
"He doesn't run to live, he lives to run", says Kilian about his friend Anton Krupicka. While spending time together in the US, Anton and Kilian reflects on running in the mountains and why it's not just a sport...
RUN WELL AUGUST 17, 2012, 12:01 AM
The Challenges of Beach Running
By JEN A. MILLER
Mike Musso doesn’t know of a time when he wasn’t running on the beach. “I’d run from my house to the surf beach to hang out,” said Mr. Musso, 20, who grew up at the Jersey Shore and now works there.
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Half of his high school’s cross-country course was on sand, and now Mr. Musso, a lifeguard in North Wildwood, is aiming to run his first marathon, this fall in Philadelphia, in 2 hours 45 minutes. He considers speed work on the water’s edge an integral part of his training. He has good reason to use the sand to make him faster. Beach running isn’t easy.
It’s like “running with weights on your ankles,” said Dr. R. Amadeus Mason, a team physician for USA Track and Field and an assistant professor of orthopedics and family medicine at Emory University. With or without shoes, “it’s harder to get your foot planted into the ground, and it’s harder to get your foot up off the ground,” Dr. Mason said.
Running on sand requires 1.6 times the energy that running on a hard surface requires, and your body has to work harder to respond to “external modifications,” said Dr. Thierry M. Lejeune, of St. Luke’s University Clinics in Belgium, lead author of a study on beach running that appeared last year in The Journal of Experimental Biology.
“Our muscles perform more mechanical work when running or walking on sand than on a hard surface,” Dr. Lejeune said. Your foot works harder to displace sand, and the muscles can’t work as efficiently.
On a hard surface, many runners strike the ground heel first. As their momentum and weight move forward, the foot goes flat at the bottom of the stride, then forward to the toes, which push the body up off the ground and into the next stride.
But this motion isn’t as efficient when done on a surface that’s not only soft but also shifting.
“When you’re on soft sand, your heel strike doesn’t come down and hit that firm surface,” Dr. Mason said. Instead, your body adjusts by relying on small muscles around your ankle to keep the foot steady. Your foot also can’t go flat because the surface isn’t flat. That’s where your calf muscles come in — and it’s part of the reason that calf muscles are typically so sore after beach running. They work to normalize the motion.
“When you go for toe-off, some of the sand gets on top of your muscle and you’re not able to bring that toe up as easily,” Dr. Mason said. “That’s where the calf muscle starts to work more, because you have to lift your toe up as you’re doing your normal toe-off.”
Even runners who are mid- to front-foot strikers will work harder to gain solid footing on the sliding surface. “The sand will cause some spreading of your toes, and that can be uncomfortable,” he said.
While sand running can cause extra aches and pains for those who aren’t used to it, these side effects aren’t necessarily a bad thing and can translate into faster times. Indeed, beach running can be a form of speed training, especially in areas where hills — a typical speed training option — are scarce.
“There’s more drag on your feet as you’re doing that training, so when you’re in an environment where there’s not that drag, your legs will not fatigue as easily,” said Dr. Mason, who grew up in Jamaica and ran intervals on the beach to gain strength and speed as a sprinter for his high school track team. “When beach runners get on the normal pavement, they move even more quickly because there’s not that kind of impediment.”
Mr. Musso runs 100- to 400-meter sprint repeats barefoot on the sand as part of his regular workouts and does a quick beach jog to warm up for his longer 9- to 12-mile runs, which he does on the paved back roads of Cape May County.
Dr. Mason advises that if you’re not used to beach running but you’re on vacation and are tempted to give it a try, time your run with low tide, and run on the packed sand that’s close to the water’s edge. The surface will still be a challenge, but not so difficult to run on as soft sand.
Since strong winds and lack of shade can also present challenges at the beach, chart an out-and-back course and make sure to bring a hat and extra hydration, or run very early in the morning or during the evening. Be on watch, too, for remnants of sandcastles and beach holes, which aren’t always washed away after a single tide change.
In July, Mr. Musso won the two-mile North Wildwood Sandblast Beach Run, which was held on the beach at low tide. On Aug. 26, he’ll run his longest race yet, the Wild Half, a half marathon that tracks through the area. It’ll be a test to see if his training has worked and will allow him to make adjustments leading into the Philadelphia Marathon.
“I’ve been getting faster every year. I like using a lot of really good resources around here,” he said, including that free one, the sand.