Since I’ll be running my first-ever obstacle race on the beach next month, I’ve been searching for the right shoe.
Finding clear-cut recommendations hasn’t been easy as the proper running shoe seems to vary per person.
To find the right footwear for a beach run or obstacle race, there are several things to take into account, starting with training and running experience.
Beach Run Training Needs
Sand is an unstable environment. Running on it can feel like a combination of an uneven trail and quicksand. So it’s going to challenge stability around the ankle along with the balance and the strength of surrounding muscles, especially calves. If you have limited experience running on sand (like I do), a shoe with some support is in order.
Single leg exercises can help improve improve ankle stability and balance. Single leg deadlifts and squats are good, but to mimic an unstable environment, work up to doing these on a balance pad/mat. If you don’t have a balance pad/mat, you can try single leg exercises on bare feet.
You can also improve on your ankle stability and balance by performing some of your typical strength exercises performed on two feet on a single leg, instead. Shoulder presses, bicep curls, and even rows can be done on one leg. Be sure to decrease the weight — strength exercises on a single leg loads your system significantly more than if you were standing on both feet.
Calf Strength & Power
To effectively and safely push off sand, calf strength and power are essential. You can strengthen and power up your calves with simple calf raises, ankle hops, agility drills and more advanced plyometric work.
Again, if your calves are somewhat weak, a shoe with some support would be ideal until your calves are ready for less cushioned and/or minimalist-type shoes.
The only way to improve on your beach running technique and endurance is to practice. Active.com has good beach running tips and workout suggestions.
For those of us who don’t live close to a beach (like me), what can we do?
Trail runs, muddy runs, and even treks on grass can help build ankle and calf strength and stability. Think beyond the treadmill, as you would need to for any other obstacle course race.
Beach Run Footwear Needs: What to Consider
You’ll need some traction, but probably not as much as required on a mud-caked OCR. Look for some lugs or ridges on the sole, but nothing too clunky as the next consideration is…
Look for lightweight shoes. The ideal would be a lightweight trail shoe, but this doesn’t necessarily mean a minimalist shoe. If you have limited experience training in minimalist kicks, then opt for a more traditional, lightweight running shoe with some cushion
This is not to say you can’t use a minimalist trainer for a future run (beach or traditional OCR). You should let yourself build up to using this type of footwear by improving your ankle flexibility and strengthening your calves. Also, short, 10 or 15-minute running or training sessions on a minimalist shoe is critical in order to build up the strength and resistance for a full run or workout.
Look for a shoe that can help keep sand out, something with mesh that fits close to the foot.
Look for anti-blister socks or those made from material that will help wick away moisture. Some sand will seep into your shoes, so the last thing you want is a sock that won’t let your feet breathe.
Beach Run Footwear Options
Scour the forums and Q&A’s online, and you’ll probably see that many take to the beach barefoot for morning runs. This may work well for athletes that live close to the shore and run regularly on the beach. But this isn’t ideal if you don’t often run on sand as you may put yourself at risk for injury.
Also, sometimes beaches are scattered with glass, trash, and other hazards that aren’t friends to bare feet. So even if you are comfortable running barefoot, you may want a shoe to serve as a protective barrier.
Just about every shoe manufacturer produces some version of a minimal shoe. If you are used to training in minimal footwear, look for one that has some traction for your beach run.
Lightweight Trail Runner
This will be my pick for my OCR on the beach: A New Balance Trail Runner from the Minimus line (1010 Minimus Trail Shoe).
Some other options along the same brand:
Recently, Mud & Obstacle magazine ranked the Reebok All-Terrain Super among the best shoes for any muddy OCR. Inspired by the demands of a Spartan Race, these would probably be good kicks for a beach obstacle run, especially if you may get into the water. If you’ve tried this on a beach OCR, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Other Running Shoes
Sometimes, in spite of all the advice you read or listen to, you just need to go with what’s comfortable, even if it’s the same shoes you’ve been training in for the past month or two.
The running shoes I’m going with may not be an ideal fit based on the considerations above. The mesh may not fit closely enough around my shoe. The treads may be a little too pronounced for this race. It’s an older trail running model; it won’t drain water well. Probably the only thing going for it is that it’s a lightweight trail runner. But I’m going to try it, and I’ll let you know how it works out.
Do you run regularly on the beach or sand? Do you have an OCR event on the beach coming up? If so, what do you run in or plan to run in?
© 2009-2015 Melissa Rodriguez
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