Three months ago, I moved from a bustling urban metropolis to a quiet beach town. Naturally, with such a dramatic change in scenery came a change in my workout regimen; a weight room and street running route combo turned into calisthenics and a route on the beach. Throughout my transition from running on asphalt to sand, I’ve noticed some changes and thought it best to figure out what was happening to my body throughout this process.
Burning calves: This was by far the most noticeable (and painful) part about switching from road to beach. The burn in my calves was definitely the limiting factor in pushing myself when I first started running on the beach and it took about a week to get used to it. This is a common complaint from novice beach runners because the foot must work harder to displace the shifting sand beneath it. Though I only experienced calf soreness, it is also common to experience soreness in the feet, hips, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles. This is because when the body is used to training on more stable ground, it must resort to using other muscles when faced with a shifting, often uneven surface.
Shedding body fat: This could be due to a variety of other factors like a change in lifestyle or eating habits, but it turns out beach running may have something to do with it as well. According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, it turns out that running on sand burns 1.6 times the energy of running on a hard surface. This number is expected to increase with the looseness of the sand and the amount of sand that is displaced with each step. The study says this increase in energy consumption is due to the sand displacement as well as the decrease in the efficiency of movement. With a weekly mileage in mind, it’s likely that I burned off some extra calories without even realizing it.
Less joint pain: This one had gone unnoticed for a while until I had a particularly high-mileage week. Usually, after such a week, I would have felt 15 years older in my ankles, knees, and hips but after this week I felt only muscle fatigue. It was refreshing and became something I have been aware of since. The significant reduction in impact with each stride on sand could be the reason behind why my joints feel less wear and tear than when I was running on asphalt. Actually, some studies suggest that switching to sand running may limit muscle damage and muscle soreness because of this decrease in impact.
Less stress: Although running is already a great option for stress relief, there were some stressors when running in the city. When I used to live downtown, I would often end my runs feeling a bit of the clutter that surrounded me. Sometimes it would be the inhalation of secondhand smoke, having to weave through pedestrians, or just waiting for a walk signal to cross the busy streets. Getting to the quieter streets and park trails felt like a load off my shoulders, but coming and going from my neighborhood was hectic. Now, I jog a couple blocks down to the beach, don’t have to cross any major roadways, and get to watch the sun rise over the ocean every day. I don’t have to think about where I’m running, which allows my mind to run free and enter a near-meditative state. My mind went from feeling heavier after a run to feeling lighter and clearer.
These are some of the more notable changes I’ve noticed with my routine change, but switching up the surface you run on may be a unique experience for each person. Experts suggest easing into new transitions to help prevent injury. Listening to how your body is feeling when making these transitions is paramount. Beach running isn’t for everyone, but the process of finding something that works best for you is part of the beauty of it.