A lot of runners find it hard to hang up their shoes while they’re on holiday. They need their running fix and of course, there’s the lure of unchartered territory. Whether it’s 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.
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.
“If you are new to running on the beach it is important to allow your body to get used to the new terrain and sensation. 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.
“Your regular running shoe may be fine. You can’t completely avoid getting sand in your shoes so wear socks that prevent blisters or put some Vaseline or similar products on your feet before running on the beach.”
Robinson advocates 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. Trail running can help improve your hill fitness, as you are generally more likely to encounter more hills when running on off-road tracks. 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 midfoot to keep them in place while being wider in the forefoot to give your toes space to splay out and grip the trail.”
For people hitting the road for the first time or switching from trails to the road, he has this advice: “Try to 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. 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 important to ensure that your shoes are roadworthy. 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.”
He concludes with these tips:
- Warm up before you run. A warm-up can consist of a light walk or slow run before exercise.
- Use proper running socks that wick the moisture away and keep the feet dry. This can help guard against blisters.
- Strengthen your feet:
- Towel stretch – Sit on the floor with your legs out straight. Take a towel and place it around your toes. Pull the towel toward you. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat.
- Towel Lifts – Sit in a chair and place a towel on the floor. Try to lift the towel with your big toe and little toes. Repeat five times and then switch feet.
- Stand with your toes on a step and your heels off the edge. Slowly lower your heels down, hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then lift your heels to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
- Toe Stretch – Sit in a chair, with feet on the floor, and spread your toes apart. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
- Foot Roll – To improve proprioception and loosen the tissues on the bottoms of your feet. Take a ball (golf, tennis ball or frozen water bottle), and roll it back and forth from your toes to your heels.