Sand Running... Why?

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After just returning from our warm weather camp in Spain, I thought I would kick off my newsletter/blog with why I prescribe sand running and its benefits. Each February I take the team (and the London triathlon Academy) away for a warm weather camp. It’s the perfect time of year for us Brits to get away and feel some sun on our backs (although rumor has it the GB guys, who were there a few weeks prior to us, didn’t have such good weather… shhhh!).

There are a number of key sessions I like to replicate on camp, runs on the same hills, bike sessions over the same courses and swim sets in the same pool etc to see if we are in the same or better place physically than last year or 3 years ago.

However, one of the key benefits for us City dwellers is the use of around a kilometer of soft sandy beach, right outside the hotel.

Why is sand good?

Basically if you don’t already run economically or you are pone to high levels of running injuries, sand running does not teach you to run well and hold good form (even when tired)… it actually forces it. Over 15 years of experimenting on hundreds of athletes tells me that if your strike rate is low (under 90 steps per minute), if you over stride, if you are a heel striker or if you oscillate… you will sink into the sand, finding it very difficult to run well. Another benefit of the low impact - on the whole the age groupers I coach will run 3 times per week, but I can double their running frequency using sand without negative outcomes and still maintain freshness for the bike and swim sessions.

The science

The force/load generated during ground contact time (GCT) is obviously where most running injuries occur. Don’t get me wrong, I want to train and make the stretch shortening cycle in the muscles, ligaments and tendons strong, but the sand is working the antagonist muscles groups on strike. You are training the body to lighten the strike/to pull the foot off the ground quickly before it sinks too far and you lose friction. Moreover, you are teaching/forcing the body to hold good form from the hips through the shoulders and head, because if any part of the body is not connected thus working with/through the kinetic chain, again you will sink into the sand and lose the feeling of running well.

Outcome

Those who have never use sand before, will always comment post running back on hard surface how they feel like they are ‘floating’. I like to mix the sessions up and have a rep or two on the hard path beside the beach for contrast.

If you have ever had the privilege of running with a good elite running or observed them running, you will see that they float across the ground (even triathletes after a 40k hard bike). The air-time they achieve is incredible (time nether foot is in contact with the ground). But next time, also observe how quiet they are… you won’t hear hard thudding on the ground of the poor runner and as I like to say to the guys I coach… “Silence is deadly”.