Running through sand is a great way to strengthen your feet, ankles and other stabilizing tendons and ligaments. If you have a race coming up with significant sections of sand, be prepared. Sand is rough on tendons who go in without experience and if the sand trap is early in the race, you could be in a world of hurt.
The other issue with sand is that it gets into your shoes and your socks. I’ve dumped sandboxes out of my shoes when running in southern Utah. A toe box full of sand not only cramps your feet, but it causes blisters and weighs you down. You have two options; keep it out or get it out.
The most effective option is to go barefoot. However, this comes with it’s own set of risks, such as cutting or burning your feet. If you’re choosing this option make sure you’re feet are strong enough for barefoot running and that your Achilles tendon is in good shape. Shoes limit the amount the Achilles stretches, so if you wear shoes all the time and then suddenly run barefoot, you’re likely to strain or tear your Achilles. Slowly build up to the distance you’ll be running barefoot.
To keep sand out of your shoes you can put your feet in plastic grocery sacks or bread bags before putting them in your shoes. This will keep the sand off your feet and out of your socks. You can also put it over your entire shoe, but it may just rip or cause your shoe to slip.
Getting it out of your shoe is a challenge, as anyone knows who has played on the beach and gone home. You will find sand in your car and every where in your house for at least a week. You’re unlikely to be able to get all of the sand out. Dump your shoe and beat it on a rock or the ground. Same thing with your socks. Best if you can pack extra socks and just pull those on. This will require a lot of socks if you have repeated sand sections. With your socks and shoes off, wash your feet.
Running barefoot in sand is an excellent way to reduce your calluses, but a race is not the time to take sandpaper to your feet, so make sure you get between each toe. If, later in the race, you feel sand in your shoe, you’re better off taking the time to clean out your shoe than developing a blister(s).
When you begin training on sand, run on the wet stuff first. It’s more firm and wont tax your stabilizing tendons and muscles as much, thus giving them time to adjust to the increased load. Running on sand takes more propulsion which translates into a slower pace.
Chose a pair of shoes that are dedicated to sand running and don’t take them in the house!