10 Sep

Heeling Sands

Beach runners

I'm all set for a late summer week in Cornwall. I'm excited because a) it's a holiday......yeeeeha! b) it's brilliant running territory. I have covered several miles in England's most western county before, including the Camel Trail which runs from Padstow to Wenford Bridge. Despite its humpy connotations, it's remarkably flat.

But what I look forward to most is the chance to get in some quality beach running. There cannot be many running experiences as exhilarating as pounding the sand into the sea breeze with the waves offering a crashing soundtrack. I can almost taste the salt on my lips just writing about it.

As well as being brilliant fun, running on the beach is a rollocking good work-out too. The decreased resistance of the surface asks more questions of your lower leg muscles and tendons as they work that bit harder to find traction in the soft sand.

For that extra test, it is also an opportunity for some barefoot running - providing you are vigilant and look out for broken shells, sharp stones and any stray litter.

As well all know, there are degrees of softness in the sand. Wet sand is firmer than the dry sand, often further up the beach. The softer, dry sand can be tremendously hard work. When you throw in some steep dunes, it doubles in difficulty. Sand dunes are a favoured winter training terrain of elite athletes.

Hill sprints on sands dunes is an absolute killer session - one that even makes retired champions break out in a cold sweat. But it is also where gold medals are won. But they are best left alone if you are dipping your toes into beach running for the first time. Best just to ease yourself into gently.

Or at least bear in mind that you cannot simply replicate what you do on the road on the beach. From a cardiovascular viewpoint, what you might get from an 8-10 mile run on tarmac can be easily achieved over a much shorter distance on the sand.

But with the greater strain on muscles and tendons, it can be an even better strengthening exercise - for the upper body too. Your arms and shoulders also get a good workout as you drive much harder to push through the sand.

However, such is the extra strain - particularly with a new exercise, it's important not to overdo it and risk injury. Otherwise, you might have to get a donkey ride home.

That's why I will be aiming for runs of a maximum of four miles on the Cornish sand. I hope to come back stronger, fitter, mentally refreshed and with my pasty-cravings fully satisfied.