I’ve always enjoyed running on soft surfaces more than pavement. I sometimes run on trails and cinder tracks, but I really get a thrill out of running barefoot on the beach. I spend most of the year now in San Carlos, Mexico, living right on the Sea of Cortez. So my track and my swimming pool await just outside the door!
There’s something unique about feeling my skin connecting with the earth with each running step. I savor the sensory experience of the grainy sand compressing under the sole of each foot and the occasional wet wave that washes over my foot. The salt air tinges my nostrils and the sea breeze blows my hair, whistling in my ears as if I strode at a mighty Olympic pace rather than the average pace I actually run.
Running barefoot on the beach – or anywhere for that matter – isn’t without risk. My husband blackened his big toe one morning stumbling over a rock. My son had the unfortunate experience of landing on a dead porcupine fish that lay hidden under the sand. And I landed once on a cholla cactus segment that had somehow blown down onto the beach. Ouch!
My recommendation for anyone wanting to run barefoot is that you learn first how to walk safely without shoes. Because the barefoot technique is different. Muscles in your feet and lower legs work much harder when you’re not wearing shoes. I started by walking a couple of kilometers on the beach every day barefoot. At first, my plantar fascia and toes felt sore afterward. Sometimes my calf muscles cramped up. Once my feet and lower extremity muscles adjusted, I worked my way up to five to seven kilometers. Then I added running to the mix. Now running and walking on the beach is easy for me.
When I first started running in sand, I had to listen to my body, to notice and sense what felt right. I land on the ball of my foot when running barefoot instead of heel-striking the way I do in shoes. That seems to absorb the impact from my landing best and gives me the opportunity to do a sudden weight shift if I feel something sharp under my foot and don’t want to put full weight on it. Other runners may find a different technique works best.
Connecting your naked feet to the Earth not only is a wonderful sensory experience, it offers abundant health benefits as well. Your heart, muscles and nervous system all receive electrical impulses from your body’s cells. The earth’s electrical energy helps keep human bodies and the bodies of all living beings in balance. When we spend too much time indoors, we don’t receive nature’s healing benefits. When your body has a chance to connect with the Earth’s electrical energy, you sleep better, inflammation is reduced, you perceive pain as less traumatic, and even heal faster from injury and illness. This isn’t just hocus pocus. More and more studies are coming out that show connecting with the Earth is not only beneficial, it’s necessary for optimal health. Please read this informative article by Chevalier et al. in the Journal of Environmental Public Health for a more in-depth understanding of the benefit of grounding or earthing.
If you haven’t tried barefoot running, but have the urge to try, why not give it a go the next time you head to a grassy park or a sandy beach. For me, there’s something joyous and childlike about running in the sand. If you’re like me, you might have so much fun running barefoot, you find yourself skipping along or turning cartwheels in the sand like you were 10 years old.
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