#Barefoot #Running in #SandDunes – Why Bother??

My favourite place on earth is Inverhuron Beach, Tiverton, Ontario, Canada on the shores of Lake Huron. This happens to be the location of our family cottage where my forefathers first visited over 100 years ago. It also is where I was baptized at age 3 months and spent all summer, every summer running barefoot until age 15 with a cadre of my cousins. I still venture to these beautiful shores that are home to the world’s 3rd best sunsets (as rated by National Geographic, no less!) for summer holidays with family and relatives. Of course, I’m the only one still running around barefoot!!

This summer during our 1o day holiday, I decided to venture onto the sand dunes that butt up against the beach and roll for a few kilometres along the Saugeen River (it dumps into the lake at our beachhead). Why, you ask? Well, mainly due to the fact that I wanted a change in my barefoot running routine. Further, I wanted to test myself technically in deep, soft, unrelenting sand that climbed from 25 to 100 metres at an average 16% grade.

It’s one thing to run on wet, compact, shoreline sand. It’s quite another to run in dry, deep, forgiving sand further up the beach away from the water. Thus, for 7 days straight, I ran down to the beach and headed for the sand dunes that were such an integral part of my youth. Only now, they didn’t look as high nor as intimidating…until I started running up them! The 1st series of dunes that I tackled were one the fringe of the Saugeen River only about 50 metres from the lake. They are short but steep with nowhere to hide. Once you commit to going up, you better damn well keep running or end up sliding down to the bottom. I did the following drills:

  • backwards up & downhill (brutally difficult)
  • side to side up and down (again, brutally difficult)
  • side to side crossover up and down (almost impossible)
  • forward high knee lift thrust up and down (total fatigue)

This formed one of my 45 minute sessions that I repeated three times on consecutive days.  I then ventured further inland to the MAJOR dunes that formed the playground of my youth. Again, they seemed much smaller and certainly less intimidating – until I started my drills. I incorporated the following into a 6o minute session that I repeated for 4 consecutive days:

  • forward weave up & downhill (breath-taking)
  • side squat jumps up and down (not for the weak of heart)
  • 1-legged hopping forward up & down (this took forever to do 1 rep)
  • 1-legged hopping side-to-side up & down (as above!)
  • forward high knee lift up & down (totally winded me)

I noticed the following:

  1. my feet got stronger and the soles got tougher (due to the give of the sand, the friction of the sand and the stones, roots and tree branches that I had to run over)
  2. my calves never got sore (due to the improved blood flow flushing out toxins from my legs via barefoot stimulation) nor did my other major running muscles
  3. my improved ability to run barefoot stronger and faster on ‘normal’ cottage roads during the rest of our holiday without soreness
  4. my technique for squatting, scooting, driving forward and pawing back improved dramatically when back running barefoot on dirt trails, asphalt, concrete, crushed stone etc.
  5. my total avoidance of running-related injuries. I simply was better able to run lightly and powerfully with no pain

For those who run barefoot, take every opportunity to do so in sand (and especially on sand dunes!). For those still running in some form of ‘coffin’ (running shoe), PLEASE do yourself (and your body) a favour and get barefoot in deep, soft sand as often as you are able…AND reap the rewards. Injury-free running is available to all…!


coach Jeff



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