I was 20 miles into the race and thinking about pearls. Luminous, beautiful pearls: their luster, their glow, their value. How an oyster layers protective coatings on irritants as a defense mechanism, and produces these treasures as a byproduct. Hoping against hope with every other hobbling step that the arch of my foot was manufacturing a champion pearl, rather than churning intrusive grains of sand into a vicious, viscous three-inch blister.
That was the 2021 Destin 50K, part of the Destin Beach Ultra Runs. We love the race, having crewed for a friend during the 2020 100-miler, and love running on the beach. My foot pearl/blister is finally healed, and with spring break and summer shuffling up, we’ll be heading back soon. It’s a wonderful place to get a long run, so if you’re heading to a beach or considering a sandy race, benefit with these tips from our considered experience.
Lube your toes. Really grease those piggies up: the more, the better. We use 2 Toms, and it can make a huge difference reducing friction when you’re digging into the soft, giving sand, or impact on the parched wet stuff.
Toe socks. It’s going to be like Quentin Tarantino’s Pinterest here: lots of foot stuff. You want to prep by reducing friction and rub, and keeping out grit. Pick a pair with a tight knit, that will minimize sand getting inside the sock.
No fly-knit shoes. Trust us. You want a shoe that blocks sand, grit, and other small dirt particles entering through the top of the shoe, but still allows for drainage. On that note, you’ll also want to favor a road shoe over trail. It’ll reduce drag. But you could run in your favorite worn-out trail shoes, like we did. One last gasp of glory for your faithful footwear.
Gaiters. You’ve seen them in photos of dusty western trail races and Comrades Marathon. Here’s where you get to live the Ultrarunning Magazine dream. These ankle tarps will keep you from kicking sand into your shoes, and keep your feet from grinding that grit into your tender skin. If you are wearing road shoes, then you will have to super glue velcro to their backs to hold the gaiters down.
Leg liners. Listen, you’ve seen a beach, right? Sand everywhere. That means you’re likely to get sand ev-er-y-where. And in the heat and sunny glare, you’ll be generating your own abrasive: salt. Shorts with leg liners reduce salt build-up and keeps your legs from chafing. A shoe-oyster is bad enough, but a thigh-high chicken parmesan sandwich is worse.
Lube. So important it made the list twice. Toes. Thighs. Other parts that rub. You know where.
Sunglasses. Lots of glare from the beach and the waves, and the unremitting beams from the sun itself. Anything serves so long as it suits your taste, so you can wear your favorite designer shades or a $5 set from the Race Trac rack beside the taquitos.
Sunscreen. That sun’s a son of a bitch.
Water: Your Friend? Running in the water and getting your wet feet is not terrible. After a few hours your feet will swell and the water actually feels good. Just be careful of how much sand is being thrown into your shoe when it’s wet.
Tide schedule. Know it. This can shift during your long run and you want to be prepared, especially if you’re running through the night. You can find yourself zoned-out in the run and suddenly knee-deep in drift.
Hydration & electrolytes. The sun, the heat, the effort can drain you and cause you to spin out. We like Salt Stick chewy thingies, which really stay with you. Also keep a general idea of where gas stations, markets, or restaurants are, in case you need to stop and fuel up, refill your hydration bladder, or empty your other bladder.
Blister bandages. $3 at your local pharmacy, and the most valuable post-race precaution in which you can invest.