What makes a good soft sand runner?

7th September 2017

By Jock Campbell

The attributes I have found successful at the elite level of sand running are pretty clear and don’t involve too much rocket science. Whilst not all of you are wanting to become elite, these facets can all be improved upon which will make the Bondi Barefoot and JA running festival far more enjoyable, as well as make you faster.

Below are some key points I work on with my athletes  to help them achieve their best:

Light – the lighter the athlete, the better! As sand is a soft surface, a big part of the technique is to get out of the sand so the lighter runners find it far easier. This means low body fat levels and lean but powerful physiques. For you at home the intense training for sand running will help reduce some of this body fat, and even more so if you combine this with a healthy eating plan. For best results consult your local dietitian.

Work with the sand – we addressed this last time, it’s a different technique on the sand, the foot-lift out of the sand is a major part of technique training. This is easy to say, but harder to do - the more you run in soft sand, just like swimming, the more efficient you will become.

One of my athletes, current 2km Beach Run World Champion and previous Bondi Barefoot and Wanda X-Treme champion sums it up pretty well “I think about running on a hot surface, as soon as my foot hits the ground I concentrate on pulling it straight off - anyway it works for me!”

Tracks – running in other people’s footprints or car tracks is a smart option if you’re not out in front. Why? The sand is compressed down and provides a firmer surface to push off from. Don’t rely on this for your entire run though, make sure you practice both running in your own sand and running in others footprints, both are learned skills!

Conditioning – like any race you need to be conditioned to be strong through the entire race length. In your training you should be aiming towards this. Some of you may just want to complete the run without stopping, others to smash a PB and a few of you wanting to win. Your training should reflect this with a gradual build-up of specific training that includes at least 1-2 sand runs per week in an overall plan of 4 running sessions per week. Research has shown a large improvement in performance from 3-4 conditioning sessions per week, but not a great deal between 4-5. For the majority of the weekend warriors out there, 4 sessions per week is a great option and for those wanting to be the best, 6 days a week training is what you require.

Tactics – this is an interesting one. If you are not in the right condition, forget about tactics. Get in the best physical shape you can. With consistent training, specific training, with a well- trained soft sand technique, then you can work on some tactics. Without this you are hoping for the best. You need to be on the start line knowing that you’ve done all the hard work you can, feeling fit, fast and confident and that the training you have done has prepared you for how you wish to run the race. My 3 time Bondi Barefoot winner and current champion of all 4 big NSW soft sand races (including Red Bull Dune Dusters and the Manly soft sand classic) says it best “ As you always say to me, if you’re not fit enough to keep up with the front guys, no tactics are going to save you. You want to be on that start line knowing exactly your plan, having practiced every facet of it in training and having the physical weapons to be able to pull it off. “

We’ve all done it, standing on that start line and being unsure of how we’re going to go. It’s not a great feeling to have.  Prepare well, no matter what your level and you’ll enjoy the day and your result.

Take home messages:

  • Get lean
  • Practice on the sand regularly and focus on the technique
  • Practice running in footprints and car tracks
  • Get fit for the race with specific training. 4-6 sessions per week if you want to do your best
  • Practice your race tactics in training
  • You don’t get what you want in a race, you get what you deserve

Wanda Surf Club together with Jock Athletic and Hydrothon are putting on a 4km soft sand race at Wanda Beach 17th September, the week before Bondi Barefoot . Use this as a great practice race for Bondi .  Check it out here 


The Bondi Barefoot & Jock Athletic Running Series Points system


This year we’ve combined the two great events and it’s really simple: the top 25 males and females get points in each of the 4 endurance races. First place gets 25 points, second 24 etc.  All races are considered even. It’s funny in recreational running, the longer the distance covered is perceived as superior. However in elite running the most famous runners are the 100m sprinters, Usain Bolt is a little better known than the Marathon World Champ - test yourself, who is it? So we are weighting each race evenly. If you go hard enough, they are all tough: 

Bondi Barefoot 4km                          24 September, Bondi Beach
Bondi Barefoot 10km                       24 September, Bondi Beach
Jane MacGrath Classic 2.5km           29 October, Wanda Beach
Wanda X-Treme 6km                       29 October, Wanda Beach

The first three males and first females will be the inaugural series winner and receive prizes from Skins, Runnulla and cash. Look forward to seeing you there, always great days and always for great causes.

About the author: Jock Campbell is a Level 4 IAAF Athletics Coach, the first ever SLSA Performance Coach (Beach Events), Coach of over 10 Australian Champion Beach Runners and 5 World Champions, 2017 SLSNSW – Coach of the Year and is the current International Surf Lifesaving Masters 2km World Champion.