The Merrell Whale of Trail has a notorious beach section, about 30km into the race, that can quite literally stop you in your tracks. Whether you’re running to win or just to survive, the beach section will slow you down, test your strength and most of all, your mental stability. Despite sounding treacherous, it is also one of the most beautiful parts of the run, and the 5km stretch of unspoilt, pristine sandy beach will steal your heart (and maybe your sense of humour). Nic De Beer, avid runner for 20-years, winner of the Addo and Puffer Ultras and coach for the last five years (to runners as awesome as Mark Winter, Rory Scheffer and Karoline Hanks), has signed up for the Whale of Trail again this year. This is what he had to say about preparing for the beach section, and how to get across it come the 29 July.
Don’t get obsessed
Yes- there is a soft, sandy section mid-53km, no- you don’t need to do 80% of your training on soft sand to finish the Whale of Trail. “The soft sand section at WOT can be daunting, but it is such a small part of the bigger race. More time should be spent on developing endurance and strength than running on sand,” says De Beer. In fact, knowing about the section, preparing for it mentally and managing expectations will get you through. “Understanding that the body will be tossed around, you will be running slower, more energy will be spent and more strain will be taken by the lower-leg muscles will help prepare you.”
Include some soft sand in your training
If you do have access to a beach or soft sand, it’s worth doing the odd training run on it – just not too much as you want to avoid developing an injury. “You can train for soft sand running by doing runs on soft sand and by strengthening the muscles that need to work harder than usual during soft sand running’” says De Beer. Be warned though, “if you have never run on soft sand, keep the first session short and slow to avoid injuries. A few short runs on sand before the event should be sufficient preparation.”
Test your gear
Something you might not have thought about is how and where the soft sand gets to, and how that will physically effect you; think rubbing and blisters. With a fair distance still to cover after the beach, it’s critical to head into the soft sand with preservation in mind, which means that testing and thinking through specific gear with the intention of coming to the other end unscathed is a must. “Test your gear to become most efficient. Gear like gaiters should be tested out in training before an event. Sand in your shoes will be a big factor, so experiment with different laces to your shoes to help with quick emptying of your shoes. Test the difference between short socks and longer socks to avoid sand to get into contact with your feet which could cause blisters. Testing should always be done in training and not in an event,” says De Beer.
No beach, no problem
You’ve made it this far and panic is rising, because you live inland and don’t have access to a beach! Not a problem says De Beer. “Sand prevents you from pushing forward by absorbing some of the energy from your foot strike, and forces you to activate more lower-leg muscles. Your feet, Achilles and calves work harder to adapt to the different terrain, risking overuse and injuries. If you are not used to beach running, do some calf raises in the gym or home to strengthen the calves, which will also help to increase the range of motion in the ankles and Achilles.”
Nic De Beer believes that consistency is the key to success. “Try to simulate your training for the race you are preparing for, always maintaining a good balance between strength, speed and endurance workouts,” he suggests. If you are interested to chat to Nic De Beer about training, contact him here. If you’re interested on tackling the Whale of Trail and dominating the beach – there’s still time to enter. Visit the Whale of Trail website for more information.