I have been running for a while, so I thought I would run in a race, my first ever. I signed up, then later got a pretty big surprise.

I’m 49.

I decided a while ago that I would try to take better care of myself physically, and had been cycling for quite a while to that end. But cycling aggravates my lower back, and I noticed that while after continuous cycling I felt pretty good from a fitness point of view, I kept having recurring back trouble, and, I discovered that I could not really run, either. Seems like cycling does not do much for the muscles you use when running.

So in 2014, I started jogging, pretty slowly, and just kept at it. I did get faster after a few months of struggle, but then I had a bad lower back problem which really put me out for a few months last winter, that required a lot of TEMS treatments.

Well, I finally recovered, and meanwhile I had been reading about running, and listening to runners tell me to just keep at the stretching no matter what. So I stretch regularly, do yoga, and have started to work on my core muscles and do other drills according to Jeff Gaudette’s Runners Connect site and courses, which really explain things well.

First race

Photo - Rick and his first running race bib (zekken), number 315
Photo: Rick and his first running race bib (zekken), number 315
Photo - Rick and his first running race bib (zekken), number 315
Photo: Rick and his first running race bib (zekken), number 315

I figured I would like to try entering a short running race, despite never having done so in my whole life. I was nervous about trying it for whatever reason (excuses, excuses), but my family was supportive, and I decided it is more about trying to improve myself than to race against someone. So, I found the “3rd Shonan Hiratsuka Seaside Marathon” (第三回 湘南平塚 シーサイド マラソン) on Runnet Japan, and signed up for the 5K version of the race.


  1. Japanese call any running race a “marathon”. It’s used as a general verb as in “Marathon suru?”
  2. Hiratsuka Beach is considered Shonan, and Hiratsuka is in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

The race organizer was the “Yoyogi Fun Run Committee”, a group that organizes all kinds of shorter running events in Japan, perfect for beginners like me. They sent a reminder e-mail one week before the event, so I read through it. Slowly, as is usual for me having to read anything with a lot of kanji characters. I saw the characters for beach, and noticed it did not say that the run would be “by the beach” but rather “on the beach.”

Oh no.

Running on Sand?!

Oh man. I started Googling about sand running, and mostly everything you read about it is that it’s really tough. Studies show (yeah, there are actual studies) that it requires 1.6 times the effort.

Here are some various things I read about sand running:

  • since it’s a lot more effort compared to concrete running, you will quickly learn where your weakness is, from the soreness (it’s my lower back as always!)
  • try to run nearer the water, where the sand is more packed
  • it is indeed low impact, but, you’ll pull something if you don’t stretch well, because it really works your legs and joints differently from a normal road run
  • if you gradually incorporate sand running into your routine, it can help develop core muscles to keep running injuries at bay
  • the soft sand will allow your feet to tend to pronate, which can cause shin splints
  • the inline of the beach can cause an imbalance in how your muscles are used
  • it’s good to get a pair of shoes specifically for running on sand, because you won’t be able to get the sand totally out of them

Well, I decided to try it last weekend, a week before the race. It was hard, but since I ran near the water’s edge, it was not so bad.

Shonan Bellmare Hiratsuka Beach Park

Photo - Old Renault 4GTL in the Park Parking Lot
Photo: Old Renault 4GTL in the Park Parking Lot
Photo - Old Renault 4GTL in the Park Parking Lot
Photo: Old Renault 4GTL in the Park Parking Lot

So today, I got up early, packed everything up, and got on the road. Route 1 was crowded up to Fujisawa, where the Shin-Shonan Bypass starts, then it was smooth the rest of the way. I got to the Shonan Bellmare Hiratsuka Beach Park parking area just as it was opening. I imagine that during peak time in the summer, it’s impossible to park there. It’s a nice little park and a great beach; worth a look, since it’s relatively clean.

I got to stretching and wandering around to kill time before the event starting at 10am. I checked in at 9:30am, got my race bib (called a “zekken” in Japan), and went to the car to get my shoes.

No Shoes!

After all that preparation and checking, I had forgotten my running shoes. Unbelievably bone-headed.

Luckily I was wearing VANS at least, so I checked out whether people actually run in them, online. It seems to be a thing to run in VANS especially for people who run the beach. This was not planned, but there was nothing to be done, and it’s kind of a “first world problem” anyway. So I laced them up tightly over my socks, and went to the starting area.

The race

At 10am the organizer gathered us up to state the rules about the race. One thing that made me a bit nervous was, they did not want us running on the hard sand near the water, because there are (it turns out a lot of) people fishing there, and we could easily get tangled in the lines. After all, we did not have exclusive use of the beach. Everyone started warming up; some stretched, some jogged. I stretched more and kind of jogged in place.

At 10:30am, we were off and running. Immediately I felt heavy, like my feet were really sinking into the deep sand. Some fast runners who were participating made short work of it, and really made it look easy. There was an elderly guy running, maybe 75?, and I had thought to myself “watch, he is probably really fast”. He was, and in fact it appears he must have finished near the top.

It was really slow going in the deep sand, and running behind people making divots, was also a challenge. There was not much opportunity to ease the effort by going down near the water, since there really were a lot of people fishing, every few meters.

I managed to run the whole thing without walking or stopping, so, I’m glad for that. My time was really slow, but I feel like I accomplished a little something personally. And at the end, they give you beer, too.

Now onto the next one! :-)