Many consider getting into shape and looking good an activity that starts with the gym, but it doesn’t always have to be that way — especially considering where we live.

It’s only natural that running, cycling and swimming go hand-in-hand with living near the water, not to mention the amazing weather. Running and biking on the beach or anywhere on a beautiful day, is one of the easiest ways to exercise. All you have to do is put your shoes on and go (or even run barefoot).

Being the most accessible exercise you can do, running is something everyone has done at one point or another. But more often than not, running for fitness can burn you out and leave you retreating back to that perfectly carved out dent in your couch.

One way to make it more engaging is to ditch the treadmill. Running on the beach can work different muscles compared to a flat surface — not to mention the views. Staring at yourself run in a mirror can be fun if you’re some type of narcissistic gym rat, but for most, running in nature is far better. Since it is often a solo sport, the key is to stay motivated and committed to your goals and routine.

“The best thing people can do is find other people or groups to meet with and be a part of a running group. Sometimes motivation, the will to get out and start moving is so much harder if you are doing it on your own,” said Paul McRae, who is a running coach and trainer at PRS Running Club. “Knowing that you got a group of people that are meeting 3 or 4 or 7 days a week can definitely make that difference.”

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“This ain’t no beach cruiser. I felt like a low-flying airplane, but I would stay away from busy roads or hazardous surfaces. All that speed could be disastrous, so you’d more likely find me riding in a bounce-house or a marshmallow field.” — Spencer Rooney

The PRS Running Club is a non-profit group that brings the running community together and is located in Mandarin. The price to start running is one of its big draws, as all you need is a pair of shoes. McRae trains new runners to be able to eventually run a 5K and work their way up to longer races. He will build a program around any schedule to accommodate with whatever lifestyle you have., whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or someone who works 90 hours a week.

“[We can] slowly progress them over a period of time, take them from whatever fitness level they are at to someone who can complete a 5K at the end of 12 weeks,” he said.

The benefit of hiring someone like McRae is to make sure you stick to your plan. That’s also where the group comes into play. With almost 500 people of all running levels, there is a place for you no matter what your fitness level might be. You can join through their website at

“The running group is huge. We have people who are athletes who may be just starting and may walk more than they can run, and then we have people who are running 20-plus miles. We can accommodate just about anyone.”

For cycling, Jacksonville is home to numerous trails and bike paths you can find with a simple search. Groups, like the North Florida Bicycle Club, can offer you that extra bit of social accountability you may need to stick with it.

Swimming is a little harder to dive into (pun intended), but there are a lot of area pools that make it easy. Swimming is also terrific cardio and tones your body in the same manner as lifting weights.


“I’m no fish. I found this out when I tried to breathe underwater, and believe me, I’ve tried. But I can swim, and swimming is a super healthy thing to do. It works out almost every part of your body … except the ones we can’t talk about.” — Spencer Rooney

Jack Alderson is one of the coaches at Planet Swim School, which has been teaching and training swimmers in Ponte Vedra for the last seven years. They offer lessons to anyone and have both swim teams and triathlon teams. One of the biggest benefits of swimming is how much it expands and works on your lung capacity.

“Once you’ve been in the water and got that down, your lungs have opened up to full capacity, so you don’t have to breathe as much during other exercises,” Alderson said. “Swimming just improves the lung capacity. It helps in whatever it is that you are trying to achieve health, sport and exercise-wise.”

The school works with track athletes on a regular basis in an effort to improve their cardio. Alderson suggests people starting to regularly swim for exercise, beginning with basic strokes for a few laps before moving to timed sets. However, make sure your breathing is as efficient as possible.

“Many people think that getting the breathing repetition down is easy, but it’s actually a lot harder than people think if you haven’t been taught it from a young age,” he said. “When you are on land, you know what your body can do. Being truly efficient through the water takes a lot of time and skill to develop. You have to really learn how to exhale in the water fully and then take your deep breather, all while staying quick and efficient.”

When a majority of adults pick up swimming as a fitness method, consistency in their breathing is what really holds them up. The school is opening a new 25-meter by 25-yard pool near Ponte Vedra High School and ultimately hopes to host competitions there.