The Postal Swim


The USMS One Hour Postal Swim was this past Sunday.  The concept of the Postal Swim is simple: swim as far as you can in an hour.  It happens annually and I think I can fairly say it is the least anticipated–some may even say most dreaded–masters swimming event of the year.

The thing is, pretty much everyone that participates has done innumerable cardio workouts that span multiple hours in one sport or another.  But for some reason, an hour swim in the pool without stopping or any sort of set in there is just…awful.

Like with every postal swim over the past 3 years, I got to the pool early to help set up and get people signed in and registered with no real plans to do the swim.  And then at the last minute I decided to jump in and do it (I think, subconsciously, this is the only way I can mentally approach the postal swim.)

Two years ago I did exactly the same thing and went just under 4800 (4760something or something).  Which at the time, considering the shape I was in, I was pretty happy with.

This year I was in worse shape.

Two things that make the Postal Swim particularly unappealing to me:

  1. Swimming (or doing any sort of cardio, really) for a set period of time as opposed to a set distance.  Because seriously, what’s the point of trying harder if you still have 45 minutes to go regardless.
  2. Losing count of how far I’ve gone, which inevitably happens during this swim (I generally have trouble counting beyond 10 in the pool).  Once that happens, all structure is gone and mentally I am done.

So this year to combat both of these things (though I realize that this is not truly the spirit of the postal swim) I decided to break it up a little bit: 4 x 1000 with 10 seconds in between each one to grab some water (since I’d been sick all week), then a 500 for time.  I figured 4500 is a nice round number.

For this event every lane has a person at the end counting and taking 50 splits for the entire hour.  I told my counter to put the kickboard in the water when I hit the 900 mark (which he consistently forgot to do).

The UK pool has a number of large digital clocks that you can read from the water, which makes a world of difference when you’re doing a set like this.  We pushed off the wall when the clock hit 10:00.

For those of you unfamiliar with swimming lingo, you’ll probably want to stop reading now (if you even made it this far).  But if you really want to stick around, just for reference, a normal lap pool in the US is 25 yards long.  So one length = 25 yards, 4 lengths = 100, 40 lengths = 1,000 (math skillzzz).

And now, the mental exercise that is The USMS Postal Swim, as experienced in my head:

0-1,000 yds: “OK, breathe to the right…nope, nobody there…breathe to the left…nobody there either…OK, guess I’m doing this solo…this isn’t so bad…just stay long, hold your stroke together, breathe every three…1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3…I’m so glad I wore this suit instead of the other one, it fits so much better…1, 2, 3…. no parachute butt when I push off the wall…even if it is granny-cut….keep that elbow up, don’t let that left arm slip……1, 2, 3…GOD it feels good to clear out my sinuses…1, 2, 3….HHRRNK! HRRRRRRRRRRRNK!”

Hit the wall at 22:50 (so 12 minutes and 50 seconds after I pushed off).  Push off the wall at 23:00.

1,000-2,000 yds: “So if I want to just keep doing these 1,000s on 13 min, that means that I’m averaging…uuuuhhh…well, 1:20 per 100 would put me at…OK no, too confusing.   Half of 13:00 is 7:30….NO wait, 6:30…so I started at 23:00 plus 7 minutes is 30:00, minus 30 seconds puts the clock at 29:30…so I want to flip at the 500 before the clock says 29:30…so now I’m at a 250–oh crap was that a 200 or a 250?  CRAP.”

Hit the wall at 35:40.  Miley Cyrus is playing over the loudspeaker.  Push off 35:50.

2,000-3,000 yds: “…I came in like a WREEEEEEH-KING BAAAAWL!  All I wanted was to BREAAAK YOUR WAAALLLS!  All you wanted was to, wreh-eh-ehck me!  All you wanted was to, wreh-eh-eck me!  Wreh-eh-eck me!  Wreh-eh-eck me!  All you wanted was to, wreh-eh-eck me!  Wreh-eh-eck me!  Wreh-eh-eck me!  I came in like a WREEEEH-KING BAAAAAAWLL!…”

Hit the wall at 47:36.  Push off at 47:43.

3,000-3,500 yds: “OK, my face feels hot…I’m starting to get tired…I should drink some more water next time I stop…I wonder if I pushed a little bit too much on those first thousands.  Pushed it.  Pushed it good.  Sah-Salt and Pepa heeah….nah, nah nah nah nah–NO!  STOP!  Focus.  Maybe I should do 500s from here on out instead of 1000s.  How much more time is there?  NO!  DO NOT FIGURE THAT OUT!  Just see if you can hold 1:20s starting at THIS FLIP.  We want to do this 200 on 2:40. This is a 50.  50.  50. 50.  FLIP ok this is a 100.  100.  100.  100.  I’m definitely making this a 500 instead of a 1,000.  Eff the 1000s.  100.  100.  100.  FLIP…”

Touch wall at (what I think is) the 500.  Counter is confused.  I don’t even bother to explain myself.  Push off almost immediately.  I have no idea what the clock says.

3,500-4,000: “OK, let’s not lie to ourselves, we have no idea where we are.  We have about 15 minutes left…screw this, just do this last thousand nice and easy.  Just get to 4500.  That will be great. The next 900 just do 3 x 300s.  3 x 300s is no problem, do that all the time. Holy crap is it possible to be pulling no water at all?  I feel like I am swimming in place. I need to work on my upper body strength.  Maybe I should start lifting again.  Do I need more protein?  Maybe we should get a Vitamix.  But $400 is so much money to spend on a kitchen appliance.  Too much money.  Our Magic Bullet is fine.  I should start doing TRX with Paul again…I wonder if it’s really lame to go back and do Summer Sanders pregnancy video if you aren’t pregnant anymore…I really liked the upper body stuff she did with the cords…”

3,900 or 4,000: (the counter sticks the kickboard in the water. I have no idea what that means and ignore it).

4,000-the end:  “I feel better than I thought I would at this point…maybe I should try to do a 500 hard?  Just see what I can go?  Yeah why not!  I can do this!  OK, try to pick it up, and…NOPE!  Not happening.  That is definitely not happening.  Ok so we’re starting the third 300 now, that means at the end of this it will be at 4500.  Or is it 4400?  Did I do a 100 before I started counting the 300s?  DAMMIT.”

BEEEEP!  Time’s up.

Total distance: 4,650.  Avg 1:17/100.

I look at my splits.  My 2300 split: 29:27.  I like almost perfectly even-split the swim.  Which totally baffles me.

…and then spent the rest of the day like this:


…watching True Detective, which btw is awesome.

2 thoughts on “The Postal Swim

  1. I’m doing the postal tomorrow at 6am. REALLY glad I read this beforehand. I’m going to have Miley stuck in my head for the full hour. Thanks.

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