Monday, January 23, 2012

What The 2012 One Hour Postal Swim Taught Me

This past Saturday I did the USMS One Hour Postal Swim.  You can click on the link to read more about it but the basic concept is, you swim as far as you can for one hour, someone counts your laps and writes down all your 50 splits, and then you send your results in to see where you stack up.  Yeah, pretty cool.

I love stuff like this, mostly because I like to try to beat myself every year.  In the grand scheme of things, I'm usually in the 15-20 range place wise in my age group once all the results are tabulated.  Last year my age group was won by Kelly Williamson (yep, that Kelly) and she swam something crazy like 5200 yds. 

Anyway, I've done this swim 2 times before, once in 2009 where I swam 4250 yds and then again last year where I swam 4460.  In 2010 I was hurt (intercostal strain and I didn't swim almost all of Jan/Feb) and was majorly bummed not to be able to do it.

So that brings us to this year.  When I got my January training schedule I excitedly scoured the weekends for potential Postal Swim days.  I need to do it on a weekend because my lap counter (aka Oscar the Great) has a job and can't come swim with me in the middle of the day (lame).  :) 

I ended up picking this past Saturday because I had a 6000 yd swim on the schedule and because Oscar didn't have a track meet and could count for me.  But it was far from an ideal weekend since I was in the midst of one of my biggest weeks of  I realize this is no world championship, but I do aim to be a little fresh for it (you swim hard).  Instead, the day before (Friday) I swam a double (total 7500 yds) and biked for 2 hours.  On Saturday, I had planned to do the swim first thing so I could at least be fresh on the day, but we had a big snow storm and the roads weren't touched.  That meant I had to do my 3 hour ride before the roads were clear enough to drive to the pool.

You can see where this is going.

THEN, instead of having about 5 hours between the ride and the swim, I only had about 2 hours because we realized the pool we wanted to go to was closed and instead we had to hurry to another pool to get there during lap swim hours.  This, of course, was after I stuffed my face with lunch following my ride.  So now I had tired legs, tired arms, a full belly and it was time to swim for an hour as hard as I could. 


Now I'm sure you can REALLY see where this is going.

My goal had been to break 4500 yds.  That doesn't seem like much of an improvement over last year but it really is if you think about it.  That would require swimming about 40 seconds faster which, over an hour doesn't seem like much, but darn it if swimming improvement isn't measured in 0.5 seconds!  Right?!

Anyway, driving to the pool, I started making excuses in my head (and aloud to my trusty lap counter) about how this wasn't going to go well.  I EVEN considered bagging it and just doing a normal swim workout. 

And then, then I caught myself.

UGH!  How could I be so lame?  I know that's wrong - to set yourself up for failure before you even start.  To start giving yourself an out before you even get wet!  I got a little ashamed of myself.  That is not how to go about things.  So I told my trust lap counter, "it is what it is, I'll do my best."

And so I jumped in, warmed up for about 500 and then Oscar yelled go.  I swam as hard as I could (well it's not all out of ARE swimming for an hour!) and you know what?  I swam 4565 (1:18.9/100 yd pace), about 100 yds farther than last year, and surprised the heck out of myself. 

What did I learn?  I learned that you just CANNOT give yourself an out.  You cannot let yourself fail before you even start.  You need to go into every workout and every race with confidence that you will succeed.  Lesson learned.  No excuses.

Anyway, the actual swim itself went relatively well.  Oscar stuck a kickboard in the water every 500 to alert me as to how far I was.  Yellow kickboard meant I was on pace to break 4500 (6:40/500; 1:20/100 pace) and a blue kickboard meant I was behind pace.  When I saw the yellow kickboard after the first 500 I was thrilled!  (even though it wasn't true - my trusty lap counter lied!!!)  And with each yellow kickboard I got more confident that I could do it.  My 500 splits: 6:44, 6:37, 6:30, 6:31, 6:26, 6:31, 6:35, 6:38, 6:40.  I went through an IM swim (4224 yds) in roughly 55:30.  Now let's see some of THAT action this year in the races!  :)

If I was a triathlon coach, I think I would make all my athletes do this swim.  It is a TRUE exercise in surviving mental tedium and remaining focused for a long time.  You get to 1500 and you are so totally bored and over it you just want to cry.  Kind of like mile 80 on the bike in Ironman right?  :)  But you still have so long to go.  From 1500-3500 the mental fatigue is overwhelming.  Then from 3500-4500 the physical fatigue takes over.  My arms were definitely numb afterwards.  :)

So that's my story of the 2012 Postal Swim.  Don't let yourself off the hook like I almost did my friends!  You never know what the day/workout/race holds...  :)

Huge thanks to my trusty lap counter.  Watching someone swim for an hour has got to be the most boring thing ever.  But he agrees to do it every year!  :)  And I'm glad he lied to me about that first split.  He knew I needed to see a yellow kickboard.  :)

Oscar's view for 60 minutes...coming...and going...

And finally, I must mention JoePa.  I know if you didn't go to Penn State, it's hard to understand the love that the students, community and alumni have for him.  All I can say is, he deserves all the adoration and more.  Today Oscar honored him at school:

And my FB post from yesterday: "What I will personally remember about JoePa: seeing him walking on the trail near his home during our morning runs and he would say "it's a beautiful morning for a run girls!" and we would squeal with excitement like we had met the president. He was an amazing coach and an even greater man. RIP JoePa."


  1. Great job sticking with it. You are great at getting the job done! I think we're all going to miss JoePa.

  2. Our masters team used to do a postal swim as well as sponsor a 100 x 100 day. Oddly I loved those things but didn't enjoy regular workouts. Way to rock it! I hate to think of the volume you are doing in your hardest week ever.

  3. Beth! Thanks so much for this post! I am going to do it this Saturday with my Masters Team and this is just the motivation I needed! My goal is to swim 30km this week and top it off with the 1 hour swim. I KNOW that this post is going to help me through it! Yay!

  4. Rockin solid this year Beth. Watch out world! Great job-

  5. good for you beth! that is one heck of a swim!

  6. AWESOME swim Beth!! You are a superstar!! Love your lesson learned: You do need to go into every race with confidence that you will succeed, AND not only in racing, but in life in general! You're going to crush it this year!

  7. Congrats on the postal swim - I couldn't hold that pace for a single 500, so I am really impressed!

    I agree about not giving yourself an out before the workout starts... I struggle with this (trainer power workouts in particular!) and it's something I'm working on overcoming.

  8. rockstar beth! so proud of you both physically and mentally... way to tackle that swim! hmmm sounds kinda sick but i might have to try this while IM training.

  9. LOVE IT...I can read blogs about swimming ALL these are my favs! Can you believe I have never done a POSTAL swim? I need to get on this. Great pace for sure! And, way to go Oscar for counting - that is 1/2 the battle! :)

  10. solid... and ouchy , great work!!

  11. Great account of the Postal Swim, and I loved Oscar's tribute to JoePa.