Sixty Minutes; how far can you swim?


In 2010 Kevin Everett (Head Triathlon Coach for the Treasure Valley Y’s in Idaho and Professional Triathlete) won the national title for the 30 to 35 age group with a One Hour Postal Swim of 5575 yards.  Four years later and loving the sport as much as ever he had a goal to best his yardage by finding a way to eke out more from his training by optimizing the short amount of time he had for swimming.

A mindful hour of movement can be a most pleasurable experience; even if your body and mind are under stress. Humans have this stunning ability to be at peace and experience wonderful bliss while exerting a lot of effort to sustain movement.  Whether seeking adventure, competing in sport, or simply challenging your physical abilities; tuning into a meditative movement is a wonderful source of joy.

Swimming in the One Hour Postal Swim is a nationwide competition.  Grab a friend to time and write down splits while you see how far you can swim in 60 minutes.  Simple.  Yet, so very frightening to dive into the abyss that can quickly turn in to a sixty minute suffer fest.

I have done this competition on and off for the last 10 years with varying triathlon focus.  A few times I have done it on a whim assuming it couldn’t be that bad…And really it is not, as long as you understand your fitness on the day and dial in the appropriate pace.  Go out too fast and you might see a grown man cry.

Jan 25, 9:45am to 10:45am

Pace, pace , pace.  Swimming as far as you can for an hour and finding your best sustained effort is all about pacing.  Three decades of endurance training with numerous mentors has taught me well.  My first and last 500’s were 5:19.  My fastest 500 was a 5:19 (3 times) and my slowest was a 5:22 (5 times) with the other 3 500’s being 5:21’s and a 5:20.  That amounted to low 1:04’s for 56+ 100s.  Final distance: 5610 yards.

Thirty minutes into the swim I just made the turn at 2800.  At that point, I assumed my goal of making 5600 was in jeopardy.  Could I come back in the last 30 minutes almost exactly the same as the first?  I definitely did not pad any of those first 2800 yards.  I found some focus in the moment and enjoyed the movement my body sustained through the water.  My first 2800 was 29:55 with my last 2800 being 29:59.

It amazes me; the physics involved with the mind, body, and soul to be so precise.  I took over 2600 strokes and made 224 flip turns over those 60 minutes; each one taken with an exacting precision to maximize balance, speed, and efficiency.  What is cool to me is the ability to feel the right pace.  Finding a rhythm with your breathing, heart rate, kick and stroke that reaches the optimal effort without dipping into overdrive for even a few seconds.  Being in tune with the day to day flow of the body is rewarding.  With practice you can have this feeling of knowing the right pace to sustain.

With a 60 minute swim your fitness has nowhere to hide.  Sun Yang holds the 1500m WR in a time of 14:31, the longest pool swim competed in the Olympics.  I’m sure he is swimming 30+ hours a week to do what he does.  To truly reach your potential for the one hour postal swim does take a lot of swimming.

With my focus being triathlon I could afford to give myself 5 sessions a week with a goal of getting in 5000 yards a session.  Usually at the end of the week I put in between 5 and 6 hours of swimming.  One of the biggest reasons I commit to this event is, to nail it, you need lots of aerobic miles and you have to understand the nuances of your day to day pacing.  Precisely the focus I need to lay the foundation for a successful season of swimming in triathlon.  It also holds me back from my default desire to go too hard and too fast well before it is needed.  Creating a large aerobic foundation over years and years of consistent work will allow your speed to come fast and furious when it is needed.  In a well-trained athlete, that amounts to a few weeks and a few speed sessions.

Often, I would only have an hour to swim.  Getting in 5000 in an hour is doable but you have to be having a good day and you must get down to business the moment you jump in the water.  On days like that my go to sets are things like 5 x 1000 descending on 12 minutes or 10 x 500 on 6 minutes descending.  One of my more focused swims happened doing that 10 x 500 on 6 minutes while taking 11 or less strokes the whole way.  Distance Per Stroke is not the end all be all of swimming but it sure is a tough/good card to play under certain conditions.  And this forced a level of focus, a level of awareness for each stroke that made for some very engaging swimming.  Your mind cannot wander; you are forced into deeper levels of staying in the ‘now’.

Those were some key sessions done once or twice a week, but the real bread and butter of the training was just, ‘going for a walk’ in the pool.  Finding that comfortable aerobic pace with a mindful focus on form.  Letting my mind be quiet and just simply enjoying the swim.  You must find your passion and your joy to begin to reach your optimal abilities.  This means letting your effort flow from day to day.  In the warm up I like to listen to my body and give it a chance to tell me the pace it feels like going.  In my younger days I afforded my body no such opportunity, my mind ruled over the body like a slave.  In many ways I was too driven and my body, always trying to please its master, would suffer, trying to obey.  Trial and error is a great teacher, but a slow way to learn.

So it is exciting, after 3 decades of endurance sports to set a PR in the One Hour Postal Swim.  At my age you begin to be happy just staying the same, holding back the clock.  Getting faster is a focused practice in the art of meditative movement and joy.

Here’s to finding your play…