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How far can you swim in 60 minutes without stopping? This is the challenge that makes the U.S. Masters Swimming 1-Hour Postal National Championships so unique. It is a race against no one but yourself.
Started in 1978 by the Washington, D.C., Masters team, the idea behind the postal swim was to create a competition among teams and individuals all over the country without travel expenses. Participants did the event at their own pool, wrote their results on a 3×5-inch index card, and mailed them in to be recorded.
Today, the event is sponsored by Speedo, supported by U.S. Masters Swimming, hosted by an individual team, and attracts more than 2,500 entries for the virtual event. It’s also a staple workout for many triathletes, serving as a test set for long-course swims.
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Train For It
The one-hour swim is a great way to test, track and challenge your training. Before the event, spend time developing a personalized plan for a successful swim. Talk to your coach or use your best judgment to determine what pace you can hold for 60 minutes. Just like any endurance event, it’s best to be conservative with your pace at the start. Negative splitting (completing the second half faster than the first) is a popular strategy for long-distance swims to prevent bonking and fading.
If your goal pace is 1:30 per 100, swim a set of 8x100s on 1:40 while trying to hold 1:30. Tweak your plan after reviewing the test set. Increase your estimated pace if you were unable to hold 1:30 for all the 100s and decrease your estimation if 1:30 seemed way too easy.
On race day, bring a friend, family member or training partner to be a lap counter on deck—this person will use a stopwatch and record splits for each 50 yards (or meters) you complete. They will also keep track of the time and alert you when to stop swimming. Having accurate lap splits to analyze and compare to past or future events can be an invaluable data source for your training.
Plan for five minutes of warm-up before the hour swim. Include 4x25s (build to fast) to get your heart rate elevated. Divide the one-hour swim into four 15-minute segments. Have your lap counter communicate the end of each segment by holding up a kickboard for you to see. Start conservatively so you can hold or slightly lower your pace each 15 minutes. Give it everything you’ve got left during the last five minutes while your lap counter is cheering you on from the sidelines!
Many triathletes would be surprised to see how they are ranked nationally in a long-distance postal challenge. The hours spent cycling and running build a tremendous aerobic base that carries over to any endurance event.
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Other USMS Challenges
Along with the one-hour swim, there are 5K/10K (50-meter pools) and 3000-yard/6000-yard (25-yard pools) events hosted throughout the year. Check Usms.org for more details.