Fourteen years of ferrying the US mail to more than 250 homes a day on foot has taught this postal worker a thing or two about staying fit.
Mailmen deliver. That’s simply what they do. Lucky for us, Keith Smarte, who strides as much as 9 miles a day, 6 days a week, delivering the US mail to the folks in his small corner of Bethesda, MD, is no exception. Walking Fit caught up with Smarte on his route, trotting alongside a pair of eye-poppingly powerful calves just long enough for their owner to deliver a tip or two on how to walk like a pro through — you guessed it — rain, sleet or snow.
Walking Fit: When it’s hot and sunny, what’s the best way you find to stay cool on the job?
Keith Smarte: Those mail trucks don’t have air-conditioning, you know — just a little fan. So I down the fluids. Water is the key — the nectar of the gods, I always say. If you drink at least eight glasses of water a day, there’s nothing you can’t do.
WF: Including lugging a mailbag filled with Vogue’s fall fashion issue, right? Where do you stash your water bottle?
KS: I keep a gallon jug of spring water in my mail truck, and I order my streets to make sure I come back by the truck every so often. My daily goal is to drink the whole gallon during the 8 hours I’m carrying the mail. It’s fuel, really.
WF: Any other favorite fuel sources?
KS: Breakfast is a biggie. I always eat a substantial meal — today I had waffles, fruit and ham — packed with protein and carbohydrates that will give me all-day energy.
WF: Speaking of all-day energy, does your pace tend to slow as the day progresses?
KS: Sometimes, yes. But most of the time, I try very hard to keep my stride uniform and my pace steady — even when I’m pushing up or powering down hills. I find that my energy level stays about even if I keep an even pace throughout my route.
WF: Do you pump your arms to help maintain your momentum?
KS: Sure do. When I’m carrying lots of mail, I usually have my arms up in the air a little bit, but when I’m carrying less, I try to pump my arms vigorously. I find it helps with my momentum and my breathing, which tends to be more rhythmic and regular when I use my arms as well as my legs.
WF: The occasional blister must disrupt your pace at times, no?
KS: Never get ’em! Really. I never get blisters because I wear double socks — two pairs of white tube socks, to be specific. I swear by the extra layer of protection and cushioning. I use the same strategy when I run trails or mountain-bike after work, too, because the double layer seems to protect my feet better than any type of shoe insert or padding.
WF: Walking all day every day must get boring. Have you devised any creative ways to make your long walks more interesting?
KS: I mix up my course — for instance, I’ll do my route backwards every now and then. Sometimes I compete against myself, measuring my pace and my progress on a particular day against how I’ve done at other times. But most days, I simply create a new world for myself in my mind. I’ll imagine, for instance, I’ve just won a million dollars, and as I walk I’ll decide what I’m going to do with the money. The trick for me is to keep my mind so completely occupied while I’m walking that it won’t have the opportunity to convince me that I really should stop and take a load off.
WF: So I take it neither you — nor Uncle Sam — believes in taking frequent rest stops.
KS: Nah, I try to keep my legs moving and the blood flowing at all times. You may think you’re helping your pace by resting your legs every so often, but you’re actually hurting your momentum. Try walking a mile sometime, but stop every quarter-mile for a few seconds, then start up again. I think you’ll find it’s actually a heck of a lot harder than simply walking the mile without stopping.
WF: What’s the best way to make sure you finish “strong”?
KS: A hearty breakfast. Lots of water. And a big-picture sensibility. I try to remember that even though my muscles are fatigued and I’m asking them to do more, the next time it’s not going to feel like as much work, because they’ll be fitter, more trained and used to it!
WF: One last question before we let you finish delivering today’s mail: What happens if you need to go to the bathroom while you’re out on your route?
KS: Luckily, on my route, there are a couple of schools where I can stop in if I need to. If I’m not near one of them, I’ll just wait. But then, hey: I’m only 38 years old — I can still control my bladder! Talk to me when I’m 58, and maybe I’ll be banging on every other door on my route! Until then, I’m all right.