It's 6am, it's cold and dark. I'm supposed to be getting up to go swimming.
Someone said these words recently, "You're nearly 40. isn't it time you admitted your age and let it go?" They haunt me.
Work means I'm not always around when the kids wake up. Shouldn't I be there every chance I get? Can't I listen to my aching body? It's always a bit stiff on mornings these days.
Sometimes the convinction wavers and, like gravity, the reality of being 39 year old drags me down.
But I go on. Mis-placed pride, ingrained habit and the knowledge that swimming has been such a big part of my life for so long, I don't know anything else.
What's more, when you know you we're born good at something, it seems somehow wrong to waste it. Even if the performance is a mere facsimile of days gone by.
I drive to the swimming pool. I dive in, it's freezing cold and my body takes longer to warm up that it used to. The old scar tissue from a torn shoulder muscle throbs for a little longer in the cold.
Then my thoughts wander.
It's been a hard three years as a husband and father. Being a parent puts simultaneously wonderful and terrifying challenges in front of you. I think it takes a real man do without a nights sleep, to comfort a sick child, then work the next day. It takes bravery to see your little boy in A&E without caving in, or have a doctor tell you your little baby girl might have brain damage and then not try and punch their face in when they've mis-diagnosed.
It takes a man to understand they will never be number one in the wife's eyes ever again. It takes a man to accept the immense responsibility to do more than protect your children, but help shape who they will become. To always be patient, to explain, to comfort, to not just shout and punish.
Winning at work, out drinking your friends, owning a good car or anything else that's supposed to signify manhood, pale next to this.
Including performing at sport. It seems pointless next to being their for my wonderful children. I love them and their mother so much.
But then I think of my parents, how happy they were for me to find something I loved as much as swimming.
How proud they were, win or lose, a long as I tried. And How pleased they were when I took it up again around ten years ago.
They're getting really old now, to the point when the fact they won't be around forever becomes less of a far off idea and more and ever present reality, quietly nesting in the subconscious.
Dad used to get up before 5am to take me swimming when I was young, then go to work. They sacrificed their weekends and their evenings together for me. Despite the prospect of all that time, they were still heartbroken when I packed in serious racing before my time, but they understood.
Trying to keep swimming at a decent level feels in many ways feels like a way to love and honour my parents and respect what they've done for me. Because, one of the many things they've taught me, is that everyone should be respected and valued. Everyone can do something well if you look hard enough,and everyones talent should be celebrated, no matter what it is.
This seems more important in these instant gratifications times, where people get rich or famous for doing nothing.While the quiet bravery of those that struggle everyday is forgotten. This is something want my children to understand as they grow up.
Then I'm not really thinking any more as I cut through the water. I'm just doing. I'm in a waking dream, totally in touch with my body as it remembers it can do this.
And it feels like home.
It feels like what it was like to be a child, when nothing needed a point, the joy was simply in the doing. You didn't think about playing, you just played.
I'm well into my session now. People often ask how I can spend so long in a pool, just going up and down. It's hard to explain what it's like. How you get to a state where you're not thinking, you're just focused on the act, fully aware of every stroke, every second, every turn.
How quieting the cacophony in the mind, not worrying about what's next, not going over what's happened, not second guessing, not trying to do ten things at once, lets your subconscious talk to you.
It's an escape, but that escape leads to ideas, solving of issues.By not thinking of them.All that stuff bubbling in the back of the mind just drifts forward. There are few problems or issues that don't seem easier after a good hard swim.
Swimming also stops me going soft, provides ballast. The harder it gets, the more it matters.That's whay that 6am conflict matters so much. If I give in to that, I start to crumble under all sorts of other temptations.
But it's not really any of that. The only point to swimming is swimming.
It doesn't have a purpose, it doesn't need it.
The act is enough.
Which in turn, reminds me how to live in the present and appreciate what's under my nose.
In my marriage, to not always pursue distractions, to just 'be' sometimes.
With my children, to not always be educating or even worse, having something more pressing to do. To just play for the sheer joy of playing.
Guess I'm saying that swimming is a contradiction.
It takes me away from wife and children.
Yet swimming helps me work out how to be a better father and husband.