I used to adore that feeling of exhaustion, it made me feel like an athletic goddess. Golden adrenaline and a bloody great smile unquestionably accompanied that well earned evening on the sofa with an enormous plate of food and wind-kissed skin.
Then I hit 38, and physical exhaustion began to feel like torture. Pushing myself became similar to putting on a 5mm wetsuit with Raynaud’s. You can do it, but at a quarter of the pace of the people around you.
Last week I forgot this and pushed myself, again. I took part in a 24-hour Mega Swim to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis, and swam 7km through the night, 600m of that butterfly. Yes, that’s 12 long laps of a stroke I have little understanding of, in a very large pool.
Foolishly, I had agreed to match 100m of fly to every $100 I raised. I hadn’t imagined that friends and family would donate quite as much as they did, or so quickly.
My first couple of laps were tough, as my body got to grips with the powerful force of the stroke. And then it became almost fun, as I lost my sanity and fellow team mates cheered me along.
And then, oh and then, Dan filmed me.
I saw what my fellow swimmers had had to endure – the painful sight of a drowning moth. Body hanging below the surface, arms hardly leaving the water, I had been crawling the length of the pool. Dan needed to put the video on x2 times the speed of my stroke to make it remotely watchable. I’m still having nightmares.
But the most painful part has been the days following, when my body catches up with the effort I’ve put out. There’s this confusing low, which comes after the event and lasts a few days. An exhausted despair that robs me of my spirit, replaced with an incapacity to function and greed for steak and cake. It’s happened every time I’ve gone heavy on the sport recently, and doesn’t fail to surprise me.
What do I do? Hold back on the big challenges; build up my fitness gradually; respect the ageing process? I’d love to honour all of these, but life’s too irresistible, and I’ve tried being cautious. It’s dull.
So, I’ll apologise in advance, to my team mates and friends. For making them watch the 2km of ‘drowning moth’ I’ll be swimming next year, and putting up with the calls of despair that follow. It is for a worthy cause, after all.