During my morning sessions at the pool, I like to keep myself going by ‘racing’ fellow swimmers.
I use inverted commas there because my opponents have absolutely no idea that a race is taking place, given that the narrative takes place entirely in my own head.
Until one morning this week, when we all went head-to-head for real.
The unusual scenario played out when I arrived at the pool to find the curious sight of everybody lined up in the shallow end, backs to the wall, as if they had been called to stand outside the headteacher’s office. Presumably for flooding the school.
I whipped off my shoes, shirt and shorts to reveal my swimsuit beneath them, stuffed my bag into a locker, endured the obligatory couple of seconds beneath the cold poolside shower, and found myself a gap in the line to jump into.
“What’s going on?” I asked the bloke waiting next to me as I pulled on my goggles and cap. “The lifeguard’s late”, he replied. “They say we can’t start until he gets here”.
A few more moments passed. “Shall we have a race?”, I asked, my question greeted by polite laughter. Screw that… I wasn’t joking.
It was at that point that The Walking Dead arrived and stood at poolside.
“ON YOUR MARKS…”, he roared, looking more thrilled than anyone has ever looked before. “…GET SET…”
…and would you believe it, the bastards actually went on ‘GO’.
Meanwhile, I stood still, alone, like a moron, waiting for official permission from the still-absent lifeguard.
After a couple of seconds, I realised that this was no time for playing by the rules. There was a race to be won.
I surged forward, trying to eliminate the head-start I’d unwittingly granted to my adversaries, and soon overcame much of the chasing pack (mainly because I, unlike most of them, am under the age of 60).
By the 15 metre mark, I had just two swimmers in front of me. Two very capable young ladies, whom I can identify only by the colours of the silicone hats atop their heads – Red Cap and Blue Cap.
The gap was shortening as we approached the end of the 30 metre length, until I found myself already having to circumnavigate The Walking Dead, who had begun his trot from the opposite end of the pool.
With my race impacted once again, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to catch Red Cap and Blue Cap. So I did what anybody would do when faced with defeat – I changed the rules.
They may have beaten me over 30 metres, but this race now covered a 60 metre course. And I had faith I could pull it off.
I turned as quickly as I could, and began to give chase once more, attempting valiantly to overcome the flawless front crawls of Red Cap and Blue Cap with my own peculiar brand of breaststroke.
As we reached past the halfway point of the second length, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to catch up with Red Cap. I could live with that. She’d swum a terrific race, fair play to her.
Second place was in my sights, though. Me versus Blue Cap. I was determined not to allow her to beat me.
And so, for the closing moments of the race, I’ll hand you over to our commentator.
“Into the final ten metres now, and Red Cap leads Blue Cap by a couple of body lengths, and it looks like she’s going to take this…
“…but the battle for second place is hotting up, with Tom Parker in the bronze medal position closing in on Blue Cap, having recovered well in this final 30 metres after a shaky start…
“…and they’re NECK-AND-NECK as they approach the wall… has Parker done enough?!”
*pause to wait for result to be shown on the scoreboard*
“Tom Parker takes the SILVER medal in the Men’s AND Women’s 60 metre whatever-stroke-you’re-physically-capable-of-doing, at the end of a quite ASTONISHING race!”
I believe they then cut to Helen Skelton, Mark Foster and Rebecca Adlington, who spoke at length about how proud I should be of my recovery, whilst lamenting blue cap’s decision to finish her race on a half-stroke.
What a race, what an achievement… what a start to the day!