Later this week I will be taking time off work, driving approximately 170 miles to Sheffield, spending a couple of hundred pounds on a hotel and then a further 30-odd for the privilege of whiling away over 20 hours at a swimming pool over three successive days, before driving the 170 miles home. Less than a minute will be spent actually swimming. Oh – and I'll also be shaving off most of my body hair.
Why? Because this weekend is the British Gas ASA National Masters and Senior Age Group Championships and I am a masters swimmer.
That's right, I am one of those people who is only interested in racing and only interested in winning. One of the elite, driven by personal bests, juiced-up on protein shakes and desperately trying to recapture my numerous past glories. Did I mention I am 6' 4", have size 13 feet, a 6' 6" wingspan and can swim 25m in 11 seconds?
I am one of those people who absolutely hates to demean himself by swimming with members of the public (or "civilians", as we call them). I am the one who parades around in my endurance Speedos and drag pants giving you precisely the time it takes me to place down my kickboard, pullbuoy, fins, paddles and water bottle to fuck off back to the slow lanes.
I train in the fastest lane of one of the fastest masters clubs in Britain. I have won so many medals I don't bother even collecting them anymore. My tightly knit clique and I are not concerned about even looking at you, let alone taking part in a conversation, but if you want to be in our gang you had better be prepared to endlessly discuss PBs, British records, turnarounds, T20s, training cycles, lactate sets and your last visit to Club La Santa. If you're particularly lucky I might tell you about that time with Sharron Davies in Barcelona.
If you do dare to swim in the same lane as me you will be doing your main set of 20 x 100s off 1:25 with at least five seconds rest or it will be a quick grab of your ankle, a strong pull, a firm grasp of your shoulder and I will swim right over you. You will deserve it because I have been swimming competitively since I was seven and I will still be winning when I am 107. In conclusion, I am a masters swimmer and I am better than you.
Except we're really not like that – well, not all of us.
In actual fact there are innumerable reasons why masters swimmers do it, and while it is true that a tiny fraction of us are fanatically clinging on to what might have been (but never was), for the vast majority most of the time it boils down to one thing: fun.
For me it's fun even though the pool is frequently dirty (I picked a shoelace and a Starburst out of the water in the same session a few months ago), often the air quality is suffocatingly bad and it is run by people who, in their wisdom, decided that rather than fix the ceiling to stop bits of it falling into the pool, they would just put up a net to catch the bigger pieces instead.
It's fun because, despite initial appearances, few masters swimmers actually really care. What it is really about is keeping fit with your friends, doing something you enjoy and generally having a laugh. At the real elite level, swimming is a young persons' sport dominated by teenagers and people in their early 20s. Masters swimming, on the other hand, takes people of various abilities aged 18 upwards – with many inspirational role models to look up to along the way.
Admittedly I am in a fortunate position. I swim for Barnet Copthall Swimming Club in north London, where we have a very well-established masters team of over 80 people. The club provide us with exclusive access to an eight-lane, 25m pool for seven hours every week, all overseen by our own designated coach, who is both fantastic and a household name in masters swimming. Many do not have these kinds of facilities, but at the heart of all masters clubs should be an emphasis on socialising and enjoyment coupled with little in the way of pressure to actually do anything.
Yes, many of us enjoy competing, but it's by no means the be-all and end-all. Instead the real fun comes from the excuses. You see, even for those of us in our late 20s (36 if we're being completely accurate) masters swimming is actually about, to steal Sir William Armstrong's famous phrase, "the orderly management of decline", mixed with the occasional wonderful blip of happiness along the way as this otherwise inexorable trend is momentarily but quantifiably bucked.
Distractions such as work, family life, injuries and a slowing metabolism inevitably mean that you will not be able to maintain the times of years gone by. Therefore, for many of us, competitions instead tend to be an ongoing, light-hearted explanation for why we are basically past it – and this is true even at the national championships.
The egalitarian nature of masters swimming means that "I have been staying late at the office" will compete with "we've just had our third baby", "I can only swim once a week because of the dog" will take on "I don't have enough time to train while having an affair" and "I broke my pelvis skiing" will go up against "I slipped on some oil at work (and that's when I called Claims Direct)".
And of course the older you get, the better you used to be.
So now I'm off to Sheffield with hundreds of others like me. For the umpteenth year you might see me behind the blocks with goggles, hat and jammers on and Two Steps from Hell blaring out of my headphones.
Why? Because it's fun.
(But don't expect anything too special because the party conference season has meant I haven't been training much.)
• Joe Twyman is a masters swimmer and, when not in the pool, the head of political and social research at YouGov. He used to run the swimming satire website Wobbly Block until the funding was cut. You can follow him on twitter @JoeTwyman.