It’s official. The gym scales reveal a horror: 71.2kg. In a month of hot-weather travel, my 183cm frame shed 3.6kg.

But far worse: it’s been lost as a huge chunk of muscle tone, sculpted steppes of flesh turned to mere dripping greasy strings under my dermis. In the pool for the first time since July, I managed just 30 lengths before exiting the water, puffing, limbs turned to reeds thrashing pathetically in water turned to syrup.

I have degenerated to the lowest common denominator of 21st century urban masculinity. I am not … different now. I have become … ordinary. I am like a vampire sipping a silver-and-garlic cocktail in the hot sun.

I am emasculated. Neutered.

The desert has stolen from me.

Three kilos plus of solid body mass, lost to the heat and parch of North Africa. I am just a man, now. No faster. No stronger. Still smarter (obviously) but that counts for little in our celebrity-obsessed, image-conscious, surface-is-everything world. I can no longer walk the midnight streets with confidence. No longer ride the tracks to the wrong side, exaltant. I may have to learn what fear feels like.

I have to live life – the next two months at least – as a normal man. Three years of weekly swim / bike / run and a daily 99 crunches + pressups + squats mean… nothing any more. How quickly the elite become… shadows and dust.
And yet, perhaps something good can come of this. Walking among the Normals, I will learn from them, even understand them. I will become their friend, and save myself from irrelevance. I will learn humility.

And in the coming months, as my body walks the path back towards true health, I will remember. What I have gained, from weights and wheels and water and the grim enjoyment of pain. And how it all, so easily, can be lost.

Shadows and dust.


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