Life's highs and lows

Endurance personified, Hurley prepares for Ironman World Championships

Belfast native has worked hard to overcome — then flourish in fitness
By Mark Haskell | Sep 06, 2019
Courtesy of: Joel Page/Portland Press Herald Participants in the Casco Bay Islands SwimRun — including Matt Hurley, fourth from right, head up the hill at the start of the race.

Belfast — The definition of endurance is, quite plainly, the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.

For Belfast native Matthew Hurley, in many ways, from a young age to now, be it by the highs of athletic achievement or personal lows along the way, he has been the embodiment of that interpretation.

These days, the 35-year-old of Boulder, Colo. resident prepares for one of the largest triathlons in the world — the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship — which will be Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7-8 in Nice, France.

The race consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bicycle ride and 13.1-mile run.

The Ironman 70.3 World Championships, by and large, feature some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. Competitors must qualify to participate, which Hurley did, by winning the 2018 Maine Ironman competition at Old Orchard Beach.

In that race, Hurley finished with a 22:20 swim, 2:13:09 bike and 1:23:50 half-marathon— crossing the finish line at 4:04:43.

“Movement, whether it be swimming, cycling, or running, has always been how I’ve expressed myself,” said Hurley. “So to be able to do that in a place I love with friends, is pretty special. Of course you’re still competing against others, but the vibe is much different, and I’d say is much more about having fun then winning. No one takes themselves too seriously, which is a nice change of pace from triathlons.

The ironman competition is not Hurley’s only passion, as he also participates in SwimRun, which is aptly named as it combines Hurley’s two passions, swimming and running, into an endurance race that alternates between running and open-water swimming.

Two athletes are tethered with a long cord (they race 10 to 30 yards apart, 10 yards on the swim, 30 on the run), as the duo traverse the cold ocean waters and on-land running.

Hurley and his racing partner, John Stevens of Portland, have won the Casco Bay Islands SwimRun four straight years, most recently on Sunday, Aug. 11.

As an extra feather in his cap, he and Stevens also competed — and prevailed — at the San Juan Islands SwimRun event in Washington in 2018, beating out the likes of world famous Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong in the process.

Hurley said SwimRun’s appeal to him because “I just really enjoy racing in interesting places,” which the young sport offers in spades.

A 2002 Belfast Area High School graduate, Hurley was on the school’s cross-country, swim and track-and-field teams. From there, he went in to swim at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. for four years before graduating with a degree in political science.

Now, Hurley is the director of coaching operations for Purple Patch Fitness, which is a fitness and coaching company that caters to triathlete and endurance enthusiasts of all levels.

He also, according to his bio on the Purple Patch Fitness website, still holds the school record for the mile at Troy Howard Middle School.

Professionally, Hurley feels he has arrived at his destination. But the journey there makes his ascension even more compelling.

From a young age, Hurley used sports as an outlet. His parents had him involved in many sports and “they did everything to support me and try to keep me out of trouble.”

While at Wheaton, that structure did not exist and he failed out of school his junior year, though he later returned and finished his degree.

However, after college, “I really struggled.”

Hurley, who had since moved to California, was arrested and eventually charged with one count of conspiracy with the intent to distribute and distribution of over a pound of cocaine. He served 34 months in prison and “really thought my life was over.”

“Obviously being from a small community, it was especially challenging, because I felt like there were so many people who had supported me and believed in me, and I had thrown those gifts away,” he said. “Simply, I felt a lot of shame, for letting my family down, and, ultimately, myself.”

He added that “Endurance sports, triathlons specifically, offered [me] an outlet once I got out [of prison].”

He added that “sports were always a counter-balance to that [my addiction] and, ultimately, the one thing I could return to once I really lost my way.”

“I sort of just threw myself into it, and slowly the pieces of my life just came together.”

Hurley said his trip to France will be even more special as his, fiancee, Lauren, who is also a triathlete, along with “my whole family” will be there as well.

Hurley is the first to admit his training, much like his life, has not been perfect.

“So I’m really just trying to enjoy the experience," he said.

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