The Hurrell Chronicles: The Final Triathlon Chapter
The tale of Triathlon Plus Production Assistant Adam Hurrell’s curtain call at the London Triathlon.
East London is not an area I know very well. The furthest east I have ever been in the capital is Bank on the Central Line, so I was quite excited about the prospect of navigating my way all the way across town and onto the DLR down to Prince Regent for the Virgin Active London Triathlon. My excitement was a little premature when, upon exiting the InterCity 125 “this is the age of the train” in Paddington, I had the nasty realisation that I was about to enter the tube network on a Friday at 17:30.
My Team Triathlon Plus team mate, Rob “Moxy” Moxon and I managed the journey successfully though and upon arrival at the ExCeL Centre, and before going up to my room in our hotel, I walked out and had a look at Royal Victoria Dock. It was dark and raining. The water looked cold and black and I stood on that dock full of foreboding. It did not look inviting. “Just sack if off pal,” the brain was saying. “You’d be mental to get in there, just tell ‘em you’ve come down with a crippling case of gout or something or say you can’t swim after all”. And then the thoughts of why we were doing this came back. I had been raising sponsorship funds for Macmillan Cancer Support and Salisbury Hospice, both of whom had looked after my childhood nanny and her husband before she died of breast cancer last October. I wasn’t doing this for me. I was doing it for Sue. I was doing this for the team.
The air was cold, the rain dripped off the peak of my tweed cap and I shivered against the wind. The dark enveloped me like a great big cloak and the water dashed against the dockside. As I looked up into the misty London night I knew that this challenge was something that had to be completed, whatever the cost. Returning to the warmth of the hotel bar and two very large single malts later, I was ready to hit the sack and face the next day’s events.
Saturday morning did not start well. After one of the worst night’s kip to date in possibly the most uncomfortable bed ever manufactured, I was woken up by Moxy getting up at 07:00, as he apparently wanted to “go and help set up the show stand”. It is far more customary for me to be roused from slumber by the gentle tinkling of teaspoon against teacup or the delightful sound of the girl from below stairs rustling paper in the grate for my morning fire. Either that or my brother firing-up his Aston Martin before going to get it washed and waxed. Such an early hour does not otherwise exist in Hurrell mornings, especially on a weekend – unless you want a very cranky Adam and an even more irritable Border Terrier. Therefore yours truly went back to sleep and awoke again at a far more satisfactory time of 09:30 and, after a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, a pot Earl Grey and a skim of the front pages, I toddled off down the road to the ExCeL for a bit of pre-race reconnaissance.
Good thing that tactical decision was taken too, as the place was thronged with thousands of people wheeling bikes around and adjusting themselves in their Lycra and neoprene, whilst dousing themselves with baby oil. It was difficult to know where to look. I was beginning to think I had turned up at some fetish club meeting or other.
My swim-wave was at 13:15 and come 12:45 I had swapped cashmere sweater for catsuit-like-wetsuit and was ready by the departure gate with several hundred other people listening to a thoroughly charming chap give us his pre-race briefing. I assume it was a briefing anyway, being stood at the back I couldn’t hear a word of it. Still never mind, bearing in mind the huge numbers of people taking part, my navigation method of ‘follow everyone else’ was sure to work. Walking out onto the dockside, I had imagined it would be the closest I would ever get to walking out at the Crucible in the World Championships or jogging out to the crease at Lords or slipping myself gently into my McLaren F1 car flanked by cheering crowds. It wasn’t like that. There were a few people politely clapping but that was it. No Circus Maximus for me then. Even the dog hadn’t bothered to turn up.
Entry into the water was a rather undignified affair as we were shoved off the side of the dock into the water before swimming over to the start line. I remembered Team Triathlon Plus Boardman member, Tom “the power” Ballard’s advice from Vobster and stayed at the back again to avoid the overly competitive mid-life crisis types at the front. The first lap seemed to go quite well. My new goggles were proving to be invaluable and the wetsuit was keeping most of the Thames water at bay. Getting into a rhythm was proving to be more troublesome than it had been previously and apologies to all the people I barged into – sorry pal didn’t see you. The visibility was beyond non-existent but having trained at Fitness First Bath where the pool is in a dimly lit room and the water is opaque, it wasn’t something I couldn’t deal with.
It was the second lap and passing the now derelict Millennium Mills on the south bank when the thoughts of the reasons behind this venture came flooding back. I thought of Sue and all the happy memories. Our days out to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, having an incredible lunch at the Georgian Restaurant in Harrods, our tour round HMS Victory and standing in her kitchen licking the whisking spokes as she put her legendary Pavlova into the oven. I thought of going into the room she was in at the hospice. I shall never forget walking into that grey, dark room and seeing a woman whom I loved with all my heart being consumed by one of the most merciless and inexorable diseases ever known. Her wit, her intelligence, her wicked sense of humour – all stolen away. And aged just 46. Twelve hours later she died. That was why I was in that bloody cold dock swimming in questionable water. I was doing it for her. I was doing it to raise money for charities to help other people afflicted by cancer. Everyone had been very supportive of my swim efforts but I was the immaterial part of it. I wasn’t swimming, I was joining the fight against an illness that took my grandmother, nearly took my aunt and had now taken my nanny. The words I want to use to describe how I feel about it can’t be published.
I can only imagine that everyone who does a triathlon for charity goes through similar moments to mine. Yes, it’s tough and bloody hard work and yes, I’d much rather be down the pub than in some grotty, murky pool but it’s the bigger goal of the cause we are fighting for that makes it all worthwhile. It was at this point I decided I needed a bit of cheering up and I have absolutely no idea why but the lobster singing Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid popped into my head. That made me chuckle, and then, all this swimming made me feel like Admiral Nelson. No, not as in one of the greatest men Team GB has ever produced but seasick. If anyone could get seasick from swimming it would have to be me. Luckily the exit was nearby and upon noticing the ever so good-looking blonde lifeguard who helped me out, I was thinking, “if I had known you’d be helping me out I’d have swum 10 times faster!”
The run from dockside to transition seemed to go well and the wetsuit removal was much easier than I had expected it to be. I quickly passed some people on the stairs and pelted down the matting to where Elizabeth Hufton, our team captain, was waiting to get on her bike. She whipped the timing chip off my leg and set off. And at the exact moment I turned to pick up my towel and neck my bottle of Coke, the chap next to us dropped his suit for all the world to see and got dressed. Continuing the Disney theme, we didn’t need to see your Bare Necessities pal, there’s a no nudity rule in tri for a reason.
And that was it. My triathlon journey was over. I had done it in a time of 38 minutes and felt pretty chuffed. It was fun to get a medal as well – the first one since my under-10’s rugby tournament. But I have to admit I was looking forward to swapping back the wetsuit for my cashmere sweater. So is this the beginning or the end of a chapter in my life? Honestly speaking I see it as a sub-plot to the chapter that is working at Triathlon Plus. I haven’t got the tri bug, but I would be willing to take part in a relay again should it be suggested next year.
In the meantime I aim to drink the bottle of Glenfiddich a dear friend gave me to aid my post-race warming up, and the Border Terrier and I shall go back to sleeping in until our usual 10am on Saturdays.
If you want to help support Salisbury Hospice and Macmillan Cancer Support by sponsoring me you can visit my fund raising page by visiting http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/giving/ and searching Adam Hurrell in the donating search bar in the top right hand corner of the page.
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