BOULDER, COLO. — A winter storm that blustered through Boulder, Colo. Wednesday afternoon punctuated how much has changed in a year for former Island School runner Pierce Murphy.
Murphy has had a lot of adjusting to do since joining the University of Colorado cross country team this fall.
In Hawai‘i, Murphy had no equal. He breezed through his Kaua‘i competition, took home the state cross country title and was named Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year for his efforts this spring. The accolades he received were countless. The records he set were numerous. But in Colorado, things are different for Murphy.
And it begins with the weather.
“It’s cold here,”said, laughing through the phone at the Boulder campus. “I’ve ran in some colder temperatures before in California but nothing like here.”
Factors such as elevation, a full slate of classes and meeting new friends are also challenges for Murphy, but the biggest change for the Kauaiian is the lack of competing.
The Colorado Buffalo men’s cross country team is currently ranked seventh in the nation. A team that is filled with polished juniors and seniors, the Buffalo have the luxury of delaying the arrival of prized prospects such as Murphy.
Buffalo head coach Mark Metmore decided to redshirt Murphy for the cross country season, meaning that Murphy still practices with the team, but he doesn’t participate in races. This move will give Murphy an extra year of eligibility.
“It’s rare for a male to not redshirt in cross country,” Metmore said. “In NCAA Division I athletics, you have 23-year-olds on their fifth year of eligibility and they are just out of reach of the average 18-year-old freshman.”
While being a redshirt is a move that should eventually pay off for him in a few years, going from being the face of running on Kaua‘i to the proverbial sideline takes some getting used to.
“It’s a big change,” Murphy said. “But I figured it would happen. I didn’t expect to come in here and be as good as I was back home.”
Practicing everyday with some of the best runners in the country has given Murphy a glimpse of something he hasn’t seen in a very long time: runners in front of him.
In Hawai‘i where Murphy was often found in front of the pack, in Boulder, Murphy is right in the middle of it. With runners of equal or greater talent than he, Murphy said he is pushed everyday at practice and only continues to improve.
“I like that there are guys that are just as fast or faster than me,” he said. “I like having company.”
Running with the pack has other advantages as well. Murphy said on days when practice isn’t as strenuous, the guys converse during runs. Freshman year at a college an ocean away can induce some longing for home, but the time Murphy has spent with his team has helped ease the transition into college life.
“We hang out a lot,” Murphy said of his teammates. “If I wasn’t on the team I don’t think I would know anyone here.”
There are things Murphy does get a little big homesick for. While Boulder has great outdoor recreation such as skiing, snowboarding and plenty of running trails, Colorado is a little bit further than a stone’s throw away from a beach.
“I miss surfing,” Murphy said. “There isn’t much of that here,” he said.
In the coming months and years, Murphy isn’t likely to have time to miss surfing. Once the cross country season ends, Murphy will jump right into preparation for the indoor track and field season. That season, which begins in the first months of the new year, might offer Murphy the chance to compete.
“There is a pretty good likelihood he’ll race during the indoor season,” Metmore said. “The indoor season is a good opportunity to learn about structure and mechanics.”
And while Metmore hasn’t seen much of what Murphy can do in competition, he said he’s impressed with what he’s seen out of him so far in practice.
“We’re thrilled with him,” he said. “He’s trained great and fit right in with the team. He’s a very nice little runner for us. He just needs to stay patient.”
That patience will be tested yet again this weekend. The Buffalo will be in Tempe, Ariz., for the PAC-12 Championships, but like all the other redshirts, Murphy will stay behind in Boulder.
He plans on watching the meet online, wishing his team well, while on the inside he’ll be quietly waiting for the day it will be him the others watch.
“The other guys are just fast,” Murphy said. “I’m hoping that next year I’ll be on that team.”