Finishing strong — and first

With a mile remaining in the 5,000-meter run at the Husky Classic in Seattle, Pierce Murphy felt strong.

With 600 meters left, he was in fifth place of the lead pack, still feeling good off a fast pace.

With 450 meters to go, as he planned, he bolted to the front.

The University of Colorado runner, in full sprint around the final turn and down the stretch, held off a field of 15 top college runners, including NCAA mile champ Anthony Rotich, to take first place in 13 minutes and 39.29 seconds. Texas’ Craig Lutz took third (13:40.30).

“I knew he had a good kick,” Murphy told The Garden Island in a phone interview Monday. “I was hoping he was tired enough to not catch me.”

Rotich closed to within a few yards and finished second in 13:40.14.

The 2011 Island School graduate, an All-American at CU, considers the race one of his best. It was an indoor 5,000-meter personal record by 16 seconds, was the third best time in the NCAA this year and will most likely qualify him for the NCAAs. It also puts him third on CU’s all-time performers list at that distance.

Head coach Mark Wetmore said he was happy with Murphy’s performance.

“He ran a time that is very fast for him and that has always advanced to the NCAAs, so we feel very optimistic about that,” he said in a CU report.

Murphy’s teammates ran well, too. Senior Morgan Pearson was fourth in 13:43.37, and junior Ammar Moussa was eighth in 13:48.34. Sophomore Ben Saarel was 14th in 13:58.19.

Murphy, a junior, said his training has been going well and he’s been careful about his diet.

“Little things like that, come race time, it pays off,” he said after the race.

The field came through the first two miles in 8:51. When the pace increased, Murphy remained relaxed and held on near the middle of the lead pack.

“When started rolling, if I felt good, I wanted to test things out and have a long kick,” he said.

With a little over a quarter mile to the finish, Murphy charged to the front, claiming a six- or seven-meter lead.

Kauai’s Basil Scott, who watched a video of the race, described it like this:

“The announcer is saying, ‘Wow, look at Murphy going.’ Pierce gets by everyone, I think somewhat surprising them. He actually extends his gap as he is approaching the bell and at that point, Rotich passes from number 3 to 2 and it’s a full-out chase at a dead run. The announcer is saying, ‘Murphy, you better go.’ Rotich closes down to less than five meters, but no closer and Pierce actually widens the gap slightly in the last 20 or 30 meters. Both Rotich and Pierce have full grimaces on their faces as they push that final sprint. The last 800 meters was about 2 minutes flat. The last 400 was about 58.”

Scott, a veteran runner who has coached Murphy, called Murphy’s run “pretty amazing.”

The son of Shawn and Doreen Murphy of Kilauea said his pre-race strategy was to take the lead late in the race and hang on. He believed if he, or one of his teammates, had a good race, they could win.

“With 400 to go, I kicked and made my way to first and just stayed,” he said.

He was only a little worried Rotich might run him down.

“I thought I was going to get caught the last straightaway,” he said afterward. “It didn’t happen.”

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