Tonight, Pierce Murphy will run his final race for the University of Colorado.
The Island School graduate will be competing in the NCAA Division 1 Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field, in Eugene, Oregon.
When he is finished with the 10,000, rest assured he gave it his absolute, pain-filled, can’t-breathe, final-sprint best.
“I’m just going to race it how I always do,” Murphy said Tuesday during a phone interview with The Garden Island.
It could go out slow and pick up late, with the final mile being the fastest. Or it could start fast if someone pushes a hard, early pace. Most likely, Murphy will stake out a spot with the lead pack, and see what happens.
“I’m just preparing for anything,” he said.
That it’s the final race of an outstanding career of running with the Buffaloes is on his mind. In fact, it’s given him a singular focus, a determination that has served him well since his days growing up on Kauai.
Consider his accomplishments since walking on at CU as an unknown red-shirt freshman.
He’s a seven-time All American — three times in cross country, three times in indoor track, and once in outdoor track. He belonged to two Buffalo teams that won NCAA cross country titles. Seven times an All-American. Not bad.
“Hopefully, I’ll have another one tomorrow,” the 22-year-old said.
No one, not even Murphy, expected that.
And, by the way, he’s already earned his degree in film studies.
All this by the kid from a small school on Kauai, which isn’t known as a running mecca. Despite setting Kauai Interscholastic Federation records in the 800-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter runs in high school, college recruiters weren’t exactly knocking down his door.
It took some convincing of the coaches at the University of Colorado by Murphy’s father, Shawn, that his son could run at the highest college level.
Give him a shot, he said, you’ll see what he can do.
Once he settled in at Colorado, his speed, his strength and his confidence grew. He discovered he had a capacity for pain and the willingness to listen to his coaches and put in the work, The result? He became one of the country’s finest college runners.
“Coming to UC, I never thought I would become as fast as I am,” he said. “Really, I didn’t know how fast I would be.”
He recalled in his first years at CU being awed by top college runners.
“I didn’t know how they were so fast,” Murphy said. “I never thought I would be one of those guys.”
But he is. And he got there by training, believing, listening, working, never giving up.
“I felt like it just took patience and trusting the coach (Mark Wetmore),” he said. “The coaches knew what they were doing. I had to be patient with it and work hard — it worked out.”
That’s understanding things, which is Murphy’s style. He’s known to be laid back, relaxed, unflappable. It’s that surfer dude inside.
“Pierce doesn’t seem to have that gene for stress,” Wetmore said in a story published on the CU website. “That seems to help everybody around him. Along with being a very good runner for us through his career, he’s been an important, integral part of the culture of the team.”
Basil Scott, who coached Murphy in high school and continues to follow his career and will watch him run tonight, said his success was surprising in some ways.
He came to a big-time college without the big pedigree. He was fast, but not as fast as some of the other runners around Colorado. But once there, he gradually climbed higher. He got faster and stronger.
“Every day, every season, he was doing the best he could,” Scott said.
Few people are born superstars, Scott said. Most have to work at it, stick with it and develop their potential. Murphy did that. It helped that he was in Colorado, a state where everyone, it seems, runs. It’s a lifestyle there, not a hobby. The Buffalo runners are as popular as the football players.
“He just loved to run,” Scott said. “I think that has kept him able to do the amount of work that you have to do to achieve the level he has.”
Murphy recalled arriving as an 18-year-old at CU and the culture that greeted him.
“I remember how into running people were,” he said. “I thought I was into running. Once I came here, I saw how seriously everyone takes it. That changed my attitude. I had to take it a lot more seriously than I did in high school.”
He credits his parents, Shawn and Doreen Murphy, for their support.
“They’ve always encouraged me to go for it and just do something that’s challenging,” he said. “They’ve always told me to work hard and not give up.”
Scott was a strong influence, too.
“He pushed me and he knew what he was doing when he was coaching me,” Murphy said. “A lot of credit goes to him.”
It’s tough to say goodbye to Colorado and the Buffaloes. They’ve been a big part of his life since he left high school five years ago. He’ll miss the racing on the track and over the hills of cross country. He’ll miss the camaraderie of the Buffaloes.
“I think the competitive part of it I really like and the rewarding part after training really hard for months and then doing a race and being rewarded with a fast time,” he said. “Competing with people. That’s probably my favorite part about it, for sure.”
Murphy plans to return to Kauai later this month and spend the summer with family and friends. He’s not sure what’s ahead.
“I’m hoping by the time I get there I’ll know what I’m doing next,” he said.
Running will be part of his future, perhaps the Olympics if he can meet the qualifying times for the trials.
“There’s a lot of fast guys out there,” Murphy said.
Running, he said, has brought him far and he is thankful. It got him to college and helped him get a great education and earn a degree at a top university.
At the same time, it’s kept him humble.
Nothing, he says, came easy. He wouldn’t want it that way.
“When you work hard at running, good things happen,” he said. “And it gave me the attitude to work hard at anything else I do.”
And tonight, he’s got a final run for the Buffaloes.
No looking back. No peeking ahead. Take care of the task at hand in the only way he knows.
“I’m just hoping to make my last one my best one,” Murphy said. “I’m just thinking about making it my best.”