Grayson Murphy is Exceling on Her Own Terms

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Caitlin Chock came to RunBlogRun with a proposal for features on three of her favorite women runners. We encouraged her to develop those stories, and this is the first in the series. Cait has written for us many times over the last decade. We love her enthusiasm, and her ability to let us learn about athletes. Cait does not write merely about how people train, but how people live and thrive with running careers.

In her first of three pieces, Caitlin Chock writes about Grayson Murphy.

Murphy-Giordano-5SRTM21w.jpgGrayson Murphy, Sound Running 5,000m, Heat 2, where she finished 10th in 15:25.85, photo by Kevin Morris / @kevmofoto

Grayson Murphy is Exceling on Her Own Terms

By: Cait Chock

If there's one asset that will keep Grayson Murphy at the top, it's the ability to shut out the noise of the rest of the world and listen to herself. Possessing the self-awareness well beyond her mere 26 years of life, this trait is something even more rare to find in a newish runner.

Not even having gotten into the sport until her sophomore year of college, Murphy was a walk-on to the University of Utah's cross-country team. Luckily, Kyle Kepler was the coach entrusted to usher her into the sport and he preached patience above all else. "[He said] 'Let's just use your talent, we don't need to overwork you...we don't need to beat you into a pulp'," Murphy recalls. "He was very cognizant of my young training age."

Rather than comparing her workouts and mileage to that of her peers, they devised a training schedule based off of her 'runner age'. Murphy was training like she was two years old.

Even then, she thrived. "I was 8th in the NCAA Cross-Country Championships off of 50 miles a week, that's cool!" Murphy thought to herself. When she continued to maintain her low mileage into her professional career, she took to social media to dispel the myth that you HAVE to run more, more, more in order to be good.

Murphy started the conversation in an Instagram post about the importance of listening to your body and tailoring your training to you, "I know what I can do and what I'm capable of, I don't need to do what other people do, I need to do what I need to do." That post took off and was shared by elite runners as well as runners of all levels.

In a culture where everyone is uploading their runs, paces, hours of cross training, extra core, and barre ballet classes to any social media platform they can download on their phone, it's easy to fall victim to the pressure of doing more to keep up. Yet, Murphy attests to her modest 59 miles per week average and even having an extra day off in her back pocket, which she will use if her body tells her it needs it, is the recipe for her success. The results speak for themselves.

Listening to her body, and her heart, is what caused Murphy to step out on her first professional running contract. While outsiders balked, and even thought her crazy for giving up 'a dream job,' Murphy wasn't willing to sacrifice her mental health.

Unhappy in Flagstaff, at first, she looked around and thought, "That's just how you felt as a pro runner, that's what it meant to be a pro runner, to be sad all the time, and tired, and under-fueled, and not feeling good, and not happy, that's just the sacrifice you make when you want to be good." But finally, the sadness grew too large, too consuming, and she listened to a little voice inside of herself, "I think I can do it in a way that makes me happy too, I don't have to be miserable."

The day she officially ended her contract coincided with her birthday. The newfound freedom to do, and run, whatever she wanted spurred her to jump into a last minute trail race. She got second, beating some big names pro's.

"Oh my gosh, I might be kinda good at this!" she laughed, thinking back to her reaction crossing the finish line. The immediate positive reinforcement that listening to that little voice inside of her not only reaffirmed her decision to leave, but also instilled in her to always listen to her heart about all else.

And each time Murphy has done just that, she's been rewarded. She went on to win the 2019 World Mountain Running Championships and was the US Mountain Champion in 2019 and 2021.

"To have success pretty instantly with something that I did for fun, because I enjoyed it and it made me happy, that was very validating to see, like, 'Wow I can be successful and happy, see I did that!'" Murphy recounts. "So following that thread was cool and it's seemed that has continued to follow me as long as I prioritize my mental health and being happy and doing the things that I think are worthwhile and not making me miserable. And it seems like every decision I make with that as the priority has turned out well, which includes where I am today and it continues to validate itself."

Murphy followed her heart back to Utah and back under the tutelage of Kepler once again.

One may call Murphy the chameleon of runners, she possesses the speed and coordination for track, (originally making her mark as a steeplechaser) the durability of a road runner, and the wild fearlessness of a top trail runner. The diversity feeds not only her ambition to challenge herself in new ways, but it's what keeps her passion for running burning brightest.

As runners it's incredibly easy (namely, impossible at times) to not get too hung up on the numbers, the metrics, the milliseconds. Ironically, the more we fret over the digits the worse we tend to perform due to stress. Murphy has fallen into that trap before and has learned to catch herself BEFORE that weight of over-thinking ever becomes all-consuming again.

Whenever she can feel the pressure cooker of stress boiling to an unhealthy point, she backs off, throws off the watch, steps back, and only returns when she is refreshed. When many elites have fallen victim to the boiled lobster equivalent of that, Murphy has the self-restraint to get out of the pot before she's cooked.

This isn't to say her road has been easy, or that she's always been so inclined to truly listen to her body. Another way Murphy has found herself a following of fans is in her openness about her history with depression and disordered eating. "I wished I had someone when I was going through that and if I can be that person for someone else, that's all I really hope to accomplish with it."

Admirable and brave, Murphy credits her current mental and physical health to those that have mentored her. Buoyed by her current support network, she has proven to her younger self that running at the highest level does not mean you must sacrifice your personal happiness.

Rather, to run your best, you must first take care of your mental health first. As part of her own coping mechanisms for her anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, Murphy started making her own training journals. She found so much joy in creating her custom journals, they become a sacred space to write down not only her workouts, but things she was excited about. Lists always helped her manage her anxieties and seeing everything down on paper helped tremendously. Eventually, people started asking her where she got this journal.

"People kept asking me where I bought it, and I was like, "No, I drew this," Murphy's smile present in her voice. Thus the Grayson Murphy Training Journal was born four years ago. And people can't get enough of them. "It's been a super fun way to connect with the running community, which started as a passion project and now is a full-blown business."

While Murphy is a fierce competitor as soon as the gun goes off, that steely-eyed focus is in stark contrast to the person she is after crossing the finish line. Quick with a smile and a laugh, you can't help but want to be best friends with her. Her positivity radiates through her voice and it's no wonder why 70 thousand Instagram followers @racin_grayson look forward to see what she has to say.

Whether she is busting out a road 5k off of a scant three weeks of training (like her most recent USATF 5k Championships race in New York) or digging deep and powering up the mountains, Murphy looks fearlessly, excitedly, and with happiness, towards the future.

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Cait Chock (www.caitchock.com) set the then National High School record for 5k (15:52.88) in 2004, ran professionally for Nike, and is just as addicted to running today as it keeps her sane(r). She is a freelance writer and mental health advocate. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @caitchock.

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