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New Pro Clayton Murphy Is On A Hot Streak

by Jeff Hollobaugh

clayton murphy01Riding the crest of an undefeated outdoor season, Clayton Murphy knows that he’s in great shape. The Akron junior proved that at the NCAA, blasting his final lap in 55.84 to win in 3:36.38, a PR that produced the biggest winning margin since Gabe Jennings in ’00. Although short of the Olympic standard of 3:36.20 by a mere 0.18, it was also the third-fastest time in meet history.

Just two nights later, he did it again, easily outkicking a field at the Portland Track Festival that included some of America’s top pro milers. He belonged, revealing after the race that he had signed a contract with agent Paul Doyle earlier in the day, although he hadn’t signed with any specific sponsor yet.

The Portland time, though another PR, proved another disappointment of sorts—3:36.23, a frustrating 0.03 short of the OG marker.

“I knew I was going to be close when I had 200 to go,” he says. “I thought that I had geared down enough to maybe get under it, but to cross the line and see 3:36.2 on the clock kind of sucked because not many times does a clock run down [after the official time], it usually runs up. It was tough to see it.”

He has another chance, as he is entered in the pro 1500 at the Brooks PR meet in Seattle on Saturday. “I’ll give it a go and maybe get that standard there,” he vows.

Plenty of milers in past years have learned that waiting to get a time qualifier at the Trials isn’t a great career move. Murphy and coach Lee LaBadie will not end up doing that kind of hoping in Eugene.

Should he not get the standard before the Trials, the nation’s top 1500 men might breathe a little easier. Murphy will then likely concentrate on the 800 in his return to Eugene.

“That’s probably going to be the case,” he says. “If I don’t get it there, I think it makes the decision pretty easy to run the 800 since I have the Olympic standard in that.” He clocked 1:45.59 last year at Nationals, finishing 4th in a performance that would eventually put him on the Beijing team (after Nick Symmonds stayed home in an advertising dispute).

These days, whether Murphy should be called a miler or an 800 guy is completely up in the air. “I don’t know. I think I’m honestly right in the middle,” he says. “If I had to choose and I had the Olympic standard in each, it would be a pretty tough decision to make. Whether it is choosing to run one or the other or whether it’s running both—that would be a pretty tough double.

clayton murphy02“I think I’m honestly floating between the two right now. I mean I think I can run a superfast 800 right now if I was in the right situation but I also think that in the right situation I can run a fast 15. My training has been going good for both… I train for both; it’s not a huge difference. Psychologically right now I think I’m between the two.”

With high school bests of just 1:54 and 4:12, progress has come fast for Murphy with the help of Akron assistant LaBadie, himself a sub-4:00 miler and Big 10 champ for Illinois.

Murphy improved mightily to 1:50.03/3:44.03 as a frosh before his breakout soph year. His continued improvement this season comes as no surprise to him:

“I would say that I was ready to break through, it was just a matter of when I would be able to put the pieces together. Coach and I had confidence in what we were doing with training. I was doing some workouts going into the season that I never thought I would accomplish.”

Now that he has turned pro a year early (a difficult decision, he admits), Murphy isn’t about to change a winning formula:

“I’m finishing my degree and graduating in May, and from that point on I still plan to stay with Coach as long as that relationship works out. We’ve agreed with the head coach [Dennis Mitchell] and him that it would work for me to stay there and train, so the plan is to stay in Akron for the foreseeable future.”

His NCAA win would seem flawless, though Murphy would change one thing.

“Instead of being in 4th with 400 to go, I would’ve been in 3rd,” he says, explaining, “I kind of sat in 4th from 400 till 250 to go when I made the move on the backstretch into 3rd. And they had already gapped me a little bit.

“Maybe if I had been in 3rd, a gap would not have opened up. Maybe if I would’ve been able to stick with them and make the move on them at 200 instead of 100, that time would’ve been pretty quick compared what was.”

One of Murphy’s biggest strengths is his skill on the tactical field. He says, “I came from really small high school in a not-really competitive area. A lot if the racing I did was racing to win. And I’d say a lot of my collegiate running put me in situations where I’ve done a lot of tactical racing. I had to learn how to win tactical races from the front, from the middle, and from the back.

“Learning those kinds of races really helps in a championship setting. It gives me a lot of confidence in what I can do.“

June 17, 2016