Allentown's Liam Murphy Gearing Up For A Big XC Season

After his remarkable rookie season on the trails last fall, Liam Murphy of Allentown heads into the upcoming XC season as one of the favorites to win the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

Murphy, who gave up soccer to run XC last year, put together a sensational campaign as a junior last fall. He was third at the Meet of Champions in a Holmdel Park PR of 15:53, placed fourth at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional with a PR of 15:38, and finished 33rd at FL Nationals.   

Then last winter, Murphy scored the biggest win of his career in the greatest 3,200m race in state indoor history when he stunned defending champion Devin Hart of Pt. Pleasant Boro to win the 3,200 at the Indoor Meet of Champions with a PR of 8:54.22, the top time in the country during the indoor season, and No. 2 in NJ indoor history.   

During the outdoor season this past spring, Murphy ran a PR of 4:18.76 in the 1,600, ran 9:04.43 in the 3,200, was second in the state Group 3 3,200 (9:08.55) and 12th at the Meet of Champions.  

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Murphy and Allentown head XC coach Rick Smith for an in depth Q and A, which ranges from Murphy's goals for the season, summer training, college visits, and how much his brother, Conor, has helped shape his running career. Conor was a state champ in the 3,200 for Allentown in 2015 and is currently a distance running star at Rutgers. 

Q&A with Liam Murphy of Allentown 

As you read below Liam Murphy is the first answer under each question, for a handful of answers his Coach Rick Smith also added some information following Murphy's response as noted. 

Tell me about your summer training. How many miles a week have you been running, and  how much more than last summer? Where have you been running and who have you been running with? What else did you do differently in your summer training compared to last year and what made you decide to increase your mileage?

"Summer training has been well so far,'' said Murphy. "After Brooks, I took a 2 week break from running and started up slowly. I started at 30 miles a week and slowly increased it to about 55-60 right now. This summer I'll be hitting 70 miles as my most for the week, which is 20 more than what I was doing all this year and last summer. Last summer was my first time running seriously and training in the summer, so I didn't really know what to expect. Since my brother Conor is home for the summer I have done the majority of my summer training with him at Manasquan or a trail close by.  Team practices recently started and now I run with Nathaniel Somers, Tim Mastromarino, and the rest of my team at Vets Park, Mercer County Park, or Thompson Park.

My training this summer has pretty much been the same with the same workouts and hill work, just a lot more weight training and core, with more weekly mileage. I increased my mileage this year because my coach, Coach (Rick) Smith, and I felt like it would be best to increase it now having a season of XC under my belt and seeing how last year's summer work turned out. Both my coaches are really great and stay on top of my training making sure I'm in the best shape possible. Coach Smith gives me all the workouts and lays everything out for me which is such a big part of my summer training and success because of all his knowledge in the sport. Coach (Emily) Myhal is always there timing me in my workouts, making sure I'm stretching and eating right, making sure I stay on top of my core workouts and keeping me in check with all the weight and body training.'' 

Coach Smith added this about Murphy's summer training:

"Last year being his first taste of XC, we were pretty conservative in terms of mileage and progression,'' said Smith. "At this point last summer he was only around 40 miles a week. He's up around 60 miles a week now and will go up into the 70's this summer. I think he has a much stronger grasp on what's being asked of him, and I have a better feel for what he can handle. It's not just more miles; he's paying better attention to the little things like core and lifting too.''

Smith has noticed a big difference in Murphy from last year to this year-

"First off, the kid has grown,'' said Smith. We went a few weeks without seeing each other in June-July and I swear he shot up a couple of inches. He is bigger and stronger than he was last XC season, and I think he has learned a lot about the sport and himself since this time last year. When he was a young soccer player, he had people selling him on how good he could be in XC. Now there's no doubt; he's had a taste of success and the ambition is reflected in everything he does. He's a humble dude, but at this point he knows he has the ability to run with anybody. He's extremely focused on doing everything he can to build up for a successful season.

What was the biggest thing you learned from your first season of XC last year, and how do you think that will help you this season? 

"The biggest thing I learned from running XC for the first time last year was how to approach different courses based on a hill, or certain spots of the course, to push the pace and make a move,'' said Murphy. "Also, just learning courses for the first time, having that experience on the hills, and having a feel for them will play a big role this year too. Now that I have experience on every course it will be a lot different knowing what to expect.  


How surprised were you at your success in your first XC season last year, and how much confidence did that give you for indoors and outdoors?

"It really was a huge shock to my family, coaches, and me,'' said Murphy. "It was a difficult decision to transition from soccer to XC since I was not ready to give up playing soccer with my friends, but I knew it had to be done if I wanted to take running to the next level and try to run in college. Having the season I did really boosted my confidence and made me feel like I made the right decision for sure. I was thrilled that I made Footlocker Nationals and the experience in San Diego could not have been better.  I was hoping for a better result at Footlocker Nationals, but I couldn't have asked for a better season. Overall, it just made me more excited to work harder for indoor and outdoor.'' 

Obviously your upset victory over Devin Hart to win the Meet of Champions 3,200m last indoors season was the biggest win of you career. What did that victory do for your confidence and what did it mean to you?

"That race was a big surprise to me and just about everyone else in New Jersey,'' said Murphy. "It really meant a lot to me, and just showed me and everyone else that if you work hard and put in the time, results like that can happen. After that race my confidence and love for running was at an all time high, and I couldn't wait for Nationals. Unfortunately the Monday of the week of Nationals, I ended up getting the flu and was debating on whether or not I should run. Later in the week after staying home from school, I ended up feeling better than I thought I would, and figured I worked so hard to get to this point, I might as well run. My confidence was still high from MOC, and I figured I was still in the best shape ever. I ended up getting nowhere close to what my goal was, but spring was soon to come and it just made me hungrier for the season.'' 

After such a great XC season and winning the 3,200 at Meet of Champions indoors as a junior, I'm sure you have some huge goals for your senior year. What are your biggest goals for this season, and what kind of time are you shooting for at Holmdel Park?

"Some of my goals for XC are to win sectionals as a team, make MOC as a team, win MOC individually, win Footlocker Northeast, hopefully get an At Large Bid to Nike, and get the Gatorade State Runner of the Year,'' said Murphy. "I find setting the bar high and aiming high motivates you, makes you work harder everyday and keeps you excited for all future races.  My XC season last year encouraged me to create bigger goals for myself and hopefully with hard work and training I can achieve some or all of these goals!''

Every distance runner in the state dreams about winning a Meet of Champions XC title. After finishing third last year at the XC Meet of Champions, how hungry and motivated are you to finish first this season, and what would it mean to you win it?

"I'm very motivated and excited for this year's XC MOC being the top returner and having another shot at the title,'' said Murphy. "I know it will not be an easy task with all the great talent NJ has in XC, which will make it an exciting and competitive race. Winning that title would mean so much to me knowing I would join the elite few in NJ's history that has the rank of being a XC MOC winner. Thinking about that race pushes me everyday to work harder and harder and just get better overall.''  

How about Foot Locker Nationals. After placing fourth in the Northeast Regional last year and 33rd at Nationals, what are your goals for regionals and nationals this season?

"Just making it to Nationals all the way out in San Diego is an honor in and of itself, and any spot in the top 10 is a great outcome,'' said Murphy. "My goal for Regionals is to hopefully come away with the win, but knowing how good the Northeast Region is and how many guys out there all have a shot to win, I know it won't be a light race. My goal for Nationals last year was to get top 15 and I unfortunately came up very short of that goal. I hope to achieve that goal this year, and if not better! Running with the best of the best in the country is never easy and just getting the opportunity to race against so many talented runners is an amazing experience. On top of that I hope my season is good enough to earn a spot at Nike Cross Country Nationals through the At Large Bid, in order to get the opportunity to take part in that great race and weekend that Nike puts on!''

Coach Smith said the experience Murphy got last year at nationals should help him a great deal this season.  

"It's certainly a goal to get back to San Diego, and I think if he's able to do well at Regionals that he'll want to have a good race out at Foot Locker the second time around,'' said Smith. "It was a great experience last year, he had a really special string of races to get out there, and I think with another shot at it he'll have a good chance to do some damage on the big stage.''

Smith's goals for Murphy are simple.

"I just want him to consistently make progress towards being his absolute best,'' said Smith. "On natural progression, he should do great things over the course of his senior year. Just being more experienced and learning lessons will take him a long way. Indoor MOC was a glimpse of what he's capable of. If he wraps his head around what it takes to tap into that, there's no telling what he can accomplish next.'' 

When is your first race this season and what is your schedule like? Are you racing at the Bowdoin Classic, Shore Coaches or the Manhattan Invit.? Any other big invitationals?

"My first race will be at Ocean County Park this year, so my team and I are hoping to run fast and drop some big PRs early on,'' said Murphy. "After that I'll have some small conference meets and dual meets here and there to use them as workouts to get in better shape. Some other big races I'll be in this season are Shore Coaches and the Manhattan Invitational. This year will be my second year running at Shore Coaches and I'm excited to get back to the Bowl early in the season. This will be my first time running in the Manhattan Invitational, however I have run at Van Cortlandt before for the Footlocker Regional Race.  I am looking forward to running in both races and also look forward to the opportunity to get more experience on both courses. After that the Championship season starts and I'm really excited to see how it turns out and see what I can run!''

Smith added this about Murphy's schedule:

"The biggest meets of the year are obviously MOC and Regionals, so we will workout at Holmdel a good deal and Murph will race on those courses at Shore Coaches and Manhattan,'' said Smith. "Bowdoin is on the table because of the level of competition, but he'll still be training pretty hard at that point. We'll most likely skip Bowdoin and ideally he'll be ready to rock for that big week with Shore Coaches and Manhattan on back to back Saturdays in early October. Then our schedule spreads out a bit with counties and sectionals coming after gap weeks.

"The best 5k of his life was at Van Cortlandt last November, so it'll be exciting to see what he can do there this year. It's exciting to think about him racing anywhere, but at this point we're just starting to dig in to training. There's a lot of work to do between now and then.''

Smith said Murphy has something to prove this season. 

"I think Murph feels like he has a lot to prove this season,'' said Smith. "All he ever wants to do is win, and that feeling gets intensified when a kid shows what he's made of in these big spots. No buzz or hype is ever going to exceed his internal motivation. He has run at Holmdel on his own a good deal and we'll give him some more opportunities to become absolutely comfortable on that course to be in a good position for the showdowns in Groups & MOC.

I know he's got his eye on those big meets, but to be at his best there we have to focus on the steps leading there in August, September and October. With all the success last year there was always the fact that he had one more year to do even more; now he wants to leave it all out there and build on what he's been able to do as an underclassman. I feel like it has affected his teammates, too. We have a strong group of seniors that have been busting it this summer to see how well they can do in their final year, and Murph is obviously going to lead the way.'' 

How and why did you get started in running? I would think the success of your brother, Conor, had something to do with it? 

"I started running in 6th grade grade for my middle school spring track team because I was always told how fast I was on the soccer field, and every coach said my best aspect was my speed and endurance,'' said Murphy. "Along with that, my brother was just starting to become successful in running so my parents suggested I should try it out. I ran Spring Track 6th and 7th grade but then didn't do it in 8th because I wanted to focus on Soccer. My family doesn't have a big background in running besides me and brother, so my brother's success and accomplishments  in running is really what got me involved and motivated to do it, (along with my parents encouragement.)'' 

How much has it helped you to have a brother who is a great runner? How has he helped you and inspired you?

"Having a brother who runs and traveled down the same path I'm on now is so beneficial and great in so many ways,'' said Murphy. "Whenever I have any questions or concerns with anything running related or anything in general, I ask him and know I'll get a response that will help me out so much. I'm really so fortunate to have him in my life since he always has great advice and tips to help me become a better runner. Conor could not be more supportive of me since I began running. He is a huge reason I decided to run and I attribute a lot of my success to him.'' 

What do you love most about running? And what do you love the most about running in NJ?

"I love the grind that comes with running and how much needs to be put in to be successful in the sport,'' said Murphy. "There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment you get after a race especially when you get the result you're looking for or hit the time you want.  I love the stress free feeling that comes when I go for a run. Most importantly, I love that it keeps me active and focused throughout the year which keeps me on track both athletically and academically. My favorite thing about NJ running is how much talent there is in every event and race. This  pushes everyone to do their best, which in turn brings out the best in every runner. Another aspect I love about NJ running is that everyone is so supportive in the running community and everyone knows each other. I have made some really great friends since I started running.''

Have you lined up any official college visits yet? If so, where and when? 

"Right now I'll be taking an official visit to Villanova on September 14th, and Georgetown on September 28th,'' said Murphy. "I'm still talking to other schools and planning on setting up the other 3 official visits; I am excited to see where I end up taking them!''