If the rest of his collegiate career is as memorable as its beginning, Max Murphy has a lot to look forward to at Iowa.
From running one of the fastest indoor miles ever for a Hawkeye to running with just one shoe for nearly the entire course at last weekend’s Big Ten Cross Country Championships, the freshman from Pleasant Valley is already crafting a unique college experience.
“It’s been a great experience for me so far,’’ Murphy said. “I’m having the opportunity to compete against some of the best athletes in the nation and that is only motivating me to push myself even more.’’
Murphy said his experiences with Pleasant Valley prepared him well for the challenges he now faces with the Hawkeyes.
“It’s been a big step up. The workouts, both the intensity of the practices and the length, have been different, but I feel like I’m adjusting well,’’ Murphy said.
The early returns validate that thought.
In the Hawkeyes’ season-opening dual against Minnesota on Jan. 9, Murphy ran the eighth-fastest indoor time ever by an Iowa track athlete in the mile with a time of 4 minutes, 6.7 seconds.
He made his collegiate debut in the 5,000 at Nebraska the following week and finished fifth in 14:28.84.
Continuing to train for the indoor track season, Murphy experienced his first-ever collegiate cross country competition last Saturday when the Big Ten Conference held its COVID-delayed championships in Shelbyville, Ind.
Murphy finished 53rd overall in a time of 25:40, but it was how he got to the finish line that will remain a lifetime memory.
About 200 meters into the race, a Purdue runner in front of Murphy fell.
“I jumped over him, but when I came down I got tripped and fell to the ground,’’ Murphy said.
With four spike wounds on his left leg, Murphy picked himself up and realized one of his shoes was only halfway on his foot.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to think. The choice was either to stop and put it back on or kick it off and just keep running,’’ Murphy said.
He chose to forge ahead and ran the remaining five miles of the race wearing just one shoe.
“I had never fallen like that in a race before and running a race with one shoe was a first-time experience. I felt like the 30 seconds, the minute it would have taken to get my shoe back on would have cost me too much time,’’ Murphy said.
“I was able to work my way back into the group about halfway through the race. I just had to be careful about how I ran it.’’
With spikes on one foot and feeling nothing but bare ground connecting with the other, Murphy said he was forced to run a smart race on a course that was flat, but had both solid ground and soft patches that were muddy.
“I had to slow down on the curves to make certain I didn’t fall again,’’ Murphy said. “My time, it wasn’t what I was looking for but given the circumstances, I was glad to finish in the time I did and I’m glad I kept running.’’
With the cross country finals moved to the middle of the indoor track season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa sent only a handful of athletes to the Big Ten meet.
Murphy is among a strong group of freshmen distance runners in the Iowa program and the Hawkeyes viewed last weekend’s Big Ten Championships as an opportunity to gain experience.
“That was the first cross country race I’ve run in a long time, well over a year, and it was a great experience, something that will help me moving forward,’’ Murphy said.
He wouldn’t recommend running it again with one shoe, but said he also learned to not put himself in a position in a meet like that where he could get boxed in.
“The next time, I have to make sure I have room to run and I’ll have the scars from the four spike wounds to remind me,’’ Murphy said.
Murphy, who also has a few bruises as a souvenir of his first Big Ten Championships, is now anxious to get back on the track and build off of a strong start to his indoor season.
His time in the mile in Iowa’s first meet has led to increased expectations for himself.
“Going in, I had put a lot of work into being ready and I was hoping to run around a 4:12, maybe a 4:09 at my best but to go 4:06, I was more than happy with that,’’ Murphy said. “That was a good race for me and I feel like I still could cut a couple of seconds off of that.’’
Murphy joined teammates in concentrating on distance work in the fall and now spends practice time working on improved speed as the Hawkeyes work toward the Big Ten Indoor Championships on Feb. 25-27.
He’ll learn later this month which races he will run at that meet for an Iowa team that is among the title contenders.
“It’s great to be part of the program here now with so many good teammates,’’ Murphy said. “We’re pushing each other and I’ll be ready to run whatever I’m needed to run to help the team when the Big Tens come around.’’
An engineering major, Murphy said he has developed an appreciation for bringing consistency to the way he trains.
“Being part of a good team helps push me,’’ Murphy said. “I’ve had some good experiences already and I’m looking forward to more.’’