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Grayson Murphy Is Taking the Trails by Storm

This five-time All-American is forging her own path to success.

After an explosive breakout year of trail racing in 2019, Bozeman, MT, newcomer Grayson Murphy is definitely finding her stride. Raised in Utah, she played soccer and dabbled in mountain sports, hiking, and camping as a kid. Murphy discovered running while attending Santa Clara University, where she set school records in the 1,500 and 3,000 meter steeplechase. She finished out her collegiate career at the University of Utah, running cross country, track and field and steeplechase, becoming a five time NCAA D1 All-America in the process.

After college, she spent a year with NAZ Elite in Flagstaff, where she laid down some impressively fast times, with a seventh place finish in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships and second place finishes at both the Deseret News 10k in Salt Lake City and the Great Cow Harbor 10k in Northport, NY. Before hitting the dirt in 2019, Murphy earned a spot on the U.S. Team at the NACAC Cross Country Championships, where she finished sixth, as well as setting a personal best of 32:28 for 10,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational. But she also had injuries, anxiety, and missed her family and friends, all reasons she opted to move back to Salt Lake City and reassess her running.

The day after her 24th birthday, in June of 2019, Murphy ran her first trail race, finishing second at Cirque Series–Brighton. She literally learned on the run about key points, like it being okay to hike the uphills, and the “full body” challenge suited her. In August of 2019, Murphy took second place at the Bridger Ridge Run in Montana, then turned around and finished first later that same month at Cirque Series–Sun Valley, besting Olympian Morgan Arritola who finished first to Murphy at the Brighton race.

In September, three months after her first trail race, the still unsigned trail runner won her first USATF National Title in Waterville Valley, NH, becoming the 2019 U.S. Mountain Running Champion, and earning her a slot on Team USA at the World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina. She was also noticed by Saucony, who signed her to their professional running team. Not only was Murphy winning, she was having fun.

Murphy won the World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina, and it was there she also found the shoe to wear at her upcoming XTERRA race in Hawaii.

“I tried on the Saucony Switchback 2 with the BOA Fit System for the first time after winning the Mountain Running Championships,” says Murphy. “I wished I had them during the race rather than seeing them after it!”

Just a week later, she wore them as she ran to victory and a new course record in Oahu at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.

While 2020 hasn’t involved as much racing for the now 25-year-old, Murphy is still charging hard. She won the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 25K in March before COVID-19 put a halt to her summer season, moved to Montana with her pro Nordic skier boyfriend Logan Diekmann, and has been spending plenty of time enjoying long adventures on the trail.

We caught up with Murphy to learn more (and yes, it was a video conference, what else is there?).

Women’s Running (WR): To say your breakout trail racing year was phenomenal is an understatement! What were a few of your favorite moments?

Grayson Murphy (GM): Winning is always fun, but my highlights aren’t the wins. My sister was at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship half-marathon with me, and we spent the weekend together in Hawaii. We’ve never done a sisters weekend together, so winning was great, but her being there was the cherry on top.

Close-up of black shoes running on a wooded trail
The Saucony Switchback 2 with BOA Fit System. Photo: Courtesy of BOA

WR: What do you enjoy about trail racing/running? 

GM: What I enjoy most is the element of adventure. It feels like you are out exploring compared to roads or tracks. You can go to cool places that you can’t get to besides on your own two feet, realizing your own legs and feet can carry you to really special views has been cool.

WR: Was there anything that surprised you as you made the shift to trail racing/running? 

GM: It’s okay to hike or walk in trail running. I didn’t know that was a thing in my first trail race and had to learn quickly or be left behind. I had to throw pace out the window and focus on effort. Also, don’t underestimate the power of the mountain, she will always win. You can’t brute force your way up, you have to work with the mountain and the terrain.

WR: What changes have you made to your running and training as you’ve focused more on trails?

GM: Last fall, I kept road and track workouts, and added two or three trail runs in place of long road runs during the week and made them easier. This year I’ve been doing longer runs, three or four hours, which I’ve never had the chance to do before, that’s been really fun. I’ve also added more cross training. Biking has been really cool, and I’ve noticed it’s added more climbing muscles for when I’m running uphill.

WR: Growing up in Utah, what was your experience with trails prior to taking up trail racing?  

GM: We are big campers in the summer and really like the southern Utah desert–I have a big place in my heart for deserts. My mom would strap CamelBaks on us as kids, and we would go out for hours. Growing up in Salt Lake City, mountain sports were very accessible. We had trails out the back door and I also really like bouldering. I would trail run during the summers when I didn’t have track practice.

WR: Besides the obvious motions involved, how do track, road, and trails intersect for you?

GM: Contrary to popular belief, I think they are all complimentary to one another. The strength I’ve built in trail racing has turned back and given me more speed in road and track, and vice versa, that top end speed also serves me well on the trail. When I can run a flat trail section with speed, that gives me an advantage. The strength ascending and descending you can really repeat in the gym, so you don’t have to put as many miles on your body. Where you center you weight is important, especially downhill with balance and stability on uneven terrain, rock climbing and lifting help that, and make me stronger overall. The adventure part takes your mind off the race in a good way, I think I may be a bit of an adrenaline junky! In steeple chase, I’m short, so I couldn’t see what was coming. That fear pushed me. Same with trail racing, looking over a cliff and realizing I could fall takes my mind off the race.

WR: Have you noticed differences between the road and track community versus trail runners?

GM: One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed is that trail people feel a lot closer. I would describe track and road as cutthroat and intense. You flip to trail, and people are offering to split rental cars and Airbnb’s with you at races, and I stay in touch with everyone. It’s a pretty tough sport, and it builds a real camaraderie. The trail lifestyle is a lot different as well. I’ve noticed trail runners are more willing to go before races and stay after to explore, which is really cool. Everyone wants to go check out trails–they get easily excited by cool trails! I purposely didn’t bring a running pack with me to Argentina for the 2019 World Mountain Running Championships because I wanted to focus on the race, and not be tempted to explore.

Murphy running in the mountains
Murphy likes taking to the trails around her town of Bozeman.

WR: After such an exciting 2019, what has your approach been this quarantine season as far as training, staying motivated, and looking to the future?

GM: It’s been hard, I have to say. I had such a big fall, and it was a whirlwind of events. But I still felt over-trained, so my coach and I decided to take it very slow this spring and build up incrementally. This is the longest I’ve ever trained in one period too. Staying motivated without racing brings its own challenges. Adding in biking, a new activity, has been a helpful move. My boyfriend and I moved to Bozeman in June. Every week I go and explore a new trail, and also jump in with his team (BSF PRO) for their long endurance runs, which is fun. This is the healthiest and most fit I’ve ever been.

WR: What’s the biggest gear difference for you in going from road to trail?

GM: There’s a lot more stuff you need for trail. For road, I wouldn’t carry anything—maybe a handheld—but I would rather hit a water fountain. Now I wear a pack to hold everything, which took some getting used to. Packing another layer has been really important. I carry snacks, of course. I usually pack double of what I think I’ll need, that’s saved me a lot. And water. Here in Montana I have to run with bear spray. I thought it would be like a small canister of pepper spray, but it’s the size of a can of spray paint, it’s huge! I put it in one of the front chest pockets on my pack. I get comments. I also run with my phone or sometimes a GoPro camera because I like taking pictures of cool places I may never get back to.

WR: How has your take on footwear shifted as you’ve transitioned to trail running? And what are differences in how you like your shoes to fit now versus when you’re running a road race? 

GM: It’s a little similar in that on the road you have different shoes for different types of runs. The same applies for trail stuff, when you think about the trail or terrain and how much traction or cushion you want. I realized very quickly that I don’t want too much stack height in a trail shoe. Medium stack height has been good for me, so I know where my foot is. I also always tend toward a more snug fit for my shoes, in both road and trail. I like to feel my foot in the shoe.

WR: Specifically, what have you noticed about running in a Saucony shoe equipped with the BOA Fit System? 

GM: First off, what really excites me about the BOA-powered Saucony Switchback 2 trail shoe is that I don’t have to worry about laces getting wet, muddy, full of burrs, or coming undone. That’s why I picked the Switchback for the XTERRA race in Hawaii. The shoe in general also rides a little faster than trail shoes with traditional laces.

The BOA system is pretty intuitive to use–the way it cinches just right across my entire foot is really nice. You just twist and go and don’t mess with anything. I was familiar with BOA from my boyfriend’s Nordic boots, but this was my first time trying it for myself.

WR: What are your goals looking to the future as far as races, distances, FKTs (fastest known time), road races?

GM: In a couple weeks, the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championship is happening in Hayward, WI, fingers crossed. In October, I’m looking at going for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim FKT, north to south. The Trail World Championships are still slated to happen in November in Castello, Spain, and I hope to be there.

Next year I want to get back on the track and do something for Olympic trials. I would like to experience that. I would also like to do a road marathon. For trail races, I was really excited to run Sierre Zinal in Switzerland this year. Hopefully I can try again next year. I think that would be a really fun atmosphere.