I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Michael Murphy a 25 year old local pro triathlete, who was home cramming some training on familiar turf, before returning overseas in pursuit of success in the upcoming Challenge Bahrain.
Roxii: So for those who don’t know, what is the Michael Murphy story?
MM: I came from the surf lifesaving background, like a lot of triathletes in Australia then when I was 17 I did triathlon as a school sport and I made the all schools team. I think I got demolished at all schools but I think I was the last pick in year 11, I think I was still in toe straps at the New South Wales champs, I was able to swim and run quite well, I was an ex National cross-country runner and national swimmer so the bike was the next thing I had to master and then I went on from there. I tried to make the ITU Jr team but just missed out, that’s when I first had a crack at long course when Huskisson had the ITU long course down there and I finish behind Pete Jacobs and Craig Alexander, just behind Craig Alexander. And that was when I thought “you know what, I think I have got the talent, I think I have got the engine I just need to develop and develop my racing brain and why not have a go ?” I’m still developing the brain. (Laughs)
Roxii: So that is when you decided to really have a crack and try and go “pro”?
MM: I was at university and doing my course and I thought this is not really for me I had been accepted into a team in Germany and I thought why not go over and try it out and experience what triathlon is all about. That was a big wake-up call to me it was a whole different level not just the culture but just being full-time in a different country was an eye-opener.
Roxii: What is the biggest change you have to make when you step up and become a “Pro”?
MM: I think it’s making the adjustment from triathlon being a lifestyle to it being your life. Everything you do now has to be controlled, triathlon is a professional sport so now everything I do every factor I have to take into consideration my food my sleep, rest, stretching it all adds up. From when I wake up in the morning to when I go to sleep at night everything is in place to make sure I get every training session done right and I can back up the next day. It is my complete life. Rather than just saying “Yeah, I’ll just go out on the weekend and then swim on Wednesday”, I have to make some sacrifices, but it’s with those sacrifices that you notice the real improvements coming on.
Roxii: Like being home now, it’s not for a break or a holiday is it?
MM: I was meant to be in Phuket training but a girl kind of derailed me, but that’s part of the fun of being a triathlete, she was a bit older, an ex Miss Philippines but that’s a long story. So anyway I’ve come home to what I know best it’s a good controlled environment I wake up in the morning and know what I’m doing everything is controlled except my sisters, so I wake up, train, sleep, eat, train, train just like today trained all day with some sleep and eating.
Roxii: I know from seeing you over the years that you spent a lot of your formative years under the wing of guys like Macca, what does that do for you as a young Pro?
MM: When I travel with other athletes I notice things set us apart, some of them are a bit all over the place. One of the important things I took from Macca, is to try to be stress free and relax. But I’m just lucky that I get to train with Macca and with Crowie and what I notice is that I might see them at the pool in the morning and I know that I’ve done the same bike session as them and I know I’m younger than them so I asked myself why I’m not as fresh or backing up as well as they are and that in turn gives me something to work on. It’s the little things you need to learn, like when to switch on, when to switch off, when to push and I learnt a lot of that from Chris.
Roxii: So is being a pro athlete what you expected?
MM: Yes and no, obviously triathlon is a sport where the more time you dedicate to it the better you get, but it can be quite a lonely sport which is something you really need to consider if you’re on the road a lot. I used to ask Chris often how he did it, especially with a wife and children and that’s where I tend to struggle a bit, I get quite homesick. It is everything I expected racing wise but just the low times when you’re not racing, your mates aren’t around, you are in a different country but on the other hand I get to experience a lot of things a lot of different places but just the low times when no one else is around thats one thing I didn’t expect.
Roxii: So it’s not all parties and night clubs?
MM: Well, (laughs) it depends on the time of the year! But at the moment no it’s not.
Roxii: We all know there are differing degrees of “Pro” triathlete, how would you describe your situation at the moment?
MM: Well I’m 25 now so this is really my time especially with 70.3, I have a few people giving me a hard time saying you're going to Asia and hiding, and I say to them I’m not hiding if you want to come and race me then come and race me. One of the biggest fields in Asia-Pacific was at the Challenge Philippines, so much depth that Greg Bennett came fourth. So Im taking the opportunity to really try to establish myself in Asia and establish myself as a marquee athlete. I want to race in Australia, Australia is my home but only to establish myself and when people are talking about who is the next Australian to win Hawaii well I want to tick all boxes and become the sort of athlete who, in a few years’ time, I want that to be me. I want people to see me the viewer Kona at about 30 with a real chance of going top 10 just like Tim Berkel did this year. I don’t want to be a one-dimensional athlete, I want to be a pro who can tick all the boxes, a bit like Sam Appleton and get to Hawaii go top 10. But at the same time I’m also making the right connections with people like the Princes in Bahrain. So this is my time to make a bit of noise, I’ve been a pro for a long time and this year I started to get some good results so now it’s time to establish myself and move forwards.
I have managed to get some good backing behind me in the Philippines. There is a company over there called Phililab, they are and medical tech company and they build mobile hospitals for disaster areas. They are going to sponsor me. I was asked “what is your budget to keep racing?” to help me with my future and so that it’s not just a handout I was then also offered for them to bring in a few (tri) products of my choosing into the Philippines and then right throughout Southeast Asia if it goes well through a company that they will establish and that I will become a stakeholder in. This way I'm not 100% dependent on racing, so if something does happen I still have that investment behind me.
So while I’m getting a bit of backing behind me it’s a good time to start chasing a few points and try and head towards 70.3 worlds by grabbing some early points at Auckland and 70.3 Philippines so I can concentrate on the back end of the year and be at my peak for 70.3 worlds.
Roxii: Sounds like things are falling into place?
MM: Yeah that’s one thing I took from training with Macca and Crowie is the importance of networking.
Roxii: They are both very different guys but both are very good at the professional side of sport.
MM: yeah something else I took from being with those guys is when you see them front up for a media conference that was well dressed and well presented they know when and how to say the right things and be professional while still being themselves and thats what people like about them and what sponsors like about them and that’s the side of being a pro that you pick up from these sorts of guys.
Roxii: At the moment you’re focusing on 70.3 is that because that’s what you race best at?
MM: No I just think it’s not time yet to step up to Ironman yet, I was training with Paul (Ambrose) when he was training for Melbourne at the start of the year and he said I was crazy if I didn’t do an Ironman. I just don’t think I am ready to subject my body to that sort of volume yet, if they have their first iron distance race in the Philippines next year then I might reconsider and have a crack, I would be stupid not to if the form is there.
Roxii: People think it’s the next logical step and that you have to step up to Ironman, but as soon as you do you limit the amount of racing you can do become more susceptible to injuries and now with the changes to Ironman’s pro policy it even becomes hard to make a few dollars.
MM: Yes that’s why my main focus is to do the 70.3 races in a few 5150s to stay sharp and if the opportunity arises race an Ironman in the Philippines where I’m based then yeah I might take that opportunity.