How This Ultimate Runner Does it All

Inside the World of Endurance Athlete Teresa Murphy /
By Tracey Longo

What an ultra running, weight lifting, police cadet mom can teach us all. Here Teresa Murphy sits down with us to talk

Fifty miles.

Not highway miles. Not straightaway. Not track. Fifty miles of gravel and dirt and sheer 350 degree cliffs along the Potomac River.

That’s what Teresa Murphy will run June 2 as she tests her mettle for the second time in the Gore-Tex 50, a 50-mile endurance challenge hosted annually by North Face. The single mom of three young boys came in second last year and is dead serious about beating her 2011 time of less than eight hours. This year she’ll step up to the starting line again– all while putting in grueling 12-hr days as a cadet and team leader in the Prince George County, Maryland Police Academy. She is also fighting plantar fasciitis, a muscle tissue disorder that causes stabbing pain on the bottom of her feet.

“I’d like to hit first,” says the understated Murphy thoughtfully of the 50-mile race. “I never know until the day. I always push my hardest, but 50 miles is a long run.”

Perhaps it is the unknown, the need for sheer gut strength and a refusal to quit, that attracts Murphy to ultra running. If a challenge is something with no guaranteed outcome, ultra endurance running, over rocks and mountains and fast-moving rivers, certainly qualifies. On her worst day she can strap on running shoes and run a very, very long way. But scaling rock faces in downpours without equipment?  Making sure you don’t twist an ankle or go down in all kinds of weather, in mud and gravel, ruts and gullies? There are no guarantees on a 50-mile endurance trail. It is designed to eat the weak. Much like the police academy.

But Murphy seems difficult to deter—all 5”1 and 110 pounds of her.  She gets up at 3:30 am to run, logging some 50 miles per week to prep for the race. Then it’s off to the police academy from 6 a.m. until 6 pm, home to get dinner, drop the kids off at soccer practice, gym for her, then kids homework, her academy studies and bed at 11pm. Repeat. Glitches are a matter of course for Murphy. Last week, she was zapped in “pepper spray training” at the academy, called to the ER for her son who injured himself in school and still made it to Crossfit training that evening, though she admits she could barely see the bar.

She has a mule-like refusal to quit. She was appointed team leader by her superior officers at the PG County Police Academy for that reason her first day of training. “There was a lot of physical fitness and they push you hard to see if you’ll quit. I was outlasting everyone else so they chose me to be team leader. I don’t give out unless my body gives out,” says Murphy. So now instead of just being responsible for he own success, as team leader she’s responsible for the attendance and success of all her 50 fellow recruits, a role she takes obvious pride in.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with public service or the military. I really wanted to give back and this allows me to do that,” she says of her new career as a police officer. This academy seems to be a great fit for Murphy, too, because it requires cadets to “run” through a variety of neighborhoods to see up close and personal the types of challenges they’ll encounter on their beats. “We call it “Running the Beat,” says Murphy, who as class leader, is the literal front-runner on the runs, telling recruits where to go and what to do. “We run through high crime areas,” says Murphy. “There are people living in boarded up houses. It gives me an opportunity to see reality and different opportunities to help.”

Her diligent training schedule pays off in training times and physique, too. About now you should be asking how Murphy maintains her muscle through 50 miles of running each week. “I build it and it comes off and I rebuild it and it comes off and I rebuild it,” laughs Murphy.  She packs her already tight schedule with Crossfit training twice a week and weightlifting another two days a week (dedicating one day to upper and one to lower body training). “There are no excuses and no one makes the time for you. You have to find the time for the things that are important to you,” says Murphy, who worked as a trainer for two years and still teaches a Saturday morning bootcamp at Waldorf Fitness, Waldorf, MD.

She took up Crossfit just six months ago to gain strength quickly for the Police Academy.  But she so impressed Southern Maryland Crossfit co-owner Lonnie Zeimetz, that she invited Murphy to sign up for an open challenge where she placed in the top quartile of more than 2,000 competitors. “She has endurance that is never-ending and a great grasp of bodyweight movements,” says Zeimetz. “There’s no off-button on her. Even when weight is heavy, I’ve never seen anyone attack a bar the way she does.” Zeimetz hopes that when Murphy graduates (at the top of her class, no doubt) from the police academy this summer, she’ll double her training to four times a week.

A trainer herself, Murphy’s determination makes her very coachable, says Michael Brooks, her  personal trainer at Waldorf Fitness Center. “I work on her speed and agility and her ability to turn over her miles faster,” says Brooks. “She’s just driven. You tell her to do something and she just does it. She finishes in the top percentile of any race she enters,” Brooks adds.

Her winning determination has attracted corporate sponsors, too, including Rocktape, Aquaphor, Glimmer Gear, Lin Socks and Vivo Water. “Teresa is a great endurance athlete and it’s obvious she’s passionate and committed to her sport,” says Dale Pinneke, director of national sales for Rocktape, which was designed to help athletes cope with injuries so they can increase endurance and performance. Murphy will use Rocktape for her 50-mile run to help her manage the pain from her plantar fasciitis. “We sponsor athletes like Teresa to help them strive toward and achieve their goals,” says Pinneke.

Our own Mike Cadotte, senior director of photography at TUA. Was strategic in introducing Teresa to most of her growing list of sponsors. “I just think she makes a great spokesperson because she epitomizes the determination and accomplishment that make a winning athlete,” says Cadotte, who shot all of the photos of Murphy in this story.

At The Urban Athletica, our goal is to celebrate athletes like Teresa Murphy, too, and bring their dedication to the attention of a growing audience. It may be a long, grueling run, the Gore-Tech 50, with physical and mental challenges no one can foresee, but our money is on Teresa Murphy. –TUA.

(all photography by MidAtlantic)