How parkrun helped turn Chris Murphy into an Australian ultramarathon champion

Not so long ago, Chris Murphy was unfit, unmotivated and stressed out. He was working long hours and couldn’t find the time to exercise or relax.

Then he was hit with myocarditis — a disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle.

Things got harder. Just walking up stairs was a challenge.

“I’d have to take a breather halfway up,” the 38-year-old said.

It slowed him down for a good two years, and he became frustrated by his lack of fitness.

Running wasn’t easy at first, but Murphy kept at it with the support of his wife Nicole.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

“And then between the poor lifestyle, drinking, stress, and a desk job, I’d put on a few extra kilos than what I was happy with.”

Despite never being a runner, Chris decided to give it a go after consulting his cardiologist.

“I started off just running around the block,” Murphy said.

But those first 10- to 15-minute runs weren’t easy.

But he persisted, and soon bumped into someone who told him about parkrun.

Chris and Nicole Murphy run on a concrete path.
Chris and Nicole are now regulars at the Airlie Beach parkrun in Queensland.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

“It sounded so good, so I registered, printed my barcode and turned up,” he said.

Eventually parkrun became a habit, and his gateway into the world of competitive running.

Setting goals and achieving them with parkrun

It was July 2016 when Chris first lined up at parkrun. His local is Airlie Beach, one of more than 400 locations across the country.

He’s now clocked up 124 runs and has volunteered 29 times.

Chris Murphy checks his watch as he runs with his son at Airlie Beach parkrun.
Murphy’s son Calvin even gets involved, whether it’s running or helping to volunteer.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

“During the week I’d run a bit more in the hope I’d go a little bit faster or be more comfortable at the next parkrun.

“But once I got into it, parkrun was that gauge every week to see if I was improving or not.”

And he was. Every couple of weeks, he would record a new personal best.

It’s what kept him going then, and what keeps him motivated now.

“It was that internal competitiveness, that’s what’s driven me the whole way through,” he said.

And it also made him curious as to what else his body could do.

Half marathons, ultra-trails and pushing limits

After enjoying parkrun, Murphy decided to “see how far I could push things”.

He did a few 10km training runs, and then decided to enter a half marathon. He did better than expected, so signed up for three more.

That led to joining the Whitsunday Running Club, where he received guidance about his technique, motivation and confidence.

A group of runners stop for a photograph.
Murphy (middle) joined the Whitsunday Running Club, which led to his first trail event.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

When the club organised a 28-kilometre trail run, Murphy was quick to sign up.

Next, he tackled the UTA 100 – a 100-kilometre trail run in the Blue Mountains – which he admits was way outside his comfort zone.

He trained hard and expected a 16-hour finish, but smashed that time to finish in just over 14 hours.

He claimed a bronze buckle for his effort, but that didn’t quite cut it for the fierce competitor in him. He returned a few months later to try for silver — and got it.

UTA100 2018 (2)
Signing up but feeling way out of his comfort zone, Murphy (right) competing in Ultra Trail Australia in 2018.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

The theme of setting goals and achieving them was well and truly set. As the goals became more and more ambitious, it was time to bring in a coach.

Murphy has been working with Chantelle Robitaille for the past three years.

She says his positive disposition really helps when he’s struggling, or when a race or training block doesn’t go to plan.

Chris Murphy at the finish line the Ultra Trail event in 2018, accompanied by his wife Nicole.
Murphy came in third at the 2018 UTA 100.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

“Competitors need to be well-trained going into these events, but the longer they are on their feet the longer they will encounter challenges like heat, cold, altitude, chafing, sleepiness, hallucinations, GI distress and pain.”

She says the key is being able to stay positive, keep moving forward, eat and drink on cue and deal with issues when they come up.

Trained up and ready for more

2020 was a tough year, with COVID affecting parkrun and so many other events. But Murphy was still keen to push himself further, so he thought outside the box.

He discovered Backyard Ultra.

It’s a form of ultramarathon where competitors consecutively run 6.7-kilometre loops in under an hour. Once you’ve finished the loop, you rest for the remainder of the hour.

Chris Murphy has his thigh looked at while he lays down.
Murphy was curious to see how far he could go, so signed up for a Backyard Ultra.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

“Each hour is like its own individual run,” Murphy said.

“So, if you finish in 45 minutes, you’ve got 15 minutes before the next run. And then the next hour you go again,” he said.

In his first Backyard Ultra in Brisbane, Murphy came third. He ran for 30 hours and covered 201 kilometres.

That got him an invitation into the Australian Backyard Ultra Team, to compete in a satellite World Championship eight weeks later.

A group of runners stand underneath an inflatable rainbow.
The Australian Backyard Ultra Team competed in a satellite event in 2020.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

He ended up winning the Australian event, running 308 kilometres in 46 hours.

He came away as the Australian champion, with a new Australian record and a ranking of 17th in the world.

That win got him a place at the pinnacle of Backyard Ultras in the United States, where he vied for the world championship.

Chantelle Robitaillie, Gary 'Lazarus Lake' Cantrell and Chris Murphy at Big's Backyard Ultra.
Murphy’s coach Chantelle Robitaillie, inventor of Big’s Backyard Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell and Murphy in Tennessee.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

He was happy with his effort of 41 hours (275 kilometres) and 13th place, but the ultimate goal is to go back and do better.

Parkrun – the inspiration for it all

Murphy’s running has come a long way since his first parkrun, back in 2016, with five kilometres no longer the challenge it once was.

Chris Murphy, his wife, son and daughter pose for a photo with an Australian flag and certificate.
Murphy received the Senior Sportsperson Award for the Whitsundays at the 2021 Australia Day Awards.(Supplied: Chris Murphy)

Despite the run no longer fitting into his training plans, he and his wife Nicole and kids Calvin, 8, and Rose, 5, continually turn up at Airlie Beach.

It’s the people that get them back week after week.

And it’s provided a good deal of inspiration to push himself to the limit.

A pretty good effort for a guy who struggled to run around the block, right?

ABC Sport is partnering with parkrun to promote the benefits of physical activity and community participation.

Reference-www.abc.net.au

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