NOV 2015 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Paul Murray, You Are an Ironman!
By Christine Bishop
Family: Wife, Suzanne; Children and sons-in-law: Rebecca Murray and David Diehl; Jessica and Sassan Pazirandeh; and Matthew Murray; Grandchildren: Leila and Lucas Pazirandeh
Occupation: Sociology Professor at Siena College, Loudonville
Sports: Triathlon, Running, Swimming, Bicycling, Cross Country Skiing
Community: Albany City Schools, Board of Education for five years
Paul Murray, noted Siena College sociology professor, has athletic achievements that most experience only by reading in books or in an article like this. He has run marathons, placed in cross country ski races, finished triathlons, and celebrated his 50th year of long distance running by qualifying for the Holy Grail of triathlons, the Ironman World Championship competition in Kona, Hawaii. Then, on October 10, 2015, as he crossed the finish line at Kona, the race emcee bellowed out, “Paul Murray, you are an Ironman.” No truer words were said.
Paul’s start in sports was inauspicious. His family was not athletic, but was supportive. He grew up in Wausau, Wis., and Grosse Pointe, Mich. Paul played Little League and later joined basketball and football teams, but spent more time on the bench than in the field. When the coach made the team run laps, he was always the first one to finish. One of his friends told him he should try track and that was when he found his niche. He was not a sprinter and from the beginning distance was his forte. He also swam and his first distance race of any kind was a three-mile swim. The University of Detroit where he attended did not have a track team.
However, in his senior year, the university dropped the unsuccessful and expensive football team. In order to maintain its Division I status, it filled the void with the cheapest sport possible, cross country running. Paul was one of nine runners who donned the college tracksuit. The team was new and won none of its meets, but he got a taste of running at a higher level and loved it. In November 1965, exactly 50 years ago, he was in the best shape of his life from running cross country, and entered his first marathon at Belle Isle Park in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. He finished in 3 hours 20 minutes, placing 20th overall. Paul thought it would be his last race, and it was for eight years. He earned his doctoral degree, married his wife Suzanne, and relocated to Mississippi in 1972 to accept a job as a college professor.
As his happiness expanded, so did his waistline. Instead of buying a new wardrobe, he decided to take up running again. He joined a club and trained with the goal of many serious runners, which was to compete in the Boston Marathon. He first qualified for Boston in 1976, a race that was among the hottest in its 119 year history. It was called at the time, the “Run for the Hoses.” The temperature at the starting line was 95 degrees. Paul opted not to take a heat deferment and ran the race. His performance flagged but his spirits soared and he became hooked on marathons. He returned the following year and ultimately did six Boston Marathons and 25 other marathons including New York City.
In 1979, he accepted a position at Siena College, and relocated to Albany where he became an active member of the running community, joining the Hudson-Mohawk Road Runners Club. One person he got to know early on was Paul Rosenberg, an original HMRRC member. After a year, Paul Rosenberg showed up at his doorstep and asked him to take on the presidency of the HMRRC, which he did. In addition, he became race director of the Price Chopperthon, a 30K race that went from downtown Schenectady to Albany. During his tenure in the club, he was honored with its Distinguished Service Award in 1983. Paul also was inducted into the HMRRC Hall of Fame in 2010.
He came to triathlons by way of an injury. In his early 50s, his aching Achilles tendon began to limit the amount of serious training he could do. He consulted a physician who told him that if he operated, the success rate was only 50%. With odds like that, Paul decided to live with the problem, do physical therapy, and try other forms of exercise. His friend suggested that he try triathlons. Paul had the swimming and running component; all he needed for the cycling was a good bike, which was loaned to him.
Paul started training with the Capital District Triathlon Club and enjoyed it. He found that with alternating the sports, he could train with the same volume as he did with the marathons, but without the pain. In 1999, the first year the Ironman was held in Lake Placid, he went as a volunteer. When he escorted a friend to the medical tent, he saw a row of dehydrated athletes stretched out with IVs in their arms. It looked like a MASH unit. It made him wonder why anyone would want to punish themselves like that. Fast forward to 2005, Paul entered Ironman Lake Placid, finishing second in the 60-64 age group.
An Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles of cycling, and a 26.2-mile marathon run. The triathlete covers 140.6 miles which must be completed in less than 17 hours! The training is grueling with the worst part being the “brick” workouts which combine two disciplines into a single outing, for example, a 50-mile bike ride followed by a 10-mile run.
His favorite race photo is of his daughter Jessica and himself holding hands as they cross the finish line at the 2006 Escape from the Rock triathlon in San Francisco. After taking a ferry to Alcatraz, they jumped off into the 55-degree water, and swam 1.5 miles to shore. Next, they pedaled 18 miles up and down San Francisco’s notorious hills. The toughest part was the 8-mile run that included some deep sand and the dreaded “sand ladder” (400 uneven log steps up a cliff). At the end of the race, Jessica kindly held back her pace so father and daughter could finish together resulting in the picture Paul treasures.
His daughter Jessica shares his enthusiasm for running and triathlon and competed in track, cross country, swimming, and crew in high school and track and crew in college. His wife, Suzanne, enjoys cross country skiing with Paul, and she’s supportive of his training and races. Though they do not participate, his older daughter and son are proud and supportive of their father’s accomplishments. His students and colleagues are amazed that someone his age competes in such extreme events.
At age 71, Paul celebrated his 50 years of running at the 2015 Ironman Lake Placid, with a goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship at Kona, Hawaii. He won his age group nailing a berth in October’s race!
When he arrived in Kona, he found an international village united by the love of sports and spectacular abs. At registration there were entrants from so many countries that all athletes were asked if they needed an interpreter. The race started as athletes jumped into the warm water of the Pacific in 90-degree weather with humidity to match. It was absolutely crazy as the water churned with 2,300 bodies in motion. After the swim, there was a mad dash to the bicycles. They ride the Queen Kaahumanua highway out and back, which parallels the ocean through desolate lava fields. The lava fields increased the temperature and they had to contend with strong winds. Most of the marathon was run after sunset, so the course was dark and lonely, with temps still in the 80s. To combat the heat, Paul filled and refilled his cap with ice cubes. Finally, at 11:30pm, he was greeted by cheering spectators and declared an Ironman as he crossed the finish line!
After a triumph like this, what does the future hold for Paul? One thing for sure is a well deserved rest. This spring he is retiring from the job he loves at Siena College. He and his wife Suzanne will travel across America to ultimately visit their daughter’s family in Oakland, Calif.
Paul plans to remain competitive in local races and enjoys cross country skiing during the winter, but the races he is looking forward to most are ones that he will do in the future with his grandchildren, Leila and Lucas. As when he ran past turkey trots with daughter Jessica, he looks forward to telling his grandchildren, “Wait for Grandpa. He’s coming…”
Christine Bishop (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a retired media specialist who loves running, photography and bird watching.