UCLA's Murakami An Unquestioned Leader

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For someone who basically stumbled into running by accident, Shannon Murakami has gotten pretty good at it.

The UCLA senior has become the unquestioned leader of the team, developing into a strong #1 runner, who has the ability to compete with the best runners in the country.

"She's a stud," UCLA coach Forest Braden said. "She's been working so hard getting things done, she's become a team leader, she's been putting in all the work and is in a league of her own right now. If she has the confidence and believes she can do it, she can run with anyone in the conference. She can run with anyone in the nation, it's just a matter of her believing it and getting it done."

Murakami came to UCLA from Saugus High School, where she was an all-CIF performer and helped her team win the California State Championship her senior year. As rewarding as those accomplishments were, they also set her up to learn some valuable lessons.

"As a freshman I came in and I was very inexperienced," Murakami said. "I was from one of the best teams in California and kind of figured that meant I was amazing. Then I got a got a slap in the face from reality. Now I take advantage of every single day and I train hard every single day."

Despite the dose of reality, she still managed to put together a productive rookie campaign at UCLA, earning the Bruins #2 running position for the Pac-10 Championships and being named the team's most valuable freshman.

Then adversity struck. She suffered a stress fracture during the track season that derailed her training and kept her off course. It also served as a catalyst to changing her attitude and appreciation for the sport.

"My attitude in general has improved since I've been here," Murakami said. "Coming in here I didn't appreciate running like I do now. Now I love it a lot more, I appreciate that I can do it and have an ability I'm blessed with. It's easier for me to look at it that way rather than I run because I can."

Murakami started running in eighth grade two days a week as a way to get in shape for soccer season. When she went to high school and learned soccer and track seasons were not at the same time she started doing both. As a sophomore, she discovered that she was a pretty good runner and began to take it more seriously.

Under the guidance of Saugus High School's Rene Paragas, Murakami became one of the top runners in California and took her skills to the Pac-10.   The transition and competition in the Pac-10 raised her drive and expectations.

"I've told my parents that I'm probably my biggest critic," Murakami said. "People will come up to me and say 'you did great,' but it's never good enough. I think it helps me be a leader because I know that I can always be improving, I can always be better and that I'm here for the other girls."

All you have to do is look at the 2010 results to see that her determination has paid off. She has been the team's top runner all season, won the Cal State Fullerton race to start the season and finished third in the Stanford meet against a collection of All Americans.

"Last year, the breakout cross country season she had just gave her that confidence," Braden said. "The work she has been putting in over the summer has been another big confidence booster. At the Stanford race she was third and ran with some All American girls. Any time you can get in there and race well against some great athletes you raise that confidence."

Murakami used a varied training program in the summer to prepare for her senior season. She registered 90-100 miles a week and worked hard on tempo runs as well. The hard work runs through her mind when she competes in a race.

"I just start thinking to go after it and don't doubt myself," she said. "I need to trust my training. I've been working really hard and it's going to pay off. I have asked myself is this the fastest you could be running and if not, why not, you better pick it up."

One thing that has picked her up this season is having her sister Amber, a freshman, on the team.

"I love it. It's nice because for a lot of people when you go to college there's that adjustment when you're away from everything that you're familiar with," Murakami said. "I've had that for three years so it's nice to always have a piece of home and my family here with me. She constantly pushes me to be a little bit better than I was the day before."

As Murakami wraps up a productive collegiate cross country career, she has a deeper appreciation for the sport, which means her running days are far from over.

"I love the freedom," Murakami said. "I can think about anything I want and I can run wherever and whenever I want. It doesn't matter what I'm wearing, where I am or what I'm doing, I can take off my shoes and run."

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