Megan Roche has had great success domestically at 50k and will now get to test her talent against some of the world’s best at the Trail World Championships in Italy this weekend. In the following interview, Megan talks about how she got into trail running, how she’s progressed with distance, why she’s limiting herself to 50k for now, and what she’s thinking heading into what will be her longest race time wise to date.
Megan Roche Pre-2017 Trail World Championship Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here on the side of a mountain above Badia Prataglia, Italy, a couple days before the 2017 IAU Trail World Championships. I’m with the USA’s Megan Roche. Hi.
Megan Roche: Hi.
iRunFar: How are you doing?
Roche: I’m doing wonderful. I actually just had the strongest Italian coffee, so I’m all pumped up and ready to go.
iRunFar: Yeah, we just drank a ton of coffee, and you guys had some intercontinental travel yesterday, and now we’re amped up on caffeine, so I think this is going to be a high-speed interview.
Roche: I know. We’re going to have to run it on 0.6 speed so viewers can follow along.
iRunFar: We’re going to slow down the interview. You are somebody who has been racing in the US for quite a few years now, a couple of years, but this is literally going to be my first time watching you race.
Roche: Oh, my gosh, I didn’t realize that. I feel like I’ve been watching iRunFar forever, so it’s weird to go in that direction.
iRunFar: Here we are in Italy. It’s a couple days away from the Trail World Championships. You are not unfamiliar with the competitive racing sphere, but since this is our first time interviewing you, I’d love to get a bit of a background on how you came to trail and now ultrarunning as a competitive thing.
Roche: I actually played field hockey in college, so I feel like I’m well-versed for the technical side of things.
iRunFar: Give me some rocks.
Roche: Give me some dodging and some ladder drills and that kind of stuff. Then, I switched to running track in college and quickly decided that running circles wasn’t my favorite of things, but I did enjoy it. David [Roche] got me into trail running.
iRunFar: Collegiately did you compete in cross country or just track in college?
Roche: I took a fifth year after playing field hockey and did cross country, indoor, and outdoor.
iRunFar: You met your husband, David, who is also now a trail runner, in college, too. He brought you to the dark side of trail running? Is that how it worked?
Roche: He did. I actually did a few races when I was playing field hockey. I ran under Megan Butthead as a pseudonym because I wasn’t allowed to race. They’re never going to catch me… but it turns out they did. Yeah, we grew up, David and I, running on the North Carolina trails, and that’s how we got into trail running.
iRunFar: But now you are all over the competitive California trail running scene. How did you guys find your way to California?
Roche: We actually went out to California for med school. I’m out there doing med school right now. In California it’s impossible to not run trails, because they’re so beautiful. They’re buttery. You can run fast on trails. There’s also a ton of local races there, too. It’s nice. You can hop into a local race almost every weekend.
iRunFar: Which I think you actually do?
Roche: Yeah, we just love it. When you’re busy during the week as we are, it’s nice to hop into a race on the weekend and use it as a workout. We use a lot of the local races in that sense, and, then, you get to know the local community, too. It’s like a catered long run with beer afterwards and a barbecue, so it’s great.
iRunFar: I love the sound of that—a catered long run. You’re kind of a person who is of personal interest to me, because you’re not a one-sided creature. You’ve got a lot going on in your life. You’re a med student.
Roche: Yes, actually, I feel like for this race, it’s been tough training. I’m in my fourth-year med school right now. I’ve been working in the ICU. I’ve been working night shifts. It’s been tough to figure out the balance of having proper recovery and training hard. Doing a lot of runs at 3 and 4 a.m., you kind of have to listen to your body and understand how you’re feeling before you go out and train each day.
iRunFar: The med school thing is not conducive to any part of life… literally… like good nutrition, good sleep, having friendships, having a marriage. How do you fit in having a marriage, having some friends, doing some training, and going to med school?
Roche: I joke with David that I really only do three things—one is I go to med school, the second is that I’m a wife and a puppy mom, and the third is I’m a runner. That’s literally it. Once I get home from school, we try to go to sleep. Then, I wake up and run. I try to do as many of those things as possible with David and our puppy. If he can come along on a run or just spend time together doing normal life things and appreciate that, it kind of work out well.
iRunFar: We’re in Italy where we have really bad internet, so we have to keep this interview short, because it may never reach the rest of the world via Italy’s slow upload speeds, but can you give us a short background on your experience with competitive trail running nationally and internationally?
Roche: I first started three years ago, and that was when I transitioned from playing field hockey and being a track runner to trail running. I started doing the shorter stuff like the 10k Trail Championships and the mountain running. Then, I actually entered the US 50k Champs, and going into that race my longest run had been 13-14 miles, so it was totally like entering this unknown world. Then, I’ve moved up in distance to marathon and 50k from there. I’m still trying to keep things a little bit shorter and less than 50k for now just to preserve the top-end speed, and I want to keep my trajectory and progression going forward. I’ve mostly raced, given my medical school schedule, in the US, but I’ve done a few international races like the mountain championships and the long-distance championships in Zermatt a few years ago.
iRunFar: This is just under 50k, but because of the extra climbing we’re going to see this weekend, this is going to be your longest race out? Is that true?
Roche: Yes, so I did Headlands 50k in 4:20, so I think for this race, this is definitely going to be longer than that unless a miracle happens which I don’t think is going to happen.
iRunFar: So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Roche: Oh, I don’t know. I’ve actually never run with a pack before, so this will be a whole new experience for me. There’s a lot of required gear that I’m going to need to bring with me.
iRunFar: As somebody who comes from the shorter distance trail sphere, how do you wrap your head around another possibly hour or 45 minutes of racing?
Roche: My biggest thing for racing is that I have two goals—one is to smile the entire way even if it’s through gritted teeth, and two, is not to judge. I think not judging is going to be the most important part—two hours in when I’m tired, not thinking about the extra and just rolling with the beautiful course and smiling at aid stations and having fun out there.
iRunFar: Not looking at your pace per mile when you’re on some of those steep climbs and things slow down more than what’s normal for you?
Roche: Exactly, I’ve learned that. You’re busting it and you look down at your watch and it’s a 12-minute mile, and you’re like, “Whaaaaat?”
iRunFar: I could walk that on the flat! So that’s my last question for you. This weekend, we’re going to see more climbing than what’s typical on what you’re been racing weekendly in Northern California. How have you been preparing your legs for that extra steep up and steep down?
Roche: In all honesty, not fantastically… to be perfectly honest with you. Because I’ve had a really busy med school schedule, I feel like my recovery hasn’t been as good just because of that. So, I haven’t been able to run the vert I wanted to. So I think not judging is going to be really important in just making sure that I go out at a conservative pace early on and don’t blow my legs on the downhill. We’ll see how that goes, but that’s kind of my plan right now.
iRunFar: You’re used to running a lot of your races by yourself or running around the lead men. Putting yourself into this weekend’s competition, you’ve seen at these international competitions girls in front of you. But European trail running goes out really hot. Are you going to strategically go out with those girls, or are you going to run your own race from the start?
Roche: I’m going to run my own race from the start. I’ve actually been working with racing with a heart rate monitor, so it’s really helpful feedback. I’m going to set my heart rate to what I know I can do. I can’t control who else is in the race. I’ll let them do their thing. If I catch back up to them, or if I’m ahead of them, I’m just going to let that be.
iRunFar: It’s been great getting to know for the first time after watching you race on the internet and on paper all of these years. Best of luck to you on Saturday.
Roche: Thank you so much. I’m so honored to be on an iRunFar preview.