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On Saturday, March 4, 2017, Megan Roche ran to a first-place finish at California’s Way Too Cool 50K in a blistering 3 hours 52 minutes 41 seconds. It was the 26-year-old’s third consecutive win at the notoriously fast and competitive race—all while managing a full-time “day job” as a medical student at Stanford University.
Trail Runner caught up with Roche to learn about balancing training with medical school, her goals for the coming year and how trail running has made her a better doctor.
What year of medical school are you in, and have you decided on a specialty?
I am in my fourth year, and am in the process of deciding on a specialty now. I love sports medicine and I love kiddos, so I am hoping to find a path that combines the two!
What does a typical weekday look like for you?
My days aren’t any harder than a lot of people’s. They’re just shifted a couple hours earlier, like I am living in a different time zone. Depending on what [medical specialty] rotation I am on, I will wake up anywhere from 3 to 4:30 a.m. I eat a Clif Bar, guzzle some coffee and run around a field in our neighborhood for 60 to 80 minutes, while [my husband] David spectates and plays fetch with our dog Addie.
I get to the hospital anywhere between 5:30 and 7 and will generally get home between 6 and 7 p.m. As soon as I get home, I try to eat dinner and get to bed 45 minutes later so that I don’t skimp on total sleep.
After a long day in the hospital, how do motivate to wake up again at 3 a.m.?
Just like in a trail race, I think you decide how you will react to adversity before you actually have to face it. I go into each tough block knowing that sometimes things will be hard. I know hearing my alarm is not going to be pleasant, but I know that missing a run is worse. And, most importantly, I never allow myself to hit snooze.
How have your experiences in med school and in the hospital affected your running?
It’s cliché, but seeing people that might never leave the hospital has shown me so much about life. It plays a huge role in how I am trying to be a better person every day. At the end of life, the people that you love and the experiences [that you’ve had] are what matter.
I love trail running, I love the trail community, I love running with my hubby and I love trying to help people as a doctor. If it comes from a place of love, then it can be worthwhile and fun, even if it involves being busy sometimes.
How have trail running and racing influenced your approach to medicine?
The trails have taught me two main things: move one step at a time, and appreciate the beauty of life as you’re living it. If you start an ultramarathon thinking about the last mile, it’s easy to get paralyzed by indecision. Similarly, the process of being a doctor can seem long and grueling if you zoom out too far. I try to use the trail experience to remind me that each step and each mile can be fun and joyous, and, if you have enough patience, you can conquer anything.
Similarly, there is beauty in the process. Just as I try to enjoy each step and mile of trail, my goal as a medical student isn’t just to become an attending doctor, since I don’t think it’s fulfilling to look back and think that each day was just building to some distant finish line. Instead, I want to remember each beautiful experience as it happens, since you only get to live this one time.
What are your overall goals with running and racing?
Honestly, my goal is to race until I am in my 90s. I want to be consistent, love the sport forever and contribute positively to the trail-running community. I want to cover a lot of miles with David and Addie, and any little humans we might be lucky enough to have join the pack.
What advice do you have for other people trying to fit run training into a loaded schedule?
Be patient with yourself and your body. Life is too short to waste time on self-judgment. Yes, you’ll fail. Yes, you may not reach all of your goals. But life can be pretty darn awesome no matter how many times you fall short of your expectations.
If you give yourself time, and love yourself and those around you, you’ll reach great places. And you don’t need trophies to tell you that the journey was worthwhile.
For more on the 2017 Way Too Cool 50K, check out this profile on men’s champ Cody Reed.