Saturday, December 13, 2014

XTERRA Trail Run World Championships


3rd overall, culminating in a podium kiss with my bronze medal buddy.

This could have gotten awkward if one of us finished 2nd.

Pre-Race:

In the last 6 months, Megan and I have raced in Montana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Utah, Italy, Oregon, and now, Hawaii. We have sampled the local cuisine (Italy: gelato, Oregon: beer, Montana: lost hiker), gotten married in a mountain meadow (our groomspeople were mosquitos), and explored a couple thousand of miles of trails. And last week, all that culminated in being named the male and female USA Sub-Ultra Trail Runners of the Year! This really has been a once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind of a half-year. Thanks Nike and Gu for supporting the adventures!

Results since I last posted:
US 50k Champs: Megan 1st! David 4th!

Megan winning her 2nd national championship in less than a month.

Brazen Championship Race: Two 1sts!

On our taxes, we plan to write-off frozen yogurt as a business expense.

Mt. Tam Trail Race: Two 1sts!
Moab Trail Marathon: Two…DNFs.

Oh man, that last one. That last one was tough, for both of us. The course just didn't suit us and there was no way to keep going that day. We had planned to end our season after Moab, prepared to run very little and eat just enough ice cream to make like a Twinkie, indestructible and squishy all over. But standing on a slick-rock tower in southern Utah a few hours after the DNFs, we decided to shoot for one more big race. XTERRA Worlds in Hawaii.

The week before the race, I was crossing a street in Alaska when I accelerated to catch a light. Of course, Alaska is the land of snow and ice, and I had an exaggerated, cartoon-like fall onto my butt. Why does David cross the road? To make a fool of himself in front of work colleagues, apparently. But definitely not to get to the other side. He isn’t very good at that. The booty contusion will come back to the story later…

The rest of the week was spent doing my runs on ¾ of an Anchorage block that were mostly ice free. Also, if you run 8 miles back and forth in front of the mayor’s office at 6 AM, you may get questioned by the police. Just an FYI.
 
Wedding pic interlude!

After a few 16 hour work days and meals composed primarily of cute, charismatic megafauna, I met Megan in Hawaii. She had med school finals while I was dining on fairy tale creatures in Alaska, so we were both exhausted and one of us smelled vaguely of salmon and caribou. Surprise twist: that person was Megan. She slept with Addie the Adventure Pup while I was gone, and everything Addie touches turns to an exciting, fur-covered olfactory experience.
 
Addie couldn't attend our wedding, but she still had a front-row seat.
We had an amazing home-stay in Oahu, just 3 miles from the race-site. Sergio is an amazing athlete and father, who did not ask questions when we treated his 2-year old son Kai like a puppy. “Good boy! Come here for a head scratch! FETCH! /throws tennis ball” In our defense, it’s all we know. Also, Kai actually did fetch the ball, so we’ll probably be the best parents.

The day before the race, we did our shake out jog in the jungle. The best word to describe trail conditions would be moist. It was the moistest. After Alaska, I was sweating from orificies I didn’t know I could sweat from. Ear sweat is a thing, and it makes it harder to hear my own humidity-induced wheezing, which is a good thing.
 
Our pre-race strides came with a view.
We woke up on race morning to a gorgeous moon-rise and an even more gorgeous gallon of instant coffee. Sitting there with Megan, an hour before the race, there was a moment of silence on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Thinking of the sacrifice filled us with a humbling swell of gratitude. Being there, at that moment, with my soul mate—that was empowering. Whatever happened in the race, we made a pact. Let’s go for it, fight our asses off, and finish no matter what.

Like the booty contusion, that “no matter what” would come back to the story later…
 
Hawaii is amazing.

At 9 AM, the humidity was touching 100% and the sun was rising high into the sky, just as the gun was about to go off. I sprinted to the start line, where Megan was waiting alongside of some of the best trail runners out there. To give context for the next moment, I have to tell a quick story.

In 2010, 2.5 months after we met and 1 month after we said “I love you” for the first time, we did a race that started at midnight on New Year’s Eve. We were both wearing evening-wear, were a couple drinks deep in the night, and were entering the race as non-serious non-runners coming from other sports. As the ball dropped, I leaned over for the obligatory New Year’s kiss. I put my hand on the back of her sparkling dress, and my lips slowly began the descent to her face.

She didn’t even move her head. She just grunted disapproval and took off like a bat out of hell as the start gun fired. She ran a 17:xx in her first race, coming straight from field hockey, in a ball gown, and won an oversized $100 check. That is when I first learned an important lesson. The kiss comes after the race.


Flash forward 4 years. We’re married, with puppy, living 3000 miles away from where we fell in love. And at the start line of the World Championships, 20 seconds before the starting gun, she grabs my hands and gives me the biggest kiss we’ve ever shared (in public).

And just like that, THEY’RE OFF!

Race:

Put simply, what came next hurt. It hurt bad. I’m not sure whether it was Alaska, or the exotic meats, or the humidity, or just a long season, but the usual trail race tooth-grinding effort came 10 miles earlier than normal, on the very first climb. But I promised Megan. So I fought.
 
I like this picture because you can't see the actual 1st place hidden by that shrub on the left.

After 2 uphill fire road miles, I found myself in 3rd, with Patrick Smyth and Brett Hales in sight and the muddy single-track upcoming. The trail wound through jungle trails, past the filming locations for Jurassic Park, Lost, and most of my nightmares involving freakishly large beetles.

I was losing ground to the leaders rapidly, who were out of sight at mile 6, when I was given a 1 min time gap. At that point, I was firmly in my own head anyway. It was going to be a battle fought with a few neurons for the rest of the race. In the back of my battling head, I knew 3rd place had major financial incentives for both Megan and I. But that wasn’t the motivator. It was that crappy feeling after Moab. It was the beauty of the island. Most of all, it was that pre-race kiss.



Also, the freakishly large beetles that could be lurking around any corner provided solid incentives to keep moving. Through the lactic acid and dehydration, I attempted to survive the climbs and push the downs close to 4:30 pace, just to make up as much time as I could when gravity was doing the work. Basically, my internal monologue undulated from “Gravity, FUCK YOU!” on the ups to “Gravity, you complete me!” on the downs. But even the gravity-love on the downs was about to change…

Because at mile 10, at the end of the longest climb of the day, we came to the descent from hell. 2 steps in, I fell, tumbling off the single-track trail. Get up, David, GET UP. Then I fell again. And again. And again. It was a mud-slick down a 20% grade, with no traction and nowhere to hide. So I decided to roll with it. Literally, roll with it, spending the majority of the down on my butt or my side, slipping-and-sliding down as fast as I could (which ended up being 11 min pace down the half-mile climb).
 
Post-race exploring intermission.
I survived, bruised and battered, sure that 4th place was breathing down my neck. I got up, covered in blood and mud, and decided to fight. It was a feeble fight, to be sure, but I recommitted to the single-track, with 5 min pace becoming 6 min pace and 7 min pace. I was moving forward though. Relentlessly forward. Then down to the ground on a slick spot. Then forward again.

After a few miles of pain, I made it to the finish, 3rd overall at XTERRA Worlds. And I promptly collapsed. Refusing to budge from a spot of shade at the end of the finishing chute, I waited for Megan. Moving between worrying about blacking out to worrying about my wife, I sat there dumping water on my head and attempting to keep myself together enough to avoid being carted away. A few minutes later, in third place as well, Megan crossed the finish line. Without seeing me, she collapsed. And when she hit the ground, she was right next to me in the same spot of shade at the end of the finishing chute.


We spent the next 30 min in the med tent, sharing one cot. We did post-race interviews curled up in the fetal position, side-by-side, until we recovered enough to sit upright. Sitting there, our grimaces turned to smiles, which turned to giddy laughs. We made it. We fought. And now, it was after the race. 

So, in the tradition started on that first New Year’s together, she hugged me, and we kissed.

Med tent romance.

Thanks so much to everyone for all of your support this year. I am writing this story with a booty that is the shape and size of the Goodyear blimp. And the same color too, if the Goodyear blimp looked like a mostly-purple Jackson Pollack painting. At my much needed, impromptu standing desk, I have pictures from this year, from all those different locations. And the biggest take-away is how much I love the community we have met along the way. YOU ALL ARE AMAZING. The biggest thanks to Nike Trail Running for believing us. In 2015, it's time to really live up to the Nike Trail Team hashtag of choice. #werundirty

Follow us on Twitter here: @MegRoche33 and @MountainRoche
Strava: David and Megan
Facebook: David and Megan

Friday, September 19, 2014

World Mountain Running Championships

Team USA women were 3rd, taking home the bronze! The men finished 4th. Megan was 21st overall and 2nd US woman. I was 59th and 6th US man. We had 12 servings of gelato apiece. We signed dozens of autographs. And we said "Italy is beautiful" almost as many times as we said "I love you" and "You smell kinda funky."

It was a great trip.
Red, white, and blue love.

Pre-Race:

At the U.S Mountain Running Championships in July, Megan and I secured spots on Team USA for Worlds. Over the next 2 months, we raced 10 times (including winning a national championship!), got hitched, and fell in love all over again on the trails of California, Utah, Colorado, and North Carolina. It's a dirty, mud-spackled love that smells like a musty basement and is fueled by Gu and ice cream.


A week before jet-setting with Team USA to Italy, we did one more thing together...WE SIGNED WITH NIKE! (more details in this Competitor Magazine article) Nike is moving into the trail scene in a big way--the Nike Trail Elite Squad is loaded with the best runners on single-track, with studs like Chris Vargo, Alex Varner, Mario Mendoza, David Laney, Ryan Ghelfi, and Worlds teammates Zach Miller and Patrick Smyth. Studettes include Sally McRae, Emily Harrison, Clara Peterson, and Alicia Shay. It's an honor to join the Nike family and rock their awesome shoes: the Wildhorse 2 and the Terra Kiger 2. With Nike, you know that every decision from the engineering floor to the marketing department is thought out. It's an honor to know we'll always be wearing the best shoes, have the best teammates, and run for the best company.

Megan's wedding shoes were ready for some trail adventures.

So on Wednesday, we grabbed our passports and boarded a plane destined for the land of Nutella. 24 hours later, we landed full of groggy excitement. And the Italian adventure began.

On the bus ride to the hotel, we passed the leaning tower of Pisa, which is smaller than you'd guess and curves to the left, which is not an assessment most men or buildings would be happy with. We arrived at the hotel and learned a new term: Italian time. I am still not quite sure what it means, but it's either 15 min early or 45 min late. Just anything but on time.

The view from the start. We finished...up there :)

Megan and I met teammates Megan Lund-Lizotte and Josh Eberly for a shake out along the Mediterranean, where I learned that the ideal for male beach fashion seems to be Borat's bathing suit. After 6 easy miles, Josh and I dunked in the water. A small, adorable boy came up to us, and reached down into the water to pull off his pants. After about 15 seconds, he pulled them back up and walked back to shore. Our ice bath became slightly less icy.

We had a team meeting and a buffet dinner, closed by a heaping serving of gelato. True fact: there were 6 gelato shops within a 1.5 block radius of our hotel. AKA heaven has an Italian PO box.

Recovery food.

Megan and I were energized, but we had slept only 2 hours in the last 36. So we tucked into bed, expecting a good night's rest, and...we couldn't sleep. This began a theme, where we were exhausted but had trouble passing out. And one more disconcerting thing...we did not poop. Like the buses, our bodies seemed to be operating on Italian time.

The next day (Friday before a Sunday race), we ran easy in the morning and previewed the course in the afternoon. The course was the most beautiful, epic mix of single-track, rock climbing, and ancient city running. During an off-trail scramble at the 7k mark, I made my decision: I was going to go for it. I may only get this opportunity once, and I'd always regret not giving myself the chance for a great result. Plus, Team USA's best chance at medaling would be an amazing performance from Zach, Josh, or I (the other 3 men, Joe Gray, Patrick Smyth, and Eric Blake, are consistently studly and 4 score). Having a strategy was liberating. It was going to be a beautiful victory for Team USA, or a beautiful disaster for me.

Go for it. No regrets.

Temporarily flag-bearing before the Opening Ceremonies.

We killed time with our amazing teammates over the next day and a half. The women were incredible--Megan Lund-Lizotte is a supermom and one of the best mountain runners in the World, Allie McLaughlin is going to be a legend one day soon and is one of the most delightful people I've ever met, and Juliane Masciana is an awesome runner with one of the best perspectives I've ever been around. The men were equally impressive, from Joe Gray's calm confidence to Zach's inspiring story and amazing running range. Waking up the morning of the race, both Megan and I were just unbelievably excited to wear red, white, and blue with such an amazing group of people.

Team USA women were relaxed at the Opening Ceremonies.

At 8 AM, the women were bused up the mountain to their start. Before we parted ways, Megan and I had one minute alone together in a tight Italian alleyway. My bride looked stunning in her singlet, beautiful in her bib. We smiled, kissed, and didn't say anything. Time to run up a mountain, like we'd done a hundred times together. See you at the top.

Race:

The men's team got together and made the trip to Forno, where our race began. Hundreds of runners from all over the world milled in the streets, nervous energy having a palpable presence. Well, it was there for everyone but Joe and Patrick. They just looked relaxed and ready, and that confidence spread to the rest of the team. It had only been a few days, but I loved this team and the colors we were wearing. I couldn't wait to bury myself for USA.

Red, white, and blue warm-up.

But first, the start line. To put it simply, it was a shit show. There was no rhyme or reason to the madness other than a general directive to line up alphabetically. I got intimate with Ukraine and to third base with Uganda. I know Eastern European men have a reputation for being smelly, but that's unfair. Across the globe, all men smell like armpit. It unites us.

The gun sounded, and the stampede began. Somehow, Team USA got out cleanly and the six of us had good position on the first mile through Forno. The plan was to be well-positioned when the single-track began at mile 1.5, and we were executing, with all of us in the top 15. Mile 1 had 200+ feet of climbing...my watch beeped the split at 4:52. This was going to be interesting.
This alleyway was 200 meters into the race.

Left turn onto a set of steps and the race truly began. Immediately, Joe, Patrick, the Ugandans, the Eritreans, and a few Italians distanced themselves from the pack. Almost as immediately, I could feel the power sapping away from my legs. It felt like I had done a few sets of squats and some lunges. I fought for position up the climb to Casette, falling to 20th or 25th but in a good place at 4k. As I would soon learn, the climbing had barely begun.

Up through the town we swept, bounding over stairs and alleyways. I think I saw a goat wearing a cowbell, but that could have been oxygen deprivation. I began to struggle mightily on the stairs and into the most technical portion of the course. My legs bellowed with a dull, low sound that I hadn't felt in years. I asked, but didn't get a response. I fought, hard, but it was not going to be my day.

Another warm-up picture, just before the single-track.

To be honest, I may have DNF'd if not for the red, white, and blue on my back. I've always thought love of country is stupid. Who can love soil? Why should an accident of birth determine destiny? But on that mountain, so thoroughly deep in the pain cave that I could not even conceive of the light at the other side, I think I began to understand. It is not the soil, it is the idea. It is not an accident of birth, but an intentional way of living life.

I was going to finish. I was going to fight. USA! USA!

When it comes to food, Italy! Italy!

But boy did it hurt. I moved up 10 places on the flats and downs, and got dropped like a stone on the steep stuff. My girl was waiting at the top, and I spent the last 10 minutes with nothing left in my legs, but lots of love in my heart. I reached the top of the mountain and the finish, where my amazing teammates were waiting. We were all slightly disappointed, but were able to fight for 4th in the world on a tough day.

And that's when I heard the best news--Megan was amazing and finished 21st in the world. The women took home the bronze.

We were at the top of a mountain, like a hundred times before. And we hugged, our hearts filled with a red, white, and blue love.

The women celebrate at the closing ceremonies!

Thanks so much to everyone. When I started this blog, I had never run more than a few miles and was years away from meeting Megan. Your support over the years has changed everything. A special thanks to Richard, Nancy, Paul, and Ellen with Team USA. Italy was an unforgettable experience, and it never would have happened without all of you. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

USA Trail 10km National Championships

Megan and I are married!

I'm still floating, and probably will be for the next 70 years.

Her name is now Megan Roche. Mrs. Roche won the USATF Trail 10km National Championships on our honeymoon, less than a week after we said "I do" in a Colorado mountain meadow.

All wedding photos by the amazing Lindsay Hiatt. Contact her (website here) for the best photographer in the world for all occasions.

So I had the biggest win of my life this week, 6 days before I toed the start line at the Continental Divide Trail Race, this year's US Championship. In the end, the Roches brought home matching National Championships trophies. But the trophy that I can't stop smiling about, and will never stop smiling about, is the one on my left ring finger.

Pre-Race:

Hey, want to see a beautiful bride?



Oh my god I am lucky. And yes, Megan asked if we could go off-trail through dirt and grime to take pre-ceremony wedding photos. This was after a 15 mile, 4000 foot elevation gain run up Independence Pass on wedding morning, plus a 2500 foot mountain bike climb. I am so excited for a life of trying to keep up with Mrs. Roche, playing the role of sherpa and domestique from now until forever.


During an amazing wedding weekend in the mountains of Colorado (wedding blog to come!), we did 15,000 feet of elevation gain over 3 days. Then we flew to North Carolina to visit where we fell in love. The flight to NC was the first direct flight I've ever purchased. Coming from me, that is probably the most meaningful manifestation of true love.

COOTIES!

Long before that most romantic of Southwest flights, we were having a whirlwind month. On July 17, I moved to California with our pup Addie, and we set up our new home. We are 0.3 miles from a Trader Joe's, 0.5 miles from a dog park, and 1 mile from the trails of Rancho San Antonio. So it is basically heaven for Megan and I, and for Addie those three things mean: (1) Stuff to eat; (2) and (3) places to poop. Which I guess makes it heaven for Addie too.

On July 19, we raced the Table Rock 25k in Stinson Beach, the penultimate race in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. We both won in course records and were profiled in Trail Runner Magazine! Then on August 2, we raced the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase in Park City, Utah, winning in course records again (mine eclipsed a mark set by Rob Krar in 2012), also bringing home $2000 in prize money apiece (profile with awkward picture here). To translate that into David and Megan money, that means 150 trips to the local ice cream shop. In Addie money, that means 20 citations for having a dog off-leash in a California county park.

Mom and Addie do core work.

On August 17, we got married at 10,000 feet elevation outside Aspen, Colorado. Did I mention we are married? I feel like the more times I say it, the less chance there is that it's all just a dream. At this point, I have contusions all over my body from pinching myself.

Then we flew (DIRECT!) to NC. We fell in love on these trails and in these ice cream shops. But, dear lord, did we need to recover from our wedding adventures. After running and biking with Megan in Colorado, I felt like I was hit by a tractor trailer loaded with 33 tons of frozen yogurt. So I was euphoric about the yogurt shower, but still really freaking sore from getting hit by the truck. 

With just 1 day to recover before the National Championships, we got extra at the local ice cream shop. True story: 1.5 years later, they do not only remember our name, but also our frequent customer number.

We also played mini-golf. An angel got its wings and Megan earned a free game.

We also had our typical pre-race dinner, Subway chopped salads. The Subway looked a little sketchy, and it was at Wal-Mart, but it's all the same, right? I got turkey, like always. Megan did something different, and got chicken. That ended up being a bad decision.

In the words of the band Cake, Megan's meal caused bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse. I'm not sure if it was the chicken, or the dingy Wal-Mart Subway (but I know it wasn't the yogurt. DON'T YOU DARE EVEN HINT IT WAS THE YOGURT. I'LL CUT YOU), but it was a tough night. At 4:30 AM, I woke up to a wife who slept about 10 minutes total, who was so pale she looked blue. I made a quick run to the grocery store to grab some pink Pepto for my blue Smurfette, delivering the magical elixir with a "Sorry, this sucks. Don't race today, we'll chase a National Championship next year." "Let's just go and see what happens during the warm-up," she responded through hazy eyes, a pallid complexion, and a well-exercised digestive tract.

We arrived at the race site in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains to a beautiful morning. Now, I usually always think Megan looks as beautiful as a mountain morning. But pre-race, she looked like death warmed over on a shitty microwave, kind of like downtown Detroit. We jogged the last 2 miles of the extremely technical course, and Megan made a decision: she decided to go for it. Her reasoning was that the course was so technical and treacherous that it was barely running anyway, and she could always jump over logs and bound over bogs.

From the epic wedding morning run. And yes, the bib numbers are our wedding date.

So we toed the line together, alongside a stacked field including Mario Mendoza (amazing guy and 2013 USA Trail Runner of the Year), Ryan Woods (2014 La Sportiva Mountain Cup Champion), and a host of fast road peeps. As the gun was about to sound, the field was a silent storm of nervous anticipation. Suddenly, a delicate yet authoritative sound ripped through the front pack. Megan burped. She belched. And she looked at me. Then laughed.

Everything's going to be okay. Then the gun sounded.

Race:

Important clarification: the gun sounding is not a euphemism for a fart. 

We took off on a slight descent to begin the race. My plan was to ruin everyone's race right off the bat. For the first 0.75 miles, I averaged 4:15 pace on the off-camber grass/roots. It hurt a bit, but I was hoping it hurt everyone else more. After a final 100 meter, 20% plunge down a steep embankment, the trail turned up for the first of four climbs. I was already a bit fatigued, and started worrying about my strategy for just a second. Then I stopped myself. You don't win a National Championship by being conservative. Pain is good when it is on your own terms. 

But, damn, it still hurts. I crested the first climb knowing Mario and Ryan were probably right there, but I used all my will-power to avoid looking back and letting them know I was already exploring nooks and crannies of the hurt locker. After rolling for a half mile, the course nose-dived down a tree-filled game trail. In a trail race this short, you have one good move to make, and I had already used it in the first half-mile. Commit, commit, commit blared through my head.

Wedding photo intermission.

That mantra was briefly interrupted when I took a turn too hastily and flew off into the woods, tumbling in the underbrush. I brushed the dirt off my shoulders and got back on my feet, only to almost immediately twist my left ankle. Then my right. Fuck, it's 2 miles in, 2 of the best trail runners of the last 5 years are on my heels, and I am the most uncoordinated person in the world.

But screw it, I thought. Remember what Megan said: we can always jump over logs and bound over bogs. Every step was technical, but every technical step also meant that fatigue was less important than committing to the task at hand. I grabbed trees for leverage, flailed my arms wildly, and attempted to channel the Mountain Goat Gods for inspiration. Somewhere behind me, they were chasing. But they were going to have to earn it in blood and bruises.

At the halfway point, the course pointed toward the sky and went up a 20% grade for a half-mile. With the World Mountain Running Championships in just 3 weeks, I felt at home on the steep grade, hand-over-fisting my way to the mountain meadow at the top. Just then, halfway into the race, I had a realization: I am married to Megan. That sounds corny, but it is true. This race was a celebration of that fact, and no matter what we were going to share a big sweaty, bloody, and possibly poopy hug afterward.

Our love story made the cover of this month's Endurance Magazine!

At 4 miles, there was a short, steep climb called the Grass Wall, after which the course bombed down an impossibly steep grade on the way to the penultimate climb. Newly energized, I scaled the wall and bounded down the hill. I must not have prayed hard enough to the Goat Gods, because my right ankle gave out again, at a shitty time, and sent me spiraling into the weeds. After the impromptu barrel roll, I picked myself up and forced weight onto the throbbing ankle. Inspired by Megan, I channeled her pre-race comment: on the ankle and tired legs, for the last 2 miles, I was just going to go, give myself a chance, and see what happens.

And I felt good. Maybe the ankle woke me up, maybe it was the Megspiration (Megan inspiration as opposed to Megan perspiration), but I suddenly had energy again. Cranking up the 2nd-to-last climb and back onto insanely technical game trails, I was just so happy to be in the moment, with my bride somewhere on the trails behind me. Up the Rock Wall at mile 6 and over the final climb---it is all a blur really. Suddenly, I was at the top and saw the red, white, and blue flag sitting perfectly still in the NC humidity. And on the loudspeaker: "Your 2014 National Champion, David Roche!"

I crossed the line with my arms up, then the fatigue hit. Shit that was tough. With my arms still up, I went down. The ankle gave out. I didn't think about it once after the twists, but it was already the size of a softball and growing by the second. Megan was somewhere on the trails though, she was sick and vulnerable, and all I could think about was my wife. So I crawled and hobbled to the top of the final climb, desperately asking for news about her race. 

"Did you see the first woman come through earlier?" I asked a small girl spectating with an American flag cheek sticker.

"Yes, she was wearing purple." Her mom said.

"She looked like Superwoman!" the girl shouted.

That's my Megan! It had to be. Sure enough, the girl who was vulnerable and sick just a few minutes before crested the hill, flying over the grass trail and transforming into a super-hero in a sports bra. Seeing her break the tape with the American flag in the background is something I will always remember. Then, just like I had a few minutes before, she crumpled to the ground. I joined her there in sweaty matrimony, and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. But hands clasped and wedding rings touching, I realized what made it truly special.

It wasn't even close to the happiest moment of the last week.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

Thanks so much for everything. Megan and I love you guys, even if we don't talk to you in person. Your support means everything to us. A humongous thanks to Integrity Sports, an amazing company whose support allowed us to travel to race on our honeymoon. You all are amazing!

/we run off into sunset, "Just Married" painted on the backs of our singlets

Monday, July 7, 2014

United States Mountain Running Team...Honeymoon in Italy :)

Megan and I are both GOING TO ITALY! At the U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain, NH, Team USA was going to be the top 6 men and the top 4 women. Against an astonishingly stacked field, Megan finished 4th and I finished 6th. The World Championships are just after our wedding, and now we can be assured that at least one of the Roches will look amazing in red, white, and blue. Hint: it will be the newest one.


Most of all, it is so humbling and awe-inspiring to represent our country at an international championship. To be able to travel with some of the best athletes in the USA (my first trip outside the US!), supported by USA Track & Field and the American Trail Running Association, is one of the coolest things ever. And to have it double as a honeymoon with my best friend is almost too much for words. Fortunately, Megan and I have been conducting intensive pizza and gelato research/acclimation for the last four years.

Thanks first to Richard Bolt and Nancy Hobbs, Team USA Leaders and incredible people. New Balance Silicon Valley and Integrity Sports have made it possible for Megan and I to travel and race around the country, and we could not have done any of it without their awesome support. Thanks to the Environmental Law Institute, especially Co-Directors of the Ocean Program Kathryn and Jordan, who have made it possible for an attorney to love work and play. And most of all, thanks so much to Mom and Dad. You guys are the best parents in the universe, who I love this much:

Backstory: This was about a kilometer into the race, and Megan was cheering right next to the photographer. I got very excited to see her, and wanted her to know I was feeling good despite the blistering opening pace. This was followed by a child-like sprint that almost ruined my race. Running joyfully and running crazily are sometimes similar approaches.   Credit: USA Mountain Running Team.

Pre-Race:

For a few months, my dad had been trying to get us to race the Mountain Running Championships. I think we were both hesitant though, because it was an "Up" year. What that means is SQUIRREL! /sprints off into bushes like the dog from "Up"

Wait, it actually does not mean that we watch the movie "Up," and whoever does not cry in the first 5 minutes qualifies. Instead, every year, mountain running alternates between "up" and "up/down," where up years have massive net elevation gain up a freaking mountain. Both of us thought that the VO2-max and suffering contest of pure uphill racing would be difficult for us because we have never done it before. But dad did not agree with our assessment, and after a bunch of calls, his unwavering faith and support convinced us as well.


The amazing race directors at Loon, Paul Kirsch and Chris Dunn, helped us with entries and introduced us to the race motto: "No Safe Word." Oh dear lord what did we get ourselves into?

On July 4, Megan, my parents, me, and Addie drove up from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, a big happy family that all smelled like a strange mixture of salmon and asparagus by the end of the 8 hour drive. Notably, none of us had eaten any of those foods in the last few weeks. My recommendation is that you do not travel in a small sports car with a smelly puppy if you value the olfactory impression you make.

On July 5, the day before the race, we arrived at the race site and randomly met Richard Bolt and Nancy Hobbes in the parking lot of the Loon Mountain ski resort. They are the brains and braun behind USA Mountain Ultra Trail and the Mountain Team, and we were insanely fortunate to do a course preview jog with them. Among other things, Richard gave me a lesson in power hiking. Little did I know how important that lesson would be in less than 24 hours.

Course preview. The forecast calls for pain. Credit: USA Mountain Running Team.

After a dinner of fudge and ice cream, Megan and I fell into a deep sleep. It was the dinner of people who run up mountains and/or 800 pound people that use a forklift to commute to the 2nd floor.

The morning of the race, we woke up, plopped Addie puppy in the car, and drove to the race site. The women's race went off at 8 AM (the men's at 9:30), and I warmed up with my girl so I'd be there for any last second requests of water or anything else. After a few sips of water, a last glance up the awe-inspiring ski slope we were about to ascend, and one last awe-inspired bathroom break, the gun sounded and the women's race began.

Race:

And begin they did. Holy crap the women went out hard. I was taking pictures at 0.5 miles, which went up a gradual climb of about 100 feet, and the women rolled through at 5:30 pace. Megan was pushing the pace and the field of elite runners was strung out beside and behind her.

Megan and Allie Mclaughlin making them suffer a half-mile into the race.

As they scurried up the mountain, I furiously refreshed Twitter to get updates from the course. Four qualify. At 2 miles, Megan was in 5th place.

At 4 miles, with just a mile to go, she was in 5th place.

Allie Mclaughlin (who has the 2nd highest finish ever for a freshman at NCAA XC Nationals behind only Shalane Flanagan) won.

Then Twitter went dormant for 10 minutes.

I knew they had finished long before, and I was a nervous wreck. What happened? Did she make it? I truly just wanted her to be happy. Incredible ultra-runner/amazing guy Zach Miller and I kept hitting refresh, waiting to see what happened. My heart rate got to 160, and I would have given anything for a top-4 finish. Then, a new tweet notification.

Top women at Allison McLaughlin, Morgan Arritola, @KasieEnman @MDeaks33 @MeganLizotte @usatf @acidoticRACING @loonmtn

She did it! Megan finished 4th. 1st was Allie, 2nd Morgan Arritola, an Olympian and World Championships medalist. Third was Kasie Enman, former World Champion. Then Megan. First mountain running race, first uphill race, first National Championship race. And first time on Team USA :)
Digging deep up a 25% grade, chased by Olympians. Megan is TOUGH. Credit: SNAPacidotic.

3000 feet below, I jumped up and down and hugged everyone who was around. Dad = hug. Addie = hug. Mom = hug. Zach = hug. I have never been happier, seriously. I was so proud, so so shocked that I almost started crying 20 minutes before my race started. To qualify, Megan beat the amazing Megan Lund-Lizotte (Worlds member and Sierre-Zinal winner), Juliane Masciana (sub-10 3k steepler!), Nuta Olaru (Olympian!), Magda Lewy-Boulet (incredible person and 15:15 5k'er), Kerri Lyons (former US Trail Marathon Champ), Maria Dalzot (Worlds team member), Shannon Payne (one of the best runners in the country and Mt. Washington winner), CA friend/amazing runner Yiou Wang, and countless other awesome women.

But shit, it was 15 minutes before my race and I had to get ready to go. With no time for another warm-up jog, I did a few sprints and found myself at the start line as the National Anthem played, surrounded by some of the best runners in the country. 3 minutes before the start, at 9:27, I did one last stride, turned around, and saw her. Megan sprinted to me and jumped in my arms. She gave me a kiss and said she had taken the gondola down as soon as the race finished. She wanted to see me and make sure I had everything I needed.

So when the gun sounded 2 minutes later, I was powered by love and endorphins. Which was a good thing, because a huge pack of us went out at 4:30 pace. It was physical and intense, with so many elbows thrown on the opening switchbacks that I was sure everyone was listening to Ludacris as pre-race pump-up music. After throwin them 'bows for the first uphill kilometer, the course angled down for a few hundred yards and the pack sorted out at 4:10 pace. After seeing Megan and spreading my arms, I moved into third as the next climb began. After another uphill kilometer, the race turned into the men's only section, a swampy bog with rocks, some rolling trail, and lots of mud. In other words, my happy place.

Fighting for the summit later in the race. Credit: US Mountain Running Team.

The race round through the woods for the next mile and a half, with gaps growing as the leaders were running sub-6 minute pace up the gradual climb. Patrick Smyth (XTERRA World Champion, 1:02 half marathoner) and Joe Gray (too many accomplishments to count--one of the best trail and cross country runners in US history) began to pull away, followed by me (generally lame dude, cool puppy though), Josh Eberly (2:14 marathon, nearly undefeated on trails), Zach Miller (Lake Sonoma 50 and JFK 50 winner), and a slew of incredible runners who would make their presence known shortly.

Emerging from the woods at mile 4 (back onto the same course ran by the women), speckled with mud, the real climbing was about to begin. Josh and I worked together over rutted-out Jeep roads to maintain a little gap before the biggest climb of the day. At mile 4.2, it began on a 30% ski-slope, and it would end 1.3 miles and 1300 vertical feet later.

And to put it bluntly, I sucked. The climb was tough, sure, and the competition stiff, but I relaxed and became complacent. First Josh pulled away, then Zach came by, then Eric Blake (amazing international runner, too many accomplishments to list), Ryan Bak (2:14 marathoner and trail beast), and finally Andrew Benford (top steepler with a crazy, too-fast-to-comprehend PR). I was in 8th with less than a mile to run, and coming up on my tail was an elite chase pack including Nate Jenkins (13:something 5k'er and 2:14 marathoner), Tommy Manning (trail legend and Worlds member), Josh Ferenc (top international runner), Ryan Woods (multiple time La Sportiva Cup winner), Zachary Ornelas (the future of mountain running), Tim Parr (multiple time Leadville and Pikes Peak Ascent winner), and countless others.

On the half-mile descent to the last climb, I was just happy to not be going straight up. Fueled by that happiness mixed with contempt for my performance on the nasty climb, I went. All out. Fuck it, time to go.

I ran the next kilometer at 4:15/mile pace, catching and passing Ryan Bak and coming up on Andrew. Turning the corner to the next climb, we were only a half mile from the finish. That half mile would average 37%. The race for the US Mountain Running Team would be decided on a trail-less black diamond ski slope...the infamous Upper Walking Boss.

Improvising switchbacks on UWB the day before during the course preview. Credit: US Mountain Running Team

At that grade, there really is no way to prepare or strategize. Just push and fight, hand-over-fist if necessary. Almost immediately, I slowed to the power-hike that Richard taught me, hands on knees or even grasping at the dirt. Then, every 10 meters or so, I would do a short sprint. Then power hike. Then sprint. At 40%, my hikes were about as fast as Andrew's run, and my sprints ate into his lead. Moving up the hill, I passed him and moved into 6th place, and I would be joining Megan on Team USA if I could just get a few hundred more yards to the finish. Just then, I heard a siren song from the top of the mountain:

"THIS IS FOR AN ITALIAN HONEYMOON! DIG DEEP DAVID!"

It was US Team Leader Nancy Hobbes, the amazing woman who showed us the course and who has spearheaded trail and mountain running worldwide. Gosh, with that motivation I can push a few hundred more yards.

A minute later, fifty some odd minutes after Megan gave me a kiss 3000 feet below, I finished to the booming announcement: "David Roche will be wearing red, white, and blue in Italy!" My ears were popping from the elevation gain, but that was still a sound I will always remember.

With superwoman Nancy after the finish.

I rushed down the mountain on the gondola to see Megan, and she sprinted up to me.

"How did it go???" she asked. Apparently she had been furiously refreshing Twitter, and it hadn't updated yet. The symmetry of it made me smile bigger than I ever had.

"Honeymoon in Italy?" I asked.

And we kissed.

The All Americans! Worlds Team members are mostly on the right.


Thanks to everyone, especially Sam, Caitlin, Magda, Joe, Kerri, Megan, Kyle, and all the other racers. And thanks to you guys. I seriously owe you everything--you have supported me since I was an ex-football player who couldn't break 20 in a 5k, let alone beat 13 minute 5k'ers to qualify for the World Championships. You all are amazing :)

Check out the GPS and follow me on Strava here: http://www.strava.com/athletes/1733803
Check out my coaching (and send me an email if interested!) here: http://someworkallplay.blogspot.com/ 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rothrock Challenge 30k Race Report

Executive Summary:
1st overall (my first La Sportiva Mountain Cup win!) in 2:32:49, a 7 min course record and 18 minute lead over 2nd place (Jason Bryant, an awesome guy and Mountain Cup/international stalwart). Probably the best way to describe this race is through my internal monologue from the start line forward:

this is nice ... pretty ... yipeeuphill ... country music lyrics ... she thinks my tractor's sexy ... it really turns her on ... oh wait that's a lot of rocks ... even more rocks ... where's the trail? ... THAT'S the trail ... No, THAT is a cliff ... ahhhhhhhCRAPcrapCRAPcrapCRAPcrapOUCHcrapCRAPcrapCRAPcrapPOOP (continues for 19 miles)

This is a typical section of trail.

Basicallly, it was rocky. Oh so rocky. I should have known because it is right there in the race name. RothROCK. My guess is that Roth also means rock in German or something. After yesterday, I am no longer a huge fan of Dwayne Johnson. I think the Rolling Stones should play more soft jazz. If I have to go to Radio City Music Hall around Christmas, my ankles will have a Pavlovian swelling response.

*If anyone under 25 gets that last reference, kudos! Also, if anyone under 25 is reading, Hunger Games Justin Bieber #vampireabstinence

Pre-Race:
In very exciting/humbling news, Megan and I were profiled in Running Times! The awesome author, Justin Mock, wrote a great article, and our puppy Addie made an appearance as well. Being pictured next to 2 beautiful girls probably does not help how I look by comparison. However, if Running Times had smell-o-vision, it might be slightly more even because one of those girls smells perpetually like pee, and the other has her post-run moments.

Addie: THAT IS A COMPLIMENT THANK YOU

Anyway, 4 weeks ago, Megan and I traveled to Montana for another La Sportiva Mountain Cup race called the Don't Fence Me in 30k. On a downhill at mile 12, I decided to get intimate with a few boulders, and they loved me back like Lennie in Of Mice and Men. I came away with 2 broken ribs, a possibly cracked sternum, a pathological fear of sneezing, and a convenient excuse for not having the strength to open some pickle jars.

Megan, however, DOMINATED. My girl is incredible--she won by 7.5 minutes over two top international trail runners (the great Maria Dalzot and Megan Kimmel) during the middle of medical school. Seeing her finish, fresh as a daisy with a big smile, is something I will never forget.

A couple weeks later, we did the China Camp Trail Half Marathon, where Megan again beat a world-champion trail runner (the incredible Megan Lund-Lizotte), this time by 7 minutes. I only beat my fiance by 1:45. We are getting married in August after a run up a mountain to the altar, and I just hope the wedding officiant (my dad! another kindred spirit in that he also smells perpetually like pee) waits for the groom to get started. Fortunately, after that day in August, even when she beats me in races, a Roche will still win.

Weak piggy-back form to protect the ribs.

I also formally launched my coaching service, Some Work, All Play (website with all info here). We have 13 amazing athletes (from recreational runners to Oly Trials qualifiers), and I'd love to work with a few more awesome people if anyone is interested. The service is all about daily dialogue, plans that are responsive to your life, and a goal to have some fun (and fast!) adventures. Contact me anytime at dfr2104@gmail.com if you might be interested :)


Finally, this week I was on a career panel put on by the D.C. Bar called "Introduction to a Career in Environmental Law & Policy." It was so surreal to be up there with 5 amazing, accomplished individuals. I really love my job. Primarily because no one says anything when I smell like pee. After all, it runs in the family.

Race:
The night before, Addie and I saddled up the Suzuki and made the 3 hour drive from DC to State College, PA. My dinner consisted of an entire jar of pickles and a shockingly large amount of chunky peanut butter. Did I have a little bit of Addie's dog treats when we were playing fetch? Perhaps. But they are from Trader Joes, so the ingredients are way better than anything I eat. Don't hate my nutrition game.


The morning dawned beautifully. Addie and I did are typical race warm-up, consisting of sprinting after squirrels and other forest critters. Then resting to smell things. Then doing yoga contortions to rub our backs in animal poop (only one of us did that last thing). After parking the car in the shade 1/2 mile up the course, and telling Addie I loved her, I ran down to the start.

Rothrock is known as one of the toughest courses in the U.S., and my plan was to go at the gun to make up as much time as possible before the first nasty downhills. Before the 1 mile, 1,100 foot climb began about 0.5 miles in, I ran by the car and Addie let out a few barks of encouragement. I am so excited about one day in the somewhat distant future when my human daughter comes to races and does the same thing, yelling at me from her crate in the backseat.

Wait...that's not what I meant. No time for edits though because the course was about to turn up. Straight the crap up. I love these types of inclines, and I tried to move my weight forward and bounce up the climb. Next was the dreaded, infamous Kettle Descent. It drops 600 feet in 0.3 miles down a boulder field. I had Megan's pre-race advice coursing through my head: "David, I don't care if you win or lose. Just don't fall off a cliff and die."

Another section of trail!

I gingerly descended, walking when I had to, butt sliding at other times. As the trail ran along the valley for the next few miles, I reached a bit of a mental low-point as I realized that the rest of the race was going to be all rocks. Then, I had a caffeinated gel (my first time taking in fuel of any type at a running race). Everything changed.

Oh my gosh if I were a psychologist, I would encourage my patients to have a caffeinated gel whenever they were feeling down. They make everything a million times better:
The Health Care roll-out didn't go as planned? /takes gel/ OBAMA IS CREATING I.T. JOBS YES WE CAN.
Russia is being a jerk? /takes gel/ WOOHOO MORE OPTIONS FOR JAMES BOND MOVIE VILLAINS.
Rain on your wedding day? A free ride when you've already paid? /takes gel/ I NOW KNOW THE DEFINITION OF IRONY DOES NOT INCLUDE THINGS THAT JUST HAPPEN TO SUCK HOORAY VOCABULARY.

Supercharged by legal drugs, the rocks suddenly became fun opportunities to run joyfully, completely in the moment. The course was awesomely challenging--rocks everywhere, straight up and down, full of twists and turns, with informal trails across boulder fields marked by blazes. It was like being a kid, sprinting through the woods, eluding imaginary foes and coming back home with a few scrapes. Speaking of kids and Google hits, #vampireabstinence

Our Easter celebration!

3 gels later, I reached the most infamous section of all...Shingletown Gap. It goes straight down and up, over 350 feet in 0.13 miles. They anchor ropes to the rock, and I grabbed the first one as hard as I could and scurried down. Unfortunately, I treated the rope like a firehouse pole, and I paid for the rookie mistake with deep red burns in my palms. Fortunately, on 3 caffeine gels, I couldn't feel a thing until hours later. I LOVE PAIN IT MAKES ME FEEL ALIVE /caffeine twitch.

The rest of the race, I was running scared, trying to escape pursuing apparitions who might bound by me on any downhill. Running my fastest few miles in the final section, motivated by ghosts, I crossed the line in 2:32:49, a course record in a hotly contested Mountain Cup race. After a journey like that, Addie's licks meant so much. And a beer or two helped counteract the caffeine buzz.

Strategic porta-potty placement.

Thanks so much to the PA running community (especially PA's Integrity Sports) for being the best, La Sportiva for putting these races on the national stage, and all of you for being awesome and supportive. I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH LET ME LICK YOU. That was Addie. Or David on an extreme caffeine high.