David Roche’s Coaching Philosophy For Trail Runners

David Roche at the 2017 USA 50K Trail Championships where he won 3rd place. Photo: Megan Roche

As coaches and accomplished trail runners, David and Megan Roche could easily be called the “first couple of trail running.” David, coached by Megan, recently took 3rd at the USA 50K Trail Championships, and he has two previous USA Trail 10K titles under his belt. Meanwhile, David also coaches Megan, and just helped her attain recognition as USATF Trail Runner of the Year in both ultra and sub-ultra distances. She is a four-time national trail champion, six-time member of Team USA, and if that’s not enough, she’s also a fourth year medical student at Stanford where she is researching running, injuries, and biomechanics.

In 2013, David, who lives in the Bay Area, started Some Work All Play (SWAP), a community of 100 runners all personally coached by him. In this group are dozens of elite athletes, including Megan, 2016 Leadville 100 winner Clare Gallagher, and International Skyrunning Champion Hillary Allen. We sat down with David to learn more about his coaching philosophy.

How did you get into running and coaching?

“I went to college to play football at Columbia, and considered myself a sprinter and weightlifter. I didn’t even last through my entire freshman year—I found myself as a 200-pound ex-football player at 18 or 19 in New York City after growing up in a farming area of Maryland. I felt lost in geographic place. Running started right after that as a means to find dirt and escape the concrete and rush of humanity that you get in New York City. I thought 5 miles was excruciatingly far at the time. The really cool thing is that the experience of coming into running later in life and having no coach as a kid to tell me what to do is shared with a lot of trail runners. That experience gave me unique insight into what runners face and laid the groundwork for getting into coaching.”

What’s your coaching philosophy?

 Whenever you make a decision about running, it should be about what will make you a better runner in three years. Everyone loves running not because of results, but because of the process and life. We still want to be running when we are 60. I try to create a community that is centered around ‘everyone is an elite’. If you run, you are an elite runner to me. There’s no difference between the pros who win World Championships and people who running 10-15 miles per week with a crazy busy job. If you’re out there doing it every day, then you’ve met all the prerequisites in my mind of being an elite runner, and anything that comes after is either due to people’s decisions or a mistake of genetics—we shouldn’t put someone on a pedestal because certain people are just good naturally. I try to create an environment through the team I coach in which what matters is the grind, not the results of the grind.”

Who are your mentors?

 “Megan is my mentor when it comes to running and life. She coaches me, and I’m very lucky to have that. So much of this philosophy comes from the philosophy of learning about love through her—the sappy answer that people probably don’t want to hear! My favorite coach is Steve Magness because of the way that he is so intellectually flexible and willing to adapt for each athlete. And the trail running community as a whole—people here are truly accepting and all that matters is community.”

You coach over 100 athletes, including your wife Megan. How do you balance your own performance goals with your coaching duties?

 If I found out that I couldn’t race again, I wouldn’t be sad about it because I invest about 1 percent of my energy in my own running and the other 99 percent in my athlete’s performance and fulfillment. 1 percent of me would be a little bit sad though.”

Congrats on your recent 3rd place finish at the USA 50K Championships. Can you tell us how that race went down?

“It was a fun way to start the year. The race had a lot of obstacles embedded within it. At mile 8, I was in the lead with Max King when I got to a mud bog for which the race director warned us to tie our shoes tight. The mud bog swallowed my shoe, and I needed help from two guys on the course to find it. I had to recalibrate my expectations, goals, thoughts and just finish. What trail and ultra-running does is that you find out more about yourself when stuff hits the fan. I always tell my athletes that when you go into a race, you don’t think about results, but you expect that your body will give you breakthroughs, then you take it as it comes and always be joyous.”

What are your personal running goals over the next few years?

“Just staying on Megan’s feet and sticking with her has led me to all the fun and great things I get to experience now. I think I can get faster and faster, and compete internationally in shorter distance ultras, but Megan has so much potential if she chooses to explore it. I find that my performances are pretty weak if Megan’s not there. I derive so much strength from her, so I’ll probably just tag along.”

What does one of your training weeks look like?

“I need to be at the computer most days during work hours and don’t love running in the evenings. I do 85 to 100 miles per week on six days with a full rest day each week, longer singles in the morning, and weekends running with Megan. I do one workout per week focused on shorter intervals with shorter rest to emphasize running economy. I try to do this year-round and I’m still progressing.”

Between your own running, coaching, and being married to a runner, do you ever need a break?

“I actually don’t. I tell my athletes that when you make a decision in life and you are sure of it, write it on a post-it note and put it on the fridge…and the time you don’t want to (run) is the time you need it most.”

RELATED: Why You Should Know This 26-Year-Old Breakout Ultrarunner

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