Next in our series of “Coach Knows”

David Roche

David Roche is a successful coach based in the US. We came across his coaching philosophy through local trail star Meg Mackenzie, who is one of the champs on his books right now and a well-known force in SA Trail Running. We followed his quirky tweets for a while, and decided to find out more about the man behind them. His website bio is describes him as “The 2016 “Way Too Cool” 50k winner, the 2012 and 2014 USA Trail 10k National Champion, the 2014 US Sub-Ultra Trail Runner of the Year, a member of the 2014 US Mountain Running Team, the 2015 US Long Distance Mountain Team, and the 2017 US Trail World Champs team. David graduated from Columbia University with honours and received a master's degree and law degree from Duke University with honours.”

When asked, David describes himself as follows:

I run lots, mostly on trails, usually chasing my wife Megan and dog Addie, who are both way better runners than I am. 

I began coaching in 2012, with a premise that the Some Work, All Play (SWAP) team could learn to live like puppies and run like rockstars while not giving a f#ck about things that aren't important. The SWAP team specializes in trails, with dozens of world-class athletes at every discipline on dirt.

David’s style is a little different from many coaches, with a notable emphasis on taking care of the emotional navigation around racing, in addition to physical guidance. David outlines that philosophy in more detail:

Running is one part of a full life--it's not distinct from the rest of life (and it isn't life itself). For most runners, it's another part of their identity, alongside being a parent or a teacher or whatever they derive meaning from. So our philosophy is that you can't separate running goals from life goals. For SWAP, running is just part of a broader search for contentedness and peace in life. While that sounds like I just took a few too many hits of some very strong drugs, all it means in practice is that we don't care about results. When running has a finish line, what happens when you get there? Often, the answer is disillusionment (and sometimes depression). Instead, we try to support the whole person, runner included. When making decisions about training and racing, we always ask our athletes to think "Will this make me a happier and more fulfilled person and athlete in three years?" The catch is that the three-year time horizon keeps moving back, so that it's impossible to get to. Long-term thinking based on long-term life priorities makes finding joy in the moment a bit easier.

David and his wife, Megan, offer worldwide coaching support and have some very recognisable names on their list of athletes.

We have Meg in South Africa, a number of Canadian and British stars, then in the US the team includes Hillary Allen (current leader of world Skyrunning series), Cat Bradley (winner of 2017 Western States 100 miler), Clare Gallagher (Leadville 100 winner), Amelia Boone (world obstacle course racing champ), Zach Ornelas (multiple-time US national champ), and lots of others your followers may know if they are big fans of the sport in the US (full list here)

We love seeing “our” star, Meg, on a list with so many global greats, and we know that Meg holds David in really high regard when it comes to her trail running career. David outlines his involvement with Meg’s career in more detail:

I was so fortunate to partner with Meg back in January. It was immediately clear that she has immense talent, both physical and mental, in addition to being an amazing human being. Hout Bay Trail Challenge (where Meg finished 1st woman and 2nd overall recently) was just a hint of her potential as a runner and person. You know that three-year plan I mentioned in the earlier question? Meg's three-year plan is so big and audacious that I am hesitant to put it on paper, or even tell Meg! I'll say this: she has no limits to her potential on the international stage, and she'll do it all with a big Meg smile.

David took Meg through a dark patch of injury quite recently. We asked about his advice for a runner facing injury and a long period out of running?

Never stop believing in yourself. That is cliché, but getting inside the psyche of so many elite athletes has shown me that faith in the process of life and running is a unifying trait of champions with long careers in the sport. For Meg, she was upset for a few minutes, then immediately started smiling again and got to work. She did some of the most difficult bike workouts I have ever given, and she asked for more. She was patient. But mostly, she believed me when I said that she would bounce back stronger than ever. And in the process, she began believing in the crazy sh*t I was telling her about where this sport would take her. It's like Neo in the move The Matrix, where he slowly finds out he is "the One." I hope that is where Meg is now--that scene where Neo asks his "coach" Morpheus: "What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?" And Morpheus responds, "I'm trying to tell you that when you're ready, you won't have to."

Long story short: injuries are opportunities to practice self-belief when it isn't easy. And self-belief is the most important trait shared by elite athletes.

David’s proudest moment as a coach?

Cat Bradley joined the SWAP team in August 2016. In her first email, she said something along the lines of "I hope to one day be able to win races in my home state of Colorado." Over time, we talked a lot about self-belief and all that philosophical stuff, all while she put in amazing training. This year, in the pre-race prediction contest hosted by the website iRunFar, only 1 out of 1100 entrants predicted she would win the Western States 100. And when she shocked the world, I think it surprised almost everyone. But it didn't surprise her, because she learned to believe in herself and love herself unconditionally.

Other than his great relationship with Meg, David has yet to visit our trails, and we think he should!

I have never been to South Africa! But Meg is one of my favourite people in the world (we interact almost every day), and my wife and I love watching Trevor Noah every night. So we at least have some familiarity with the delightful accents!

See you here soon, David!


Follow David Roche on Twitter @MountainRoche