If April 18 turns out to be unseasonably warm at the Boston Marathon, however, they might not be so comfortable.
Roecker is a registered nurse, and she is also a marathoner with some serious credentials—her personal best is 2:29:59 from 2020, and she represented the United States at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where she finished fifth in 2:32.
She’s racing Boston this year—not for speed but to call attention to a special cause. Instead of a tank top and race bottoms, she’ll be wearing scrubs, which she wears to work each day in her career as a nurse. Roecker is raising money for the American Nurses Foundation’s programs supporting the mental health and wellness of nurses in the U.S., many of whom have struggled during the pandemic.
“I’ve had several friends and coworkers who have firsthand suffered from the effects of what the pandemic has done to them—really suffered—with PTSD, anxiety, and depression,” Roecker, 30, told Runner’s World.
Roecker has seen a lot. She works 25 hours per week currently in Philadelphia, at an outpatient ear, nose and throat clinic. She’s also in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, taking classes for a masters of science in nursing. For her clinical rotations, she’s been working in an ER for 20 hours per week since January—right as the Omicron variant surged across the country.
Her idea to run a marathon in scrubs, and raise money for nurses’ mental health, came to her in the shower one day as she was mulling how to combine her passions for running and nursing.
“I was trying to think of what I could do to make running not a selfish thing, but a meaningful thing,” she said.
She texted a few friends, and her longtime coach, Ray Treacy, to see if her idea was “dumb.” They were unanimous in their support.
Roecker tries to run twice a day, but her long hours of work and classes get in the way of what would be a more typical schedule for an elite marathoner. She manages between 90 and 100 miles a week, but she often runs as late as 10 at night and again by 6:30 in the morning from her apartment in Center City, Philadelphia, before heading off to a shift.
Every 10 days or so, when she has a little more free time, she’ll drive outside of the city for her long runs.
“I get in the miles whenever I can,” she said. “If I have extra time one day, I’ll go for 12 instead of 8. I’m very flexible with my training, because my schedule is so all over the place. I try to make it work when I can.”
Although Roecker has the credentials to run with the elite women at Boston, she doesn’t want to. With her less-than-ideal training, she has no intention to detract from the seriousness of competition in the pro field. Instead, she’s hoping for a wave 1 start, and she thinks—if the weather cooperates and it’s not too hot—she can run around 2:45. (Still, the sight of a marathoner in long pants gliding through the towns leading to Boston at 6:15 pace ought to turn heads.)
If she does, she’ll shatter the Guinness World Record for fastest time in a nurse’s uniform (female), which is 3:08:22. A nurse in the U.K., Jessica Anderson, ran that time in scrubs in 2019 at the London Marathon and at first, Guinness didn’t recognize the effort because the organization held outdated ideas for what nurses wear (a dress, a white apron, and a nurse’s cap). The rules have since changed, and Anderson stands as the current record holder.
Roecker remembers following the story—and her subsequent disbelief. Since then, the record has been in the back of her mind.
But at the forefront of her thoughts have been her colleagues in healthcare professions, many of whom worked tirelessly through the worst of the pandemic and have since left the profession. Roecker despairs for them—and for future patients who would have benefited from their care and now will not have it. Her Boston Marathon is one small act of solidarity.
“I don’t like the spotlight, I don’t want this to be me, but I feel like this has to be me,” she said.
She has raised $15,000 so far—and hopes to make it to $26,200 by the time she steps to the line in Boston.
Watch: Sam Roecker Nailed the 'A' Standard for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials