At 5 in the morning in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, hundreds of costume-clad, endurance-oriented ultramarathoners begin lining up at the start of the Hoka One One Javelina Jundred 100-mile race. In a culture of extremes, the ultramarathon start includes a diverse group of elite athletes, weekend warriors and tattooed renegades eager to venture into the dry heat for the next 13 to 30 hours. In addition to their ambitions, these runners have brought along entire support crews to help them maintain fuel and hydration, pace through the night and face the mental demons that appear after 24 straight hours on the trail
It's an unlikely scene that takes place several times a year at the biggest ultramarathon races. With runners, volunteers and crew accounted for, there are all types, shapes and sizes of human represented. At this race, though, there is one notable omission from the start line: Megan Roche, the 2016 USATF ultrarunner and sub-ultrarunner of the year, four-time national ultrarunning champion and six-time member of the U.S. world ultrarunning team. "I wanted to be there so badly!" Roche said in a phone interview. "I had to take my boards for medical school the next day. I tried to make it work, but getting on a plane at midnight and taking boards hours later just wasn't going to fly." Although she couldn't attend the race, many of the athletes enrolled in her coaching program -- Some Work All Play (SWAP) -- did. Through their social media posts, mutual cheers and camaraderie, her presence did not go unnoticed
Roche is a fourth-year Stanford medical student, soon-to-be-doctor, professional coach to an entire community of runners and one of the best ultra distance runners in the country. Like her sport, she lives her life in extremes.