Samantha Roecker is an elite-level runner and a nurse at a Penn Medicine outpatient clinic.
At the Boston Marathon on April 18, she is combining the two passions: running the storied 26.2-mile race while wearing nursing scrubs.
The goal is to raise funds and awareness for the mental health and well-being of nurses, and she is doing it at a brisk pace. As of Monday, with a boost from a recent article in Runner’s World, she had raised close to $19,000 toward her $26,200 goal.
She came up with the idea in January after hearing so many friends, former classmates, and colleagues talk about the challenges of practicing medicine during the pandemic. It was a way to make her running about something other than personal accomplishment — though she’s had plenty of that, too, breaking the 2½-hour barrier in a December 2020 marathon.
“It seems like every day there’s a new story about nurse burnout or health-care workers struggling,” she said. “They’ve been called health-care heroes, but we’re seeing the detrimental effect that it has had on so many people.”
Roecker, 30, who goes by Sam, said she has fared OK, working for most of the pandemic as a registered nurse in an ear, nose, and throat clinic.
But in January, she started helping on the COVID front lines. She spends up to 20 hours a week in the emergency department of Cooper University Hospital in Camden, a clinical rotation that is part of her studies at Penn toward becoming a nurse-practitioner.
“That was peak omicron,” she said.
She has scaled back her time in the Penn outpatient clinic but still works there 25 hours a week on top of the shifts at Cooper.
Much of her remaining time is spent training for Boston, typically running 90 to 100 miles each week.
To get in tip-top racing shape, Roecker says, she’d need to log up to 120 miles a week, generally at higher intensity than what she is doing now.
That’s how hard she trained to get ready for the Marathon Project, a December 2020 race in Chandler, Ariz., aimed at elite runners. She finished in 2:29:59, a personal best — all the more gratifying because she’d had to sit out the Olympic trials earlier that year due to injury. (Her time was less than 11 minutes behind the U.S. record of 2:19:12, and about 16 minutes behind the world record of 2:14:04.)
But given her somewhat reduced training regimen of late, setting a personal best is not Roecker’s goal in Boston. The primary objective is raising the money, which is earmarked for nurse wellness programs run by the American Nurses Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Nurses Association.
Still, Roecker thinks she might be able to run close to 2:45, a speedy pace of 6 minutes, 18 seconds per mile.
That would make her the fastest person to have run a marathon in nursing scrubs. (Yes, it’s an official category at Guinness World Records, with a current mark of 3:08:22.)
To get used to the feel of running in long pants, Roecker has trained a few times in a pair of dark-blue scrubs.
So far, so good, though the correspondent from Runner’s World seemed concerned about chafing.
Not to worry, Roecker says.
Provided by sponsor Moxie Scrubs, her race outfit is not made from that cheap, disposable hospital fabric that feels like stiff paper. Instead, her pants and top are made of a breathable, forgiving blend of polyester and spandex.