Nursing-Running-School-Life Balance with Sam Roeker

Nursing-Running-School-Life Balance with Sam Roeker

by Moxie Scrubs

Samantha Roeker, RN, NP student, and elite distance runner, broke the world record for the fastest marathon in a nurse's uniform at the Boston Marathon this April (in navy blue scrubs, no less!). In the process she raised nearly $50,000 for the American Nurses Foundation Well-Being Initiative, which supports mental health for healthcare workers.

She joins us for an interview on how to maintain this incredible balancing act, complete with tips on self-care, time management, and even how to squeeze in a social hour. 

Last but not least, she shares excellent resources for healthcare workers in need of support. 

First things first: Congratulations on breaking the world record! How did it feel?

Thank you! It felt good, surprisingly! Marathons don't normally feel good. It was really fun, really nice running for a different purpose than the fastest time in a competitive running sense. 

I can’t help but asking, which Moxies did you run in?

I ran in the Justine Joggers and the Stephanie Top. They felt really good! If you're going to wear pants in a marathon, they’re better than leggings, wasn't as hot and restrictive, really comfortable! I really don't have any complaints other than spilling water on myself which is completely my fault and not the scrubs fault. I think they were perfect.

As an elite marathon runner, a full-time nurse, and NP student, you must be a time management and self-care magician! What does self-care mean to you?

I just want to preface that (self-care) is always a work in progress, but the goal that I try to have is separating what happens at work and keeping that at work, and then coming home and trying to have different goals and a different purpose. It's really easy to get caught up in a work stressor at home, or a running stressor at work, or a school stressor at work, so try to just give each thing the appropriate amount of time so that your mind can relax when it's allowed to. Focus on one task at a time. That's something I'm trying to constantly work on but what I've identified as the thing that helps me the most.

I'm such a nerd so I couldn’t help sneak a pun in... Will you “run” us through an average day?

Sure! Sometimes it goes off the rails which is totally fine, you adapt and adjust. I think that's part of it too, being flexible with your day. Obviously we can't control things like weather or traffic. Ideally, I would wake up before work or school or clinicals or whatever I have to do that day and run. I've preferred sleeping in the last couple years so doing a shorter run in the morning, going to work or clinicals for 8 to 12 hours depending on the day, and then coming home and getting another run in. Then winding down with maybe some Netflix binging. Some days it does mean staying up late finishing school work. Luckily if I stay up late to finish an assignment it doesn't totally throw me off the next day, but I totally endorse getting as much sleep as your body needs.

Those days are pretty packed. So, if there's a Sunday where I don't have anything going on, I try to really let myself sleep in, wake up naturally, go for a run, and enjoy being with my boyfriend or my friends or my dogs for some of the day. I'm one of those crazy people that runs twice a day most days. So I usually try to squeeze two runs in between a lot of lounging on the couch.

If you're not an elite athlete then I'm assuming probably once a day is plenty? And… maybe even taking a day off here and there?

Yes, yes. Listen to what your body needs.

The last time we spoke you shared that you often run home from work in your Moxie Scrubs Joggers. Can you share more of your time-saving strategies? 

I've gotten my shower routine down quickly, and pick a hairstyle that works with wet hair. Those kind of things are big time savers for me. Running home or using some kind of form of exercise to get home. I see a lot of people commute jogging now or using a city bike. That's really good for your body, too. There's so many studies that show that your mental health and physical health is improved even if you just walk to the subway station versus getting right in your car. Being able to use your body to get to and from your job is a really cool time saving trick. 

I was able to talk to Jessica Anderson, the previous world record holder. She's also a nurse. She lives in Scotland and when she broke the record in the London Marathon she also ran to and from her job (to train). She wasn't wearing scrubs though… she didn't have Moxies!

What is the most important thing a working nurse can do to get in shape and be healthier?

Setting small realistic goals is really important. If you're not exercising at all, increase that to two days a week, and then a couple weeks later three days a week. Or, if you are exercising, set something on the calendar like a race or an event or big run with friends or walking or yoga. Setting small realistic goals, and either writing them down, or telling them to somebody makes it more real, and holds you a little bit more accountable. That along with consistency. There's always ups and downs in the day-to-day but if you look at consistency over time, I think that's the key to success.

Can you share your best hacks for maintaining a healthy diet with such a small amount of time?

It's really hard to pack (meals) for a 12-plus hour shift. Find something that works with your work schedule that is easy to pack. In the mornings, l make a quick oatmeal with frozen berries and put it in a to-go cup, and just bring that with me to work. That usually holds me over until I can get lunch. I'm fortunate to have pretty good food options at my hospital. But, that's a tricky thing for a lot of healthcare workers. 

I'm going to put that on hospitals - we need better food choices for our staff. And if (healthy options) are there, they're really expensive. So, it's tough. I think making an affordable, healthier cafeteria in most hospitals is something that can be improved upon that makes a lot of sense. I know a lot of units have small refrigerators that they're sharing with a lot of people, so sometimes it's not possible to meal-prep and bring that to work and stash your food in a cold place.

Sounds like a really important note for hospitals. With this busy schedule, how do you connect with your people and fit friends into the mix?

I'm fortunate that most of my people are runners. So, running is my social hour. Sometimes, I do like running as my alone time to clear my head, a release, but most days of the week I’m also seeing my friends.

Mental health is a special topic for you. What keeps you grounded?

The easy answer for that is running. That's been a constant in my life. It's a time where I can dip out with my thoughts. One of the main questions I always get asked about running is what music do you listen to. I really don't. I try not to bring my phone unless I have to. I know that comes with safety concerns as a woman, as well. But, it's a really nice time to just let my mind wander. Ever since I started running I’ve used that as a time to detangle thoughts. I think physical activity can do that for a lot of people. I hate waking up early to run before something but I'm so much more productive even if I just go for a short run before tackling a long day.

What do you want nurses to know about the importance of self-care?

We can't take care of other people unless we take care of ourselves, and we need to be the best version of ourselves in order to do that. Even though it may not seem like the most important thing, and it's really easy to get caught up in everyone else around you as a nurse. At the end of the day you need to be your best self, too. So, it's really important to carve out that time for yourself.

One last question. When should nurses reach out for support and what resources are available to them?

You should always reach out for support. It's a hard job and it's only gotten tougher. Even when you're stable.

The American Nurses Foundation - Well-Being Initiative has free counseling resources and therapy, expressive writing courses, just so many different outlets, so that's a wonderful resource. Hospitals, since the pandemic, have come up with their own resources specific to the practice that you're in. And, usually it's also covered. A big thing is cost with mental health care resources. We need a big systemic change in this country. Look at what's available in your community. And what relates the most to your job in general and branching out from there. It's also really therapeutic to talk with other nurses that can relate to your job or your journey as a nurse.

Like a support group?

Yes, unofficial or official. You can make your own.

To join Sam's journey in healthcare, advocacy, and running, follow her here.

- As told to Moxie Scrubs


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