En­ter­ing the Void

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Rhi­an­non Rus­sell

Al­bert a’s David P roc­tor holds Cana­dian records for run­ning the most dis­tance in 2 4, 48 and even 72 hours. This sum­mer, he will at­tempt to run across Canada faster than any­one in his­tory, in­spired by the phys­i­cal strug­gle his son faces each day.

Al­berta’s David Proc­tor holds Cana­dian records for run­ning the most dis­tance in 24, 48 and even 72 hours. This sum­mer, he will at­tempt to run across Canada faster than any­one in his­tory, in­spired by the chal­lenges his son faces each day.

Dave Proc­tor was star­ing down the next 2 4 hours with a sin­gle goal: run as many laps of a 400 m high-school track as pos­si­ble. It was De­cem­ber 2014 at the Desert Sol­stice Track In­vi­ta­tional in Ari­zona, and this was Proc­tor’s first such race. He’d run ul­tra­ma­rathons back home in Al­berta, and when a friend told him about 2 4-hour rac­ing, Proc­tor was in­trigued.

So here he was. Lap af­ter lap, hour af­ter hour, Proc­tor wasn’t bored. “I couldn’t even lis­ten to my mu­sic be­cause I needed to stay fo­cused on what I was crav­ing, what I was think­ing, how I was feel­ing, my pace,” he says. He fin­ished in sev­enth place, with 200 kilo­me­tres, or ex­actly 500 laps of the track. The win­ner racked up 2 48.67 kilo­me­tres.

Proc­tor was hooked. “I love lock­ing in and putting in that pace,” he says. “What’s beau­ti­ful about 2 4-hour races is they’re nor­mally around a loop and you can eat and drink when­ever you want, so it’s all about body man­age­ment. I love the sci­ence of that stuff.” The fol­low­ing year, he com­peted at the 2 4-Hour World Cham­pi­onships in Turin, Italy, along with 300 other run­ners. He came sixth with 257.09 kilo­me­tres, set­ting a Cana­dian record.

Proc­tor, 37, is a hus­band and fa­ther of three, and lives in Oko­toks, Alta. He works in Cal­gary, half an hour north, as a mas­sage ther­a­pist at a sports phys­io­ther­apy clinic. A born and raised Al­ber­tan, Proc­tor grew up play­ing softball and sprint­ing, look­ing up to Dono­van Bai­ley, Robert Es­mie and Bruny Surin.

Proc­tor’s dad, who was also his softball coach, put a mat­tress against one wall in the base­ment, then would plunk him­self down with a cig­a­rette in one hand and a beer in the other and watch his son throw pitch af­ter pitch at the wall. To­day, Proc­tor at­tributes his in­tense work ethic to this prac­tice.

He made the ju­nior na­tional track and field team as a de­cath­lete and trav­elled to Hol­land when he was 18. In the first event, the 100-me­tre, he tore his hip f lexor. Af­ter that, Proc­tor didn’t run for about three years. He gained some weight and was just “not feel­ing great,” he says, so he laced up his shoes one morn­ing be­fore work and went for a run around his neigh­bour­hood. It felt like an eter­nity – look­ing back, he thinks it was only two or three kilo­me­tres – but it also felt good to be out, spin­ning the wheels. He ran a lo­cal 10k , then a half-marathon.

In 2006, a friend men­tioned he was run­ning the 100k Lost Soul Ul­tra in Leth­bridge. “Is that even hu­manly pos­si­ble?” Proc­tor asked him. “Can the hu­man body travel that far on its own?” He wanted to try. So he cre­ated his own train­ing plan – “I’ve al­ways had con­trol is­sues,” he ad­mits. “If I’m go­ing to do it, I’m go­ing to do it on my terms.” On race day, the first 50 kilo­me­tres felt great; the lat­ter half did not. He “walked it in,” fin­ish­ing in 18:33. That only made him more de­ter­mined. “I’ve al­ways been a bit of a per­fec­tion­ist,” he laughs. Proc­tor ran Lost Soul again the fol­low­ing year and fin­ished in 14:49.

Af­ter a few years of run­ning ul­tras, Proc­tor came to re­al­ize 100-mile and 200-mile races were where he re­ally ex­celled. He didn’t have the speed for 100 kilo­me­tres, but be­yond that dis­tance, his pace didn’t slow. “Ever since [my in­jury], I’ve had very lim­ited power and speed, which is great, be­cause when you’re run­ning 100 miles, you do not need any power and speed at all,” he says. “It’s nice and slow.” So be­gan his foray into 2 4-hour rac­ing.

When Proc­tor got back from Italy, he had an idea for another record he could break: the Guin­ness World Record for the long­est dis­tance run on a tread­mill in 24 hours. At the time, that was 257.88 kilo­me­tres.

He sug­gested to his friend, Blaine Penny, that they or­ga­nize an event at the Sco­tia­bank Cal­gary Marathon expo. Penny is a co-founder of Mi­toCanada, a not-for-profit that sup­ports peo­ple with mi­to­chon­drial dis­ease. Per­haps, Proc­tor sug­gested, they could raise money for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

This was how the two men had met in the first place, a few years prior. Penny’s son Evan has mi­to­chon­drial dis­ease and is a quad­ri­plegic. Proc­tor’s mid­dle child, Sam, has a rare dis­ease called re­laps­ing en­cephalopa­thy with cere­bel­lar ataxia ( reca), though at the time he was un­di­ag­nosed. At one point, the fam­ily sus­pected he might have mi­to­chon­drial dis­ease. So Proc­tor reached out to Penny, and they met for a run in Cal­gary’s Nose Hill Park and talked about their sons.

Penny had ex­pe­ri­ence or­ga­niz­ing events that tied ath­letic feats with fundrais­ing. In 2013, he and nine friends set a Guin­ness World Record for run­ning the fastest linked marathon in 2:55. They raised more than $100,000 for Mi­toCanada. “In Canada, there’s ac­tu­ally 86,000 regis­tered char­i­ties and another 80,000 or 90,000 not-for-prof­its,” Penny says. “There are a lot of dif­fer­ent causes out there, great causes, all try­ing to get

your at­ten­tion and all try­ing to raise a few dol­lars… So I think you need to do some­thing re­ally cre­ative and unique to try to stand out.”

He and Proc­tor de­cided to make mul­ti­ple si­mul­ta­ne­ous Guin­ness World Record at­tempts on tread­mills, putting to­gether a men’s and women’s team of 12 each who’d tackle the long­est dis­tance run on a tread­mill in 2 4 hours by a team. Cal­gary run­ner Arielle Fitzger­ald would strive to beat the fastest 50k and 100k times by a woman on a tread­mill. And Proc­tor would at­tempt the 2 4-hour dis­tance solo. The group wore lime-green sin­glets that read: “Run­ning for those who can’t.”

Fitzger­ald crushed both records, as did the men’s and women’s teams. Proc­tor ran with a photo of his son on the front of his tread­mill. “There came a point (past the 20-hour mark) where he was not just look­ing at me but look­ing through me,” re­calls Penny, who ran on the men’s team. “You could tell he was just empty both phys­i­cally and men­tally… You can only imag­ine – you’re run­ning like a ham­ster on this tread­mill and he was push­ing a fast pace.”

With an hour left to go, Proc­tor’s wife, Sharon, asked Penny to give him a pep talk: “I just said, ‘Dave, don’t for­get why we’re do­ing this. We’re do­ing this for your lit­tle guy, Sam. We’re do­ing this for Evan. And we’re do­ing this for all the peo­ple out there who are suf­fer­ing from this dis­ease. What you’re do­ing is noth­ing. You’re suf­fer­ing for 24 hours. These kids suf­fer day in and day out.’

“It was a re­ally dark pe­riod for us as a fam­ily,” Penny re­mem­bers. “Evan was quite sick and in a lot of chronic pain… and cry­ing pretty much ev­ery wak­ing mo­ment. I just re­minded Dave of how tough that is and how much strength we drew from what he was do­ing.” Proc­tor didn’t re­spond, but started in­creas­ing the tread­mill’s speed. “It was like a switch went off,” says Penny. “I said, ‘OK, Dave, set­tle down a lit­tle bit.’” He laughs.

Proc­tor fin­ished amid cheers from the crowd. He’d run 260. 4 kilo­me­tres. He says it was one of the great­est mo­ments of his life. “Not only were you do­ing some­thing re­ally frick­ing cool when it comes to an ath­letic feat,” Proc­tor says, “you were chang­ing the lives of peo­ple who were re­ally in need.”

He knows the hard­ships of rais­ing a child with a rare dis­ease. When Sam was born, he ap­peared to be a happy, healthy baby. But at 13 months old, he caught a f lu virus. He was lethar­gic and ap­peared to have a fever. Sev­eral hours later, he be­came very wob­bly on his feet. Not long af­ter, he couldn’t move his arms or legs or turn his head. Proc­tor and

“EVER SINCE [MY IN­JURY], I’VE HAD VERY LIM­ITED POWER AND SPEED, WHICH IS GREAT, BE­CAUSE WHEN YOU’RE RUN­NING 100 MILES, YOU DO NOT NEED ANY POWER AND SPEED AT ALL,” HE SAYS. “IT’S NICE AND SLOW.”

“PROC­TOR KNEW AL HOWIE HELD THE RECORD FOR THE FASTEST RUN ACROSS CANADA: 72 DAYS. AND HE THOUGHT HE COULD BEAT IT.

his wife took Sam to the hospi­tal, where he stayed for two weeks. Doc­tors couldn’t fig­ure out what was wrong. Af­ter Sam’s fever broke, he slowly re­gained his abil­ity to move, but it took about six months be­fore he could walk again. And he had ataxia – a lack of bal­ance and co­or­di­na­tion – he didn’t have be­fore. When Sam was two, he got sick again and had the same symp­toms. Again, Proc­tor and Sharon took him to the hospi­tal. When the fever broke, the ataxia lin­gered. Over the years, the Proc­tors saw sev­eral spe­cial­ists, all who tried and failed to fig­ure out what was go­ing on. Af­ter feel­ing like they ex­hausted all pos­si­ble re­sources in Canada, they went to the Mayo Clinic in Min­nesota. But doc­tors there couldn’t di­ag­nose him ei­ther. “When Sam walks, he’s wob­bly,” says Proc­tor. “When he speaks, he doesn’t speak all that clearly. He uses a walker to get around at school. He has is­sues with fine mo­tor skills, like feed­ing him­self and some­times go­ing to the wash­room.” Fi­nally, in 2017, af­ter six years of not know­ing, Sam was di­ag­nosed. A Cana­dian re­search pro­gram called Care for Rare did a dna se­quenc­ing study and, as Proc­tor puts it, “took all of Sam’s dna, threw it into a com­puter, and found a nee­dle in a haystack.” RecA is a very rare dis­ease. His is only the fifth di­ag­no­sis in the world.

The Proc­tors learned that Sam’s two bouts of the f lu were re­lapses, and as his body tem­per­a­ture rose, his cere­bel­lum – the back part of the brain – shut down, caus­ing him to lose bal­ance and co­or­di­na­tion. When the fever broke, the cere­bel­lum started to work again. But be­cause the brain had been shut down, there was resid­ual dam­age. The ataxia Sam now lives with is a re­sult of those two re­lapses. And he will have more re­lapses in his life, says Proc­tor, if he catches this spe­cific f lu virus again.

“I can’t tell you how frus­trat­ing that is as a fa­ther, as a par­ent,” says Proc­tor, of the years-long search for a di­ag­no­sis. “If you have a rare dis­ease in Canada, you fall into the void.” So once he stepped off that tread­mill, his mind was rac­ing. The event raised

$75,000 for Mi­toCanada, and he wanted to do some­thing to help fam­i­lies like his.

Proc­tor knew Al Howie held the record for the fastest run across Canada: 72 days. And he thought he could beat it. He pitched it to Sharon as a fam­ily road trip, with her and the kids in an RV and him run­ning on the side of the high­way. It would be a fundraiser for the Rare Dis­ease Foun­da­tion ( rdf), he told her. She didn’t need much con­vinc­ing. And so Out­run Rare was born. On June 27, Proc­tor will leave from Van­cou­ver with the goal of run­ning 108 kilo­me­tres daily for 66 days. He’ll eat din­ner with his fam­ily ev­ery day and sleep in the RV with them ev­ery night. His crew will fol­low in a sec­ond RV.

The rdf doesn’t re­ceive any gov­ern­ment fund­ing, so it re­lies on do­na­tions and grants from other foun­da­tions to award re­search mi­cro-grants – sums of up to $3,500 that doc­tors can ap­ply for in or­der to as­sist pa­tients with ther­apy, test­ing or treat­ment not cov­ered by pro­vin­cial or ter­ri­to­rial health­care. Since its in­cep­tion in 2008, the foun­da­tion has funded more than 400 such projects for about $1.3 mil­lion, says ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor David Cox. “The bulk of rare dis­eases lack a cham­pion and that’s what our re­search pro­gram is de­signed to find and fund,” he says.

A dis­ease is con­sid­ered rare if it af­fects fewer than one in 2,000 peo­ple, Cox says. By that def­i­ni­tion, als and cys­tic fi­bro­sis are rare dis­eases. But many of the peo­ple the rdf helps have what he calls ul­tra­rare dis­eases, in some cases af­fect­ing one in 100,000 peo­ple.

Fam­i­lies deal­ing with these dis­eases face hard­ships unique to those fac­ing more com­mon ones, Cox says. The lat­ter have

es­tab­lished sup­port or­ga­ni­za­tions and doc­tors who know what kind of treat­ment and care to of­fer. “I think the over­ar­ch­ing is­sue is a sense of be­ing alone and hav­ing nowhere to turn,” he says. “Pa­tients and fam­i­lies feel a sense of iso­la­tion be­cause no one re­ally knows what to do.”

Proc­tor knows this feel­ing. As June 27 nears, he’s fo­cused on train­ing and plan­ning, in ad­di­tion to four long days per week at the clinic in Cal­gary. On his days off, he drops the kids off at school, goes for a 50-kilo­me­tre run, and picks them up at the end of the day.

As Al Howie did, Proc­tor has run to a cou­ple of ul­tras, com­pleted the races, then run home af­ter­wards. “There re­ally is no proper way to train for some­thing like this be­sides be­ing stupidly fit and feel­ing men­tally pre­pared,” he says. He’s also got a few 100-kilo­me­tre runs planned on back-to-back days. In De­cem­ber, he trav­elled to Ari­zona for the Across the Years race – six days of a one-mile loop. “It just seems im­pos­si­ble, but yet it is so very pos­si­ble,” he says. “Be­cause when you’re out there, you’re very com­fort­able. The only time that you’re not is when you con­vince your­self that you’re un­com­fort­able.”

He beat the Cana­dian 48-hour dis­tance record with 360 kilo­me­tres and the 72-hour record with 500.1. At the end of day four, he was feel­ing good. He slept for about seven hours in­stead of his usual three. When he woke up in the morn­ing, he no­ticed a mound on his right knee – a com­pen­sa­tion in­jury from an in­fec­tion he’d de­vel­oped in one of the toes on his left foot. So he de­cided to stop run­ning. De­spite this, he still fin­ished fourth over­all.

Proc­tor says he doesn’t get bored dur­ing these in­cred­i­bly long dis­tances. With his busy life, he wel­comes a chance to clear his head. “There’s a scene in The Lego Movie where they go into the guy’s brain and there’s noth­ing there,” Proc­tor says. “And it’s be­cause he’s re­ally dumb.” This is what Proc­tor says his mind is like when he runs – not dumb, but bliss­fully empty.

Proc­tor be­lieves strongly in avoid­ing neg­a­tiv­ity in life, be it gos­sip or feel­ings of jeal­ousy or anger. He says it bleeds into run­ning. Pos­i­tive mind, pos­i­tive out­put. “The hu­man body will put out what the mind tells it to,” he says. “You say, ‘Oh, this hurts,’ then it hurts. If you never use those words, then there is no such thing as pain. There is no such thing as get­ting tired. It’s all per­spec­tive.”

Proc­tor is a guy who likes to push him­self, and Out­run Rare is his big­gest un­der­tak­ing yet: “I’ve never been OK with where I’m at. I al­ways want an ex­tra 10 per cent.” As he lines up spon­sors and has meet­ings with his team of 28 vol­un­teers, he knows he’s sub­ject­ing him­self to the most public pres­sure he’s ever ex­pe­ri­enced. “It’s ei­ther go­ing to crip­ple me or it’s go­ing to re­ally pro­pel me,” he says. “I don’t know which one is go­ing to hap­pen yet.” Penny is con­fi­dent in his friend ’s abil­i­ties: “If any­body can break that record, it’s Dave Proc­tor. He is re­lent­lessly un­stop­pable.”

Proc­tor thinks he can, too. Es­pe­cially with his son as mo­ti­va­tion. “It’s ab­so­lutely amaz­ing what your body will do when there’s a big­ger why in­stead of per­sonal glory,” he says. “And in the end, Sam has got to know that his fa­ther will do any­thing for him and will al­ways do any­thing for him.”

“THERE RE­ALLY IS NO PROPER WAY TO TRAIN FOR SOME­THING LIKE THIS BE­SIDES BE­ING STUPIDLY FIT AND FEEL­ING MEN­TALLY PRE­PARED. ”

LEFT Dave Proc­tor rac­ing the 2017 Lost Soul Ul­tra

ABOVE Proc­tor af­ter break­ing the 24-hour tread­mill world record

ABOVE Proc­tor rac­ing the 2015 Sin­is­ter 7 Ul­tra

OP­PO­SITE Proc­tor on his way to win­ning and set­ting a course record at the the 2015 Sin­is­ter 7 Ul­tra

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