Groundhog Day: A David (Proctor) and Goliath Story – Part 1

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Anyone gazing upon Dave Proctor’s 7200 km run across Canada might consider two unique, yet conjoined ideas:

That is a long way to run.

How is he going to mentally cope with this challenge?

The interesting thing about these two ideas is that they rarely connect into one unifying perspective, especially for those of us who haven’t had any experience with multi-week or multi-month endurance efforts. Most people can’t imagine what it’s like to run a marathon, let alone two and a half marathons per day for over two months. And to top it all off, he’s attempting to complete this run while expending a TON of energy in pursuit of a more important goal: to bring much-needed awareness to the rare disease community and raise funds to help affected families, not unlike his own, who cope with many challenges that are hidden to Canadians on a day-to-day basis. Dave wants to be Canada’s guiding light, illuminating these issues that face many families.

We have the luxury to track Dave online and see how his day is going; this is done at our leisure, at a time that’s convenient to us. We choose when to vicariously endure his struggles, imagining our own responses to his overwhelming challenges as we perceive them. Then, we shut it off when we’ve had enough – out of sight, out of mind. Once we’ve had a nice break living our own comfortable lives, interest takes hold and we poke our curious little heads into the mix yet again. And what do you know – he has magically transported himself an incomprehensible distance down the highway! What a rock star! He’s superhuman!

The technology that allows us to follow Dave’s progress gives us a false sense of appreciation for what he is experiencing. We attribute his perseverance to an exceptional talent for dealing with a misunderstood adversity. The lenses with which we choose to view Dave’s experiences are subtly absent of the connection between his physical feat of endurance and his unrelenting mental and emotional struggles. This disconnect can create complacency in how we deem our support is needed throughout his journey. I hope that sharing my experience during an undoubtedly challenging leg of his journey will provide others with a meaningful perspective on the adversity he faces. Ultimately, my goal is for each and every person wanting to support Dave to have a better understanding of this mental and physical feat, so that we may provide him with the support needed to thrive through this prosperous endeavor, creating an enduring awareness and support for the rare disease community as a whole.

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I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to run with Dave from Chase to Sicamous, BC and gaze upon the connections that hold, hand in hand, the physical and mental hurdles of his journey. What I learned during this experience is that compassion and support for Dave’s goals requires an understanding that his needs will be constantly evolving over time, and meeting these needs is necessary for him to recharge both his physical and mental batteries in his effort to overcome the unexpected hurdles placed along his journey. Some days, care and attention towards his physical well-being are paramount. Other days, support must focus on keeping him feeling mentally and emotionally comfortable in his dynamic and uncertain environment. All this support that is needed to complete this journey is not for him, but for this cause that is near and dear to his heart. Without a happy and healthy Dave, there would be no force to unify our community around the families who are affected by rare diseases. And frankly, Dave is not focused on people supporting him just running across the country – he’s happy to run miles and miles, it’s what he loves to do! – what he cares about is people supporting his cause and sustaining his ability to reach millions of Canadians with his message.

I arrived in Chase the night before my big day with Dave and decided to go searching through town to find the Outrun Rare Camp. I spotted the Outrun RV and Dave’s wife Sharon making preparations for the following day. I had a brief chat with her to get the needed information to meet Dave in the morning. It didn’t take me long to realize that my presence, although a welcome surprise, was a surprise nonetheless and any time I took of Sharon’s was borrowed from the many pre-planned tasks that were critical to setting Dave up for an efficient daily routine. Sharon told me to be at the Esso just west of Chase at 5:00 am sharp. I told her I’d be there at 4:45am and promised that I wouldn’t hold up Dave. This journey to break the trans-Canadian speed record is a race against time, and every minute that Dave isn’t running, eating, or sleeping, is time wasted.

Those helping crew Dave, including Sharon and his good friend Wayne, are in a race of their own. Cooking, cleaning, and preparing for Dave’s next day – all these activities are completed within the short window between the time when Dave finishes running for the day and when they need to sleep. Imagine needing to prepare someone for a 100km race every single night immediately after completing a race of equal distance. From my brief experience with Sharon and Wayne, they are constantly trading their own well-being for Dave’s – these two are truly selfless individuals and should be getting far more recognition for the work they are doing. Without them, Dave wouldn’t stand a chance. [Aside: Since my time with Dave, he has picked up more family/friends/crew members to help distribute the many tasks and support needed to keep Dave going. I’m sure they will all be equally as important to Dave’s success and should all be given the recognition they deserve!]

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One of the many mobile aid station stops for Dave along his 7000+ km journey, critical to his success.

In the weeks leading up to my day with Dave, I decided that I would plan to spend the day prior running around the Sicamous/Salmon Arm trails, exploring a previously unfamiliar area of wilderness. This was partially justified due to needing a heavy training weekend for a big race later in the summer, but more importantly, I wanted to get a taste for the multi-day, running-on-tired-legs experience that Dave will be having over the next couple of months.

As I rested my head on my hotel-room pillow in Chase the night before the big day, legs tired from freshly finishing 60km of mountainous trail running, anxiety began setting in as I started to appreciate the daunting task I had secured for myself. Falling asleep was easy, however staying asleep quickly became an issue. Every 10-15 minutes I was jolted awake by a searing sense of urgency, rolled over to look at the clock, and then finally fell back asleep. Repeat ad nauseum.

Finally, this cyclical pattern arrived at my final destination – 4am.

Then… it hit me like a sack of bricks. As I rolled over to get out of bed, I noticed the stiffness in my legs that one will only experience after a full day of running; things just don’t work the way you’d expect. I had intentionally set myself up to struggle, and I now had 115km to run with Dave. This inexplicable, cathartic feeling in my gut was twisting my innards in a way I had never experienced before. I wasn’t going out there for some selfish reason such as hitting a goal time at a race. This time, failure didn’t mean letting myself down – it meant letting down Dave and failing to help support this incredibly worthy cause. Ultimately, I was out there to support Dave and give him some company through tough times. Why did I feel the need to go run the day before? I can’t give my best when I’m running on tired legs and now I must endure 14 hours of running. I had to keep up with Dave and give him as much support as I could from beginning to end. This was going to be tough. I sat down and convinced myself that I was going to have a good day, I’d give what I can, but I won’t focus on what I can’t control. The day was about having a laser focus on Dave’s needs and my condition was secondary.

I then had one of the most lucid epiphanies I have ever experienced. These feelings I was having must be similar (albeit MUCH less intense) to what Dave has been going through. Every day, he is waking up on extremely fatigued legs and not only getting out on the roads, but putting himself in a position to be the light for every family in Canada that is affected by rare diseases. No matter what Dave is feeling, he is forced to get out on the road every morning and face the Goliath of two and a half marathons and say to this beast, “you won’t defeat me.” A true David and Goliath story, played on repeat. Every. Single. Day.

Consider this – take a leisurely twelve-hour drive from Calgary to Vancouver. Once you get to Vancouver, realize you forgot your wallet, so you turn around for another daunting twelve hour journey. I’m sure Dave wakes up every morning with this same “forgot your wallet” feeling. Every. Morning. And the added pressure he has put on himself to lift up the rare disease community is too damn high for one person to cope with by themselves. Dave has willingly put himself into this situation and we need to desperately help him to make this burden tolerable by supporting his cause and surpassing his million dollar goal, allowing him to finish this journey stronger than when he started.

Wow. Okay, that’s some serious pressure for one man to endure. And these realizations became clear even before running with Dave to experience his journey. You better stay tuned, because it only gets better.

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