Groundhog Day – A David (Proctor) and Goliath Story – Part 2

If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 here.

In Part 1, I attempted to provide some perspective for all of us onlookers, gazing into Dave’s journey across this great country of ours to create a lasting awareness for the rare disease community. Now I’m going to give you some perspective on why you should be supporting the Outrun Rare campaign. Everyone is inherently selfish to some degree, yes even Mr. Proctor himself, and I want to show you why your support is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the selfish thing to do.

I’ve decided to name this perspective, selfish selflessness. In other words, we do selfless things because they make us feel good. If we didn’t get positive reinforcement from seemingly selfless acts of kindness, they’d likely be much less common.

Here’s a couple of simple reasons why supporting Outrun Rare is the selfishly selfless thing to do.

A Twenty for Terry

Looking back on Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, wouldn’t it feel awesome to be able to say you gave 20 bucks personally to Terry? Ya, you’d be bragging about it now, but that’s okay because it was for an historic and worthwhile cause. Well, someone’s knocking on your door. It’s not Terry (hopefully it’s not… zombie Terry sounds a bit frightening), but thirty years from now, I have a feeling that the Outrun Rare campaign is going to spark similar nostalgia for such an incredibly impactful endeavor. 1 in 12 Canadians (that’s literally millions!) are affected by a rare disease yet we are the only developed country without a rare disease strategy to help support these individuals. Dave and Outrun Rare will change this and you can be a part of it.

A RARE Opportunity

Making the necessary changes in our country with a rare disease strategy will provide critical access to medications for millions of Canadians who are currently being left behind. Public healthcare is only as good as the framework in which illnesses are defined within the program – rare diseases are not currently included, ergo public healthcare is ineffective for these individuals. A little embarrassing for our nation, no? We have the opportunity as Canadians to help make this shift by collectively embracing those affected by rare diseases and say, “you matter and will not be left behind.” There is an incredible personal return on investment by spending a small amount of your own time and energy spreading awareness for this cause. This conversation will continue in perpetuity among Canadians and you can be a part of its grassroots foundation.

Now it’s time to share my selfishly selfless story!

I had the opportunity to run with Dave Proctor during his cross-Canada journey.

I shared hours and hours of time, hanging out with Dave along his west-to-east trek – just the two of us. How lucky am I?!

What else did I get to do? Well, I FINALLY had an excuse to showcase my favorite pair of shorts, which came into my life a few months prior to the run (this is integral to the story as you will soon understand). More importantly, I had the opportunity to spend time with Sharon and Wayne, getting an intimate experience of how this well-oiled machine ran, with the hood pulled up for all the inner workings to be seen. I got a backstage pass to the show. How cool is that?!

Why did I get this opportunity? It was easy, really. I just had to show up and be a friend, providing support in the ways that Dave needed it. I’m hoping you will understand that each and every person can have this opportunity to feel their own unique, special bit of self-importance within the Outrun Rare campaign by providing support in your own selfishly selfless way!

Alright, let’s get back to the story…

The big day had arrived. Canada Day.

I drove to the gas station just west of Chase at 4:50 am to await the long day ahead of me. I ran a few hundred meters to shake out the legs and see how my body was holding up after running nearly 60 km of mountainous trails the day before. Things seemed to be moving well, surprisingly… lucky me! Or perhaps I was in a state of disbelief. I had another 100 km or so to run and convinced myself that the searing ache in my legs was non-existent.

Then, the man of the hour arrived shortly after 5 am. Dave hobbled out of the RV, adorned with an original Marathon of Hope t-shirt to commemorate his hero Terry Fox on our Nation’s birthday. He was clearly stoked to be up for another crack at this all day running thing. He raised his eyes to meet mine, happy to see a friend, but I could tell exhaustion was present and his focus was already miles down the road. Or maybe still on his pillow? Who knows…

Just as we were about to take off, I remembered that I had an ‘extra’ pair of shorts on that needed to be shed. Off they went, followed by a few laughs from the audience in the background. Somehow the hilarity was hidden from Dave, likely due to his sleep-deprived stupor. I decided to play a little game to see how long it took Dave to notice my attire. It turned out to be longer than I had anticipated.

Cheeky Fun
Off we go! Having some ‘cheeky’ fun with an unknowing Mr. Proctor 😉

A short two kilometers went by on the highway and we abruptly turned onto a side road that allowed us to bypass the highway for a considerable portion of the day, shortening the distance by about 7 km and allowing Dave to get into bed that evening an hour sooner. This was thanks to Daniel Bowie, who had been doing countless hours of investigation into preferential routes through the mountains to keep Dave off the dangerous highways as much as possible. This turned out to be a very welcome change of route.

As we started a short climb over the hillside, moving away from the highway into more peaceful country, Wayne came driving past us in the RV. He slowly approached us for a little cat-call.

“Nice Cheeks!”

I laughed and gave him a wave. Dave remained oblivious.

It wasn’t long until Dave started opening up about the challenges he and the crew had faced in the first four days of the journey. From the experiences he was sharing, it was clear that he was dealing with more than he bargained for.

The conversations continued. Some light and some heavy, but overall it was a very pleasant start to the day. Two friends catching up and enjoying each other’s company.

Running together.jpg
Greg’s brain: “Dave has no idea how amazing these shorts are.”  Dave’s brain: “Would riding one of those cows across the country still count?”

The back road route we took had many intersections, so we were forced to rely on Sharon and Wayne to be our guides.  After passing them at an important intersection, we quickly discovered an unexpected intersection just out of the crew’s eyesight, causing a spark of anxiety upon its discovery. The crew didn’t have a chance to drive up to scope out the next section of road before we arrived at the unknown junction.  We had to make a quick decision about which direction to take, as we had no cell reception and the crew was out of earshot. I could tell this irked Dave as this situation created a potential for extra miles if we didn’t choose correctly. Thankfully, we made the right decision. I got the sense that this oversight was thrown on top of a pile of other issues that Dave had been dealing with, which started to become more clear as the day went on.

For much of the day I felt like a tight rope walker, subtly navigating Dave along the path of least resistance through the many adversities he was talking himself into. I presented him with subtle observations to frame his perception in more objective ways, rather than his negativity-riddled mindset, damaged by nearly 500 km of running and stress over the previous four days. This was a fine line, however, as I could tell I was one careless remark away from poking the sleep-deprived bear. Trying to find this balance felt all too familiar to setting a sustainable pace during an ultra; pushing too much, too early into the race will lead to a spectacular blowout, while easing into things and being intentional with effort will lead to a positive and productive day.

Dave started getting a bit more animated with his conversation, acting out some of his experiences over the previous days along the highway. As the stories got more immersive and emotional, I could tell that he was having difficulties managing some of the decisions made over the previous days, causing distress. But wouldn’t you know it – as we started going down this path of engulfing, escalating negativity, he stopped running and started to crack up, laughing with the biggest shit-eating grin I’ve seen in quite some time.

“Your shorts!”

And in one fell swoop, the tension and negative energy was cleared with a look at my backside. We giggled like 12 year old boys for a period of time before running into Sharon and Wayne, where we had a little celebration that Dave was now in on the joke.

As silly as those shorts were, they served their purpose.

The morning went on and we continued to enjoy the serenity of the countryside.

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Dave having his daily conversation with Michael Cameron and the Outrun Rare community.

As we came to the terminus of the back road portion of the day, we reflected one last time on the peaceful environment that we were able to enjoy over the first marathon of the day. And just like that, the morning’s serenity was replaced with the hustle and bustle of Canada Day on the Trans Canada Highway! We hit the pavement and made our way towards Salmon Arm.

The change of scenery and surface was a turning point for the day. Dave started to gradually slow his pace as we moved over gradual, yet relentless hills. Even for myself, tunnel vision was taking over as we faced several kilometers of straight, uphill running ahead. At one point, we even took a short seat on the jersey barriers in an attempt to refocus on the approach towards our mid-day stop in Salmon Arm. It was clear Dave’s sleep monsters were waking up.

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It may be a bustling highway, but the views weren’t half bad! On our way towards Salmon Arm.

We finally arrived in Salmon Arm to a handful of people (including my parents) that had been following Dave’s progress. The cheers were a refreshing boost of morale!

After a quick visit with everyone, Diva Dave went for his “I’ll be in my trailer” lunch and afternoon nap. After scarfing down half a pie provided by my wonderful and thoughtful mom, he was out cold for a half hour. Normally he wasn’t planning on sleeping for so long, but it was getting more clear that he needed to do everything possible to manage the sleep deprivation he had been going through over the last few days.

We departed our lunch stop and were joined by Dwayne, who was in the area on vacation and wanted to get a long run in from Salmon Arm to Sicamous with Dave – a long run that most runners are familiar with, not a Dave long run. As we made our way through Salmon Arm, Dwayne picked up a small Canada flag that was lying on the side of the road. This served quite useful for the remainder of the day. The highway shoulders were narrow and it helped to flag drivers, providing further visibility to us on the side of the road. Being Canada Day, we were able to garner a few honks of support, which helped boost spirits.

We also received some less than supportive honks… primarily centered around individuals shouting at me, convinced I was distastefully showcasing my actual rear end. This garnered a few laughs from the three of us and a brief reprieve from the afternoon’s challenges.

It didn’t take long for the final turning point of the day once we hit the open highway east of Salmon Arm. We had dodged rain all day, but it finally decided to bless us with its presence.

And with the rain came a slowing of Dave’s pace and spirits.

I began to see a physical manifestation of the mental struggles that were building up over the last few days. Dave and I started to strategize how we were going to get through this low point. The reality of how sleep-deprived he truly was finally showed itself, and we scrambled to find a solution.

We both immediately dug into our respective bag of ultra-racing strategies and came out with some useful tools to keep Dave moving forward. We had found ourselves in a similar predicament nearly two years prior when Dave paced me to a successful finish at the Fat Dog 120 miler. Halfway through that race, I was on the edge of dropping – I never thought I’d have the chance to repay him for being there for me when I needed help, but here we were.

Our strategy developed as follows:

  • Focus on making it to Sicamous – we were only a couple hours away and could re-evaluate the rest of the day’s goals at that time, but we needed to make it to the next milestone. Worrying about making it the whole day’s distance was unnecessary stress.
  • Manage our effort – sure we could have easily picked up the pace on the downhills, but we decided to use those easy sections to recharge both mentally and physically for the tougher uphills.
  • Pace locking – Dave would run immediately behind me to lock onto my pace so he didn’t have to think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. Plus, the narrow shoulder created a lot of stress with the high volume of Canada Day traffic.

This strategy worked beautifully… until it didn’t. There was a sense of optimism throughout the first few kilometers as Dave felt in control of his situation. We worked as a team to overcome the many mental and physical hurdles that were constantly pelting us in the form of traffic, weather, and hills. Surviving the adversity seemed difficult, yet doable with productive teamwork. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for the hectic environment to once again forcibly remove control of the situation from Dave’s grasp.

Finally Dave admitted to me that there was more going on than he was leading on, and the sleep deprivation wasn’t only a factor of the stress, but also severe, uncontrolled anxiety that had been hidden inside his rock-solid exterior. With that realization came a crumbling of the facade.

As we approached Canoe, a small community about 10 km east of Salmon Arm, I looked back at Dave and noticed another runner catching up to us (unfortunately in the heat of the moment, I failed to get her name).

Yes! More people to give Dave support and momentum through this difficult time.

I directed both of our running friends to run ahead of Dave to ensure vehicles were given ample notice that we were on the road. This should have been a huge boost, but the wheels were already unraveling at an unmanageable pace. The extra help served only to add extra complexity to the long list of factors that Dave realized he couldn’t personally control. Just as quickly as you can turn the lights off, this realization severed his ability to overcome the day’s challenges; his brain was becoming deep-fried with physical, mental, and emotional overload.

And in one fell swoop it all stopped.

I turned around to see how Dave was coping, only to see a shell of a person standing on the shoulder of the road. I sprinted back to assess his condition more closely. As soon as I was close enough to look into his eyes, I saw something had broken. I was witnessing Dave’s inner child fail to cope with a severely traumatic experience. Any emotional barriers that ‘adult’ Dave had constructed were brutally incapacitated, leaving him completely exposed to the true stresses of this incredibly daunting endeavor. He had no understanding of how to fully relinquish control over his circumstance and reverted to the only alternative, to shut down.

As I approached Dave, I opened my arms and gave him a hug. I did my best to provide reassurance that he was going to be okay and that he would get through this experience.  I found myself experiencing something completely foreign; I’ve never felt such a desire to provide a meaningful, yet unnecessary reassurance that didn’t reflect the true reality of the situation.

Running for the better portion of 70 km with Dave that day, I had absolute confidence that Dave was 110% capable of continuing on this run and able to accomplish what he had set out to do. Providing reassurance to Dave that he was capable of completing this journey felt completely insincere. I was having to convince Superman that he could, indeed, jump over tall buildings. But at the same time, it was undeniable that Dave needed the support, regardless of his capabilities.

We packed it in for the day and spent the night in Salmon Arm.

Looking back on this decision, the Canada Day traffic on the highway approaching Sicamous would have required a delay even under ideal conditions. It was just too unsafe with the high volume of traffic.

In the evening I was quick to realize that Dave’s effort on the highway was equaled by Sharon and Wayne’s behind-the-scenes effort preparing for each day. Anyone who has crewed for a runner racing an ultra knows how much effort goes into planning and prep work. These two were doing this day in and day out, an incredible feat that deserves an immeasurable amount of respect. With all that occurred over the day, I couldn’t do it justice attempting to include the details of their efforts within this story.

Day Two.

We started very early to beat the highway traffic. The morning began comfortable and serene. We noted how important the early start was due to the winding, narrow road with minimal visibility of oncoming traffic.

I knew I had to guide Dave through a debrief of what occurred over the previous day, although I waited until he started opening up to present my thoughts in a way that would be digestible. Again, I didn’t want to poke the bear! We spent the better portion of an hour going through what he was dealing with, and the control that he was trying to force on an endeavor that was far too daunting for one person to manage. This experience was unexpectedly serendipitous as many of the challenges that Dave was trying to cope with were mirrored by situations I had been struggling with through the difficulties of undertaking a PhD. The exchange of stories served therapeutic for the both of us.

The emotional toll that these intense personal investments take on one’s psyche is far greater than anyone can imagine, and it becomes equally difficult, yet necessary, to actively rely on others to help carry you through these character-shaping experiences. Removing self destructive thoughts and replacing them with the embracement of support that caring friends and family are enthusiastically willing to provide becomes critical for success.

We were greeted in Sicamous by a group of supporters cheering for Dave, waving signs to show him support. The runner who caught up to us late in the previous day to witness Dave’s shutdown was a part of this group and as enthusiastic as ever. There was one very important thought that was perfectly clear to me at this point in time: even when seeing Dave at his lowest of lows, the support remained enduring and perhaps even more powerful. To me, this reaffirms my belief that Dave is only the seed to start the conversation around rare diseases; the most influential part of this initiative will be the Canadians that he reaches with his message.

I ran with Dave for a few more kilometers and then left him to carry on without me. I gave Dave a big hug and we parted ways.

Before I end, I wanted to circle back to this idea of selfish selflessness. It was clear to me throughout my experience that everyone I encountered had their own unique selfish selflessness that helped Dave through these seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Daniel felt compelled to help Dave by taking hours out of his day to help find alternative routes to keep Dave safe. He didn’t have to do this, but from my own personal experience outside of my day and a half of running with Dave, watching his progress and not being able to directly help in some way was incredibly frustrating and resulted in a feeling of helplessness. Finding our alternative route from Chase to Salmon Arm was incredibly useful and I’m sure Daniel felt a huge amount of personal reward from this success.

I could tell Dwayne was scrambling to try and help in any way he could when we started running from Salmon Arm. You could easily see that Dave was struggling and it was unnerving to not have some sort of helpful task to take some of the pressure off of him. Finding the flag to provide some additional visibility to oncoming traffic not only helped provide Dwayne with a sense of purpose and reassurance that his presence was positive, it was an incredibly valuable tool for reducing Dave’s mental stress of trying to ensure safety while faced with oncoming traffic. The same goes for the other runner that met up with us towards the end of the day. She was happy to take any direction needed to ensure Dave was supported in the most effective way possible. There was personal reward coming from knowing something direct and tangible could be done to help Dave.

And last but absolutely not least, Sharon and Wayne (and any others that joined them to crew along the way!) take this concept of selfish selflessness to a whole new level. There is definitely a lot more selflessness than selfishness embedded within their support for Dave, crewing day in and day out for far too many hours to get Dave from point A to point B. However I’m sure if you asked them, they would have their own unique perspectives on how they personally benefited from this experience. Considering Sharon didn’t take the kids and leave Dave’s butt on the side of the highway, I can only imagine she gained a deeper and stronger relationship with her husband. And Wayne had opportunities to share his experience and wisdom, developed over years of successful ultrarunning as one of Canada’s top veterans and from many other unique life experiences. It was clear to me that Wayne has a passion for educating others and he thoroughly enjoyed many opportunities to pass on wisdom in an effort to help raise others up to reach greater potential.

My time with Dave may have been one of the more defining experiences of his first journey across this great country of ours, however as any ultra runner will tell you, the mental battles are relentless regardless of how good of a day it seems on the surface. I can only imagine that many of these struggles I witnessed played on repeat, day after day after day, throughout the journey.

Many of these struggles are not unique to his experience. As a runner you begin to identify them in every day life, and they truly do happen to everyone. I take solace in knowing these struggles are common; we are all in this together.

The millions of Canadians suffering with a rare disease don’t have this luxury. They don’t know what struggles they will face in the future and currently don’t have the support they need to get to a point of reassurance that we are in fact, all in this together. Let’s reshape the Canada we know and love, and do something selfishly selfless to help the 1 in 12 Canadians who truly need to be shown that they matter to each and every one of us.

Happy Trails!

 

2 thoughts on “Groundhog Day – A David (Proctor) and Goliath Story – Part 2

  1. What a formidable account of what goes on behind the scenes, and the amount of hard work and support that is required to carry out such a feat. Let us all help to OutRunRare

    Like

  2. Well written Greg. I appreciated being a very small part of those 2 days. Dave and his team are doing great things with Outrun rare and for humanity. The world could use more Dave’s.

    Like

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