I’ve often wondered what it takes to get yourself to that level where you can run for hours on end without breaking apart. How does one get to that level of commitment, and still balance life, family, work. So I thought I’d ask an expert.
I had the pleasure of watching Dave Proctor break the Canadian 24-hour record in Turin, Italy this year. Words cannot describe how truly amazing it was to share that moment with Dave, Sharon and our coach Armand. What struck me though beyond the power of the world’s best ultra runners maintaining speeds and endurance levels that I can only dream of, but rather, these were ordinary people with every day lives that are achieving the extraordinary.
So how does the ordinary find extraordinary, and still remain true to who they are? That was my simple quest in chatting with Dave, to find out just how someone with a real life, three children, a beautiful wife, a career, and real relationships outside of running finds the time to become great. I asked Dave 17 simple questions. Some of his responses really made me think and some of them are so typically quirky that I couldn’t help but laugh a little. I hope you will enjoy this informal interview as much as I did!
What was your best race?
The world 24-hour championships in Italy this past April. In ultra running it’s very uncommon that everything comes together in such a long race, but on this occasion it did. I ran 257.093K, finishing sixth and setting a new Canadian 24-hour record, but best of all collapsed to the ground upon completion with absolutely nothing left to give.
When did you decide to commit to being epic? Or were you always just that way? Were you an athletic child?
Epic?! If you mean "ridiculous or idiotic" then yes, it’s been an ongoing journey for me all my life. As a child I always pushed the limits of fitness and when coupled with a keen competitive nature this spells trouble and an overall lack of balance in one’s life. In 2007 I stumbled into the ultra world and the rest is history.
Nutrition? How do you fuel your runs?
What mistakes have you made?
What was the worst thing you ever ate on a run?
What do you eat when you are not running?
Food is huge! Firstly I must say everybody is different but I flourish on mixing fructose then glucose with the occasional protein (meat) feeding. I’m a big fan of real food while racing such as applesauce, pears, blueberries, yams, pumpkin, potato, rice, turkey meatballs, and beef jerky. The only semi-processed food I’ll eat is Tho'z Barz because of the natural whole ingredients. My biggest mistake I've made was not forgoing feeding sessions because I just plain ol’ didn't wanna eat. You cant make it up and don't get to make up for it so if I could give any advice its to eat on a schedule and stick to it. The worst thing I've ever eaten on a run is easy. A Big Mac. I've always thought if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball. I routinely stop by McDonalds during training runs to prove that theory and it’s proven useful so far. My daily diet is as clean as I can make it with three young children and a busy schedule but I have a hard time saying no to ice cream and sugary sweets. My fav foods are sushi, beets, mangos, and milk shakes.
I once asked you if it ever stops hurting and you said no. How do you get past that hurt and find the motivation to just keep moving?
Like Ann Trason once said, it doesn't get worse, but it just doesn't get any better. It becomes an addictive process, processing the pain at the same time not letting it consume you. For me I use two ways to accept this. The first is having my race goals to be far more important that the current discomfort I'm going through. To think of all the sacrifice and time spent to get me to where I am and then the idea of succumbing to the fleeting pain just becomes silly. The second is perspective. Running isn't hard. Surviving cancer, mental illness, a child’s death is hard. I think it’s easy to get caught up in one’s self pity and it becomes difficult to see out from the fog, but when I think of these things late into race, perspective tells me that my self loathing is borderline pathetic.
Which one of your kids will be the next great Proctor?
All my kids are super in their own way but if you are asking me which one will most likely be an ultra runner, it’s got to be Adele my youngest. She is fierce, stubborn, and competitive, making parenting her very challenging, but I hope to crew her one day.
Speaking of kids, you have three…. How do you balance family, work and running?
Family ALWAYS comes first and let’s face it, the greatest joy in my life comes from hanging with Sharon and the kids. After the kids go down to bed at night most people watch TV for three or so hours, in my world that's a 40K run. I find it’s about optimizing time with the family and away from the family. The benefits of a 30-minute speed workout are huge and should not be overlooked.
Who is your “hero” (both running and non-running)… and why?
The person I look up to most running and non-running has got to be Blaine Penny. He is a super strong runner from Calgary with a huge engine and never says quit. Away from running he creates incredible balance with work, charity, and marriage. All while parenting two wonderful kids, one of which is special needs and does a damn good job at it. He is an incredible inspiration to not only me but also the entire running community.
If there was one thing you would want no one to know about you from racing… what would it be? (most embarrassing trail moment)
To be honest I don't think I have one. Boring really :( (to this I say.. come on Dave... We all have at least one story!!)
To preface this next question, Dave and one of our other amazing ACU runners battled it out at Sinister 7 in Crowsnest Pass this summer. Dave took the title but he came close to being “chicked” by Alissa St. Laurent (just a few short weeks following Sinister 7 Alissa took first place at the Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache)
Did you panic at any point at Sinister 7 knowing Alissa was so close behind you?
No, only cuz I didn't really know how far back she was, but my spidey sense did go off with about 9K to go when I saw a headlamp starting the hill behind me. I decided then that if that was her, I’d make her work for it if she wanted to catch me.
What is your next goal?
I'd like to do well at Run Rabbit Run, hopefully a top ten finish. Later in December at Across The Years, I'd like to break the 72-hour Canadian record by running over 500K. Ambitious I know, but why the hell not.
If you could give any comment, or advice to an average runner (like me), what would you tell them?
Listen to your body. With all the fad diets, shoes and training programs it’s easy to be driven further away from what your body is telling you. We are born with this incredible ability to sense what we need but we first need to learn to listen.
What does your training look like?
I take well to high mileage. In peak training I'll get 160-220K/week. It’s normally race specific, but this is an issue during trail season as my life with three young children doesn't allow for many trail runs in the mountains. So even in trail season the lion’s share of my miles are run on road. I enjoy speed work and find it to be a very efficient training method – painful, but efficient.
If I wanted to take myself to a higher level what advice would you have?
Three things: volume of training, intensity of training, and train yourself to be a better runner. A lot of ultra runners returning to the mountains to get in their longer days and sustained climbs, but I find they forgo the pinnacle piece that only a long flatish day can provide and that is the building of the body’s mechanism to maintain a strong running stride well into the race.
What shoe size are you? And what is your favorite shoe?
I wear an 11.5 and on road I love love love the New Balance Zante. For trails I wear the New Balance Fresh Foam Trails. They’re not so grippy, but easily make up for it in comfort. I never lose toenails and never blister.
The great chafe debate…. can you give some wisdom to our male friends out there?
Yeah, nothing is worse than chafing. I use copious amounts of Vaseline. The adage, you can never use too much certainly applies here.
One of these days you will be beaten… who would you most like to lose to?
Alissa for sure. She totally deserves it. I don't know of one person that trains as hard and races as smart as her. As for an up and comer (If you can call him that) Adam Kahtava. He is an absolute force to be reckoned with. He won the Elk Beaver 100K and just won Iron Legs 50M and rumour has it will break into 100M races next year, I'm so so excited watching this guy!
17. And for Sharon, how on earth do you do it? You support, organize, keep the man on track…. and still manage to laugh the whole time.
(Sharon writing) I really enjoy it. When Dave is racing we make a really great team and our strengths complement each other. It’s fun watching the day shake out especially that Dave is normally near the front. The other racers and especially the crews make for a fun environment where everyone is supporting one another. My fav part about crewing is giving Dave shit and keeping him on track when he starts pouting. I find that he listens to me and I can set him straight. Essentially I like being the half of the team not responsible for running all day.
Sharon/Dave: do you have any crewing tips?
Crewing tips: Make sure the two of you are in sync with one another and you can't plan enough. It’s the crew’s responsibility to find the runner not the other way around. Finding your crew amongst the mass hysteria can be super stressful and is like finding a needle in a haystack. Crewmembers run toward your runner then guide them to where you are set up. Establish a hierarchy, the crew is always right and has a clearer head. Create efficiency and don't allow lingering, 10 minutes feels like 2 minutes. Tough love prevails; most runners (including Dave) want us to feel bad for them. Listening to their victim statements is a vicious cycle, dismiss it and suggest that the runner should get going. When done well, this sends a loud and clear message that whining won’t be tolerated or even acknowledged. Runners should wear something unique and visible (like a cowboy hat).