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Training for the mental side of ultramarathons

Dave Proctor is one of Canada’s best ultrarunners, and he’s got some mental tricks to help get him (and hopefully you) through even the toughest of runs

Photo by: Sharon Proctor

Dave Proctor finished the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT) 2,000K route on June 11, although he should have been partway through his cross-Canada speed record attempt. He was forced to cancel the cross-country run when COVID-19 hit, but he still plans to go for the record (which is 72 days and 10 hours, set by Al Howie in 1991) next year. Proctor’s body is used to taking a beating on long runs, but his mental game also plays a huge role in his success as an ultrarunner. Canadian Running spoke with him about the GVRAT, the run across Canada and how he trains his mind for such gruelling events. 

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Amid heightened concerns surrounding COVID-19, the Outrun Rare team and I have made the difficult decision to postpone the TransCanadian speed record attempt to 2021. Words cannot truly express how difficult this decision has been.  To our sponsors, our volunteers, our ambassadors – I thank you! Your belief in me and this mission has meant the world to me and my family. On a positive note, my fitness level is at an all-time high and I don’t plan to let it go to waste.  I will continue to work closely with my coach and medical team to identify responsible athletic opportunities in the coming months. All athletic endeavours will be considered “training runs” for next year’s big show. While the timing of the TransCanadian speed record may have shifted, my commitment to the rare community will not waver. I wish for your health and well-being at this time. Dave Proctor

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Tuck the past away

Proctor is well known in the Canadian ultrarunning community. He has run treadmill world records, he’s organized races and he is consistently among the top athletes at any event he runs. He’s used to running long distances, and he finished the GVRAT after 42 days of running. For his cross-Canada run, he planned on running 105K each day, which would have gotten him across the 7,200K route in 67 days. Running can be hard for him, too, but it’s how he deals with those tough times that makes him a great runner.

RELATED: 10 of Al Howie’s most mind-boggling achievements in ultrarunning


“Everyone gets tired after an hour of running,” he says. “If you automatically think, ‘OK, I have 12 more hours of this,’ then you’re going to crumble.” Instead, Proctor says to “tuck the past away,” not to worry about the future and to “focus on right now.” He says there are too many factors out of your control, and to worry about them will just hurt your psyche.

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#repost @performance_tea ・・・ We are excited to announce that we will be the exclusive CBD sponsor for Dave Proctor as he aims to break the TransCanadian speed record this year – his goal is 67 days. His efforts are all in support of the Rare Disease Foundation. Dave is an incredible athlete who we are proud to support. Read more about Dave's incredible journey below. 👇👇 https://www.endurancesportswire.com/performance-tea-is-exc…/ Learn more about Dave Proctor's speed record attempt at outrunrare.com Outrun Rare 📸: Kurtis Kristianson . . . . . . . . #plantbased #performancetea #believeintheblend #runhappy #runningmotivation #outrunrare #runcanada #recoverfaster #sleepbetter #instanttea

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“A storm might blow in at any moment during a race,” he says. Deal with that when it comes your way, but in the meantime, he says to embrace the “mindlessness of living in the moment. There’s that big component of being in the now.”

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The difficulty plateau 

Proctor admits that it’s not always easy to live in the moment, but he says he gets to a certain point when he knows things won’t get any worse. When this happens, he asks himself, “’Are you OK with staying here for a while?’ If the answer is yes, then I know I’m good to keep going.” He continues to check in with himself throughout these long runs, and as long as he knows he can physically keep moving, he pushes forward. 

Go in with a plan

Whether you’re running a 100-miler or aiming to run 100K every day for weeks like Proctor as he crosses Canada, he says having a set plan is important. “Go in with a plan,” he says. “A lot of the time, your ego, fear or other things will take you away from that plan. There will be days when I want to run an extra 20K, but physiologically that can mess you up.” Having a set plan for pacing or nutrition or how much you’ll run each day will ease your mind. Just be sure to stick with it. 

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Today, May 18 at sunrise, in St. John’s NL was the planned departure for my Outrun Rare 2020 TransCanadian speed record attempt. Running west, 105 kilometers everyday until I hit the Pacific ocean in Victoria, BC 67 days later. This was going to be the largest rare disease awareness campaign in Canadian history to drive access, support, and research that people like my son so desperately need and deserve. It was supposed to be the accumulation of my entire athletic career, everything I worked for – blood, sweat, and tears but I write this from my home in Okotoks, Alberta where I remain quarantined with my family, riding out this bizarre storm called COVID-19. This morning, I sat quietly in my backyard watching the sunrise with painful memories of July 2018. Read Dave’s entire blog. Link in bio 👆🏻 . . . #rareiseverywhere #outrunrare #outrunrare2021 #rarematters #raredisease #rarediseaseawareness #ultrarunning #transcanadianrecord #teamorange #callingalloutrunners #outrunners

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Cut yourself some slack

“Take what your body gives you,” Proctor says. “We’ve all woken up on the right side of the bed and we’ve all woken up on the wrong side, too.” He says it’s important to accept those tough days and to “be kind to yourself” and realize that day won’t be your best. Freeing yourself from your pre-run expectations can take a mental load off and help you push through those tough times.