My first instalment of The Training Ground featured a professional dancer. This month’s post digs into the psyche of ultra-marathoner Dave Proctor and how the Alberta native prepares for and competes in ultra-marathons, both physically and mentally.
It’s that mental side that really blew me away in the interview. I knew going in that, physically, Dave would have to put himself through hours-long training sessions multiple times per week to get his body to the point where it could endure the strain that races 100 miles or more would inflict.
But how Dave had to mentally prepare himself to run such long distances fascinated me. While the edited video version of our interview at the top of this post is around five minutes long, Dave and I actually spoke for more than 20 minutes. And he had some really interesting thoughts on the mental side of training.
Basically, he loves competing in ultra-marathons because they challenge him mentally and physically — he can accurately determine just how far he can push himself.
“In my life, it was the thing that challenged me the most,” he said. “You know, I find that we lead very easy, comfortable paths. You know, we go to a grocery store with 20,000 food items, you didn’t need to hunt, gather, grow or prepare. And yet, we still like to talk about what’s hard and what’s difficult in life. But then, you know, ultra-marathoning is hard and it’s difficult, and you have messages that come in your mind every minute, every hour that tell you and try to convince you to stop.”
With ultra-marathons, Dave gets to “have this artificial opportunity to be able to go test myself where, in life, when real trouble comes, I’m gonna have a really great background and a really, really great understanding of, how do you overcome things and how resilient can I be.”
In terms of people looking to improve their own mental fortitude, Dave had some really great advice on how to reframe your own mind.
“Be very careful how you frame things. Because even the smallest things, as you frame them, become big and important,” he said.
Dave uses a piece of pepperoni pizza as an example: he asks me to think about using four words to frame that piece of pizza.
“You might use delicious. You might use all these different great words,” he said. “And you know that it’s going to make you have an attraction to that pepperoni pizza that’s going to make you want that more.
“But if I said, you know, running a marathon. What are your words that you use when you think about running a marathon?” Dave continued. “You might frame it in pain, suffering, agony, fear. And so, will you ever gravitate towards doing something like that? Our brains are hardwired to repel anything that’s hard or difficult or would put us into a position where we might fail.”
On a personal note, I’m trying to use some of those same mental tricks during my own workouts and tennis matches.
Dave and his wife, Sharon, also run a national organization called Outrun Rare, which raises money to help those with rare diseases. All of the footage from the video above is from the documentary film Outrunner by Vera Neverkevich and released by Putorana Films.
Mike Arsenault is a reporter with Global News and cohost of Global News Weekend, available Saturdays and Sundays 7-10 a.m. ET on the Global News app.