Ultramarathoner Proctor braves the smoke and 40 degree heat in prelude to cross-country run

Ultra marathoner Dave Proctor prepared for a cross-country national run to raise money for rare disease research by running 170 kilometres from Okotoks to Lethbridge, then running and winning the 100-mile Lost Souls Ultramarathon.

Okotoks runner launches website to raise funds for rare disease research

Ultramarathoner Dave Proctor won a 100 mile (160 km) race near Lethbridge last weekend, but it's only the preliminary to an even greater journey. Proctor has a cross-country run planned for 2018. He hopes to raise $1 million to study rare diseases, such as the one that afflicts his eight-year-old son, Sam. (Dave Proctor)

Dave Proctor sure had a curious way of preparing for the 160-kilometre Lost Soul Ultra that took place last weekend in and around Lethbridge, Alta.

In order to reach it, he ran the entire 170 kilometre distance from Okotoks to the starting line in Lethbridge. It took two days with an overnight stop in Claresholm.

"My normal resting heart rate is right about 50 beats per minute, and I woke up that morning after running the 170 kilometres down to the race at about 75 beats per minute," Proctor said on the Calgary Eyeopener. 

"I thought, oh, I'm not recovered. But when you're running a 100-mile long race, anything beyond the first 20 miles [32.1 km], you're feeling terrible anyway. So why not start the race not feeling 100 per cent? Why not?"

"If you're going to feel crappy, might as well feel crappy right from the start!"

Ultramarathon runner Dave Proctor is shown here after winning the 150 kilometre race at the 2017 Calgary Marathon. (Dave Proctor)

Proctor started out slow, but on a blazing hot day, with temperatures hovering between 35 and 40 C, on a smoke-filled course courtesy of wildfires burning throughout the region, it turned out to be brilliant strategy.

"I had to pull it back quite a bit," Proctor said. "Normally what I would do is go out and lead the pack. I had to pull it back, but I think that was a bit of an advantageous move, because everyone went out really hard. And little bit by little bit, everybody started coming back to me.

"And about halfway into the race, I found myself in first place," the 34-year-old runner said.

That's exactly where he ended up, 19 hours and 27 minutes and 22 seconds later, around 3 a.m. — winning.

"My lungs feel it," Proctor said. "I'm a hurting unit today."

Ultramarathon runner Dave Proctor and his eight-year-old son, who suffers from a rare disease. Proctor hopes to raise $1 million to help research. (Dave Proctor)

"I was also planning on running home but my wife looked at me and said, 'Dave, you're not running home. You look terrible. Marriage is all about balance.'"

It turns out the weekend race through the smoke and heat of Lethbridge was just a preliminary effort for Proctor.

Running across Canada in 66 days

The main event will kick off from Victoria, B.C., on June 22, 2018, when Proctor launches an effort to run across Canada in 66 days.

He'll be chasing a record, but more importantly, running to raise money to benefit rare disease research.

"We want to raise $1 million for funding for the Rare Disease Foundation," Proctor said, in a phone interview following his Eyeopener appearance. The foundation supports research and families.

"Rare diseases are generally underfunded in Canada,"

Son diagnosed four months ago

Proctor's eight-year-old son, Sam, is one of five people in the world with a rare disease that's a form of ataxia.

"Ataxia means lack of balance and co-ordination," he said. "So he struggles with all gross and fine motor skills. He uses a walker to walk to school. He speech is quite slurred, because that has a lot to do with balance and co-ordination as well, too. Feeding himself, bathing himself, going to the washroom — things like that.

"Hes in Grade 3," Proctor said. "He goes to a regular school in Okotoks, and he's just the greatest kid in the world. And there's a lot of kids just like him all throughout Canada who really need more support.

"There's a diagnostic odyssey and there's this void where people want to help but don't know how."

'I'm the athlete. Let me run.'

Proctor said that  well-known diseases, such as cerebral palsy or Alzheimer's, generate incredible support and funding to help research efforts, but there are few organizations to support research into rarer diseases.

Crossing the country, with a strong foundation of communications pros and other support staff, running 108 kilometres a day, Proctor hopes to raise awareness and money, via the website xcanada4rare.ca.

"I'm not good at a lot of things," he said. "But I can run. We have a huge team working on this and they're doing all these different things, communications, logistics, all kinds of stuff.

"I'm the athlete. Let me run."

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener