Track and Field

Just call him the natural: Switching to marathon has Cam Levins thinking big

Cam Levins, who is training for the London Marathon on April 28, will be among 25,000 participants in Sunday's New York City half marathon, his first race since breaking Jerome Drayton's 43-year-old Canadian men's record in the marathon last October.

Canadian-record holder to race London in April, hopeful of Olympic return in 2020

Cam Levins, coming off a Canadian record-setting performance at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon last October, believes he could be a strong competitor at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

When it comes to Cam Levins and the marathon, it's hard to tell if he's more excited about training or his vast potential.

The converted track runner is entering the final phase of his build for the famous London Marathon on April 28, a formidable challenge the Canadian-record holder is hopeful leads to the Tokyo Olympics in July 2020.

"If I do things right, I could continue to improve and potentially be a strong competitor come the Olympics," says Levins, who will compete in the men's open division of the New York City half marathon this Sunday. "I don't know that's where I'm going to end up, but as of now I would love to do it.

"I have a high ceiling to reach for still but feel I have a lot of potential."

The native of Black Creek, B.C., made his mark quickly in the marathon, shattering Jerome Drayton's 43-year-old national mark by 44 seconds in his debut performance last Oct. 21 at the Toronto Waterfront event.

WATCH | Cam Levins race to the finish in his debut marathon:

Cam Levins shatters 43-year-old Canadian marathon record

4 years ago
Duration 1:49
In his marathon debut, Cam Levins of Black Creek, B.C., broke Jerome Drayton's 43-year-old Canadian men's marathon record by 44 seconds. Levins finished fourth in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon with a time of 2:09:25.

Posting a time of two hours nine minutes 25 seconds convinced Levins to enter a "fast, competitive" race in London, which forms part of the World Marathon Major series of renowned races with Berlin, Boston, Chicago, New York City and Tokyo.

Levins, who won gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the NCAA championships in 2012, transitioned to the half marathon late in 2017 following surgery on his left ankle 17 months earlier.

I know I'm supposed to be suffering in the last 10 kilometres of the race but I still feel strong and relaxed running the pace I need.— Canada's Cam Levins on the natural feel of running a marathon
The immediate results were nothing short of spectacular for the 29-year-old, highlighted by a 30th-place finish at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships last March in a personal-best 1:02:15, 47 seconds shy of Jeff Schiebler's Canadian mark of 1:01:28 from 1999.

"I don't know if I've stepped into an event before and had it feel so natural like this. I feel I'm built for the marathon," says Levins, who won a bronze medal in the 10,000 at the 2014 Commonwealth Games before his career was disrupted by the ankle injury the following season.

"I know I'm supposed to be suffering in the last 10 kilometres of the [marathon] but I still feel strong and relaxed running the pace I need. It's potentially a big positive for me if that continues in my career."

Smooth transition

In many ways,Levins believes a high volume of training dating back to his days at Southern Utah University has made for an easy shift to the marathon. He averaged 150-160 miles during the Toronto marathon build and has maintained that range for London.

Levins, who now lives in Portland, Ore., has also bought into the long, demanding workouts that once seemed "terrifying" to a man who finished inside the top 15 in the 5,000 and 10,000 at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Levins, pictured here competing in the 10,000 metres at the 2012 Olympics in London, has taken to the long, hard marathon workouts that once seemed "terrifying" to the native of Black Creek, B.C. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press/File)

"I didn't feel strong in the workouts I thought were the bread and butter of what marathoning takes," recalls Levins, whose $43,000 bonus for setting the Canadian record will be used in the future to secure a down payment on a house with his wife, Elizabeth.

"The huge, two-hour tempo [runs] didn't seem like something I was ready for mentally and physically, but I've learned to enjoy them and become quite good at them.

Chasing Canadian half marathon mark

"To feel strong over a long period of time and achieve something I didn't think was possible is exciting."

While beating Schiebler's time is also achievable for Levins in New York City — his tune up race before London — it wouldn't result in another national mark since the USA Track and Field-certified race isn't record-eligible.

"I want to get that record at some point," says Levins, who's focused on replicating his strong, even-paced effort from the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Sept. 16 when he clocked 1:03:10. "If I'm able to have a similar feeling this time that'll be a good sign.

Gollish has no problem in Houston

"I have a lot of confidence with the training I've done and I'm not so anxious going into [London] but the excitement I had for [Toronto] is there just as much."

Toronto's Sasha Gollish, who has a 1:11:52 personal-best in the half marathon, is the other Canadian competing in New York City. She will be among 25,000 expected participants in a race contested on the streets of Brooklyn that will take runners over the Manhattan Bridge and through Times Square before ending in Central Park.

Last September, the 37-year-old Gollish didn't finish her marathon debut in Berlin, collapsing due to extreme cramping just after the 30 km mark. But she rebounded in January, placing eighth in 2:32:54 at the Houston Marathon.


Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc


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