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Vancouver Island’s Cam Levins sets new Canadian marathon record of 2:09:25

In only his first marathon, Vancouver Islander Cam Levins became the fastest Canadian ever to run the 42.2-kilometre distance, by clocking two hours, nine minutes, 25 seconds in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday.
Canadian Cam Levins reacts as he crosses the finish line of the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in Toronto on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

In only his first marathon, Vancouver Islander Cam Levins became the fastest Canadian ever to run the 42.2-kilometre distance, by clocking two hours, nine minutes, 25 seconds in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday.

The 29-year-old from Black Creek shattered, by 44 seconds, Jerome Drayton’s hallowed 43-year-old national record of 2:10:09 set in 1975 in Fukuoka, Japan.

“I’m ecstatic. Breaking it on Canadian soil makes it all the sweeter,”Levins said from Toronto.

Levins not only won the $6,000 prize for top Canadian in the marathon but a bonus of $43,000 for breaking the long-standing record — $1,000 for each year since Drayton set the old standard.

Levins moved up in distance from running the 5,000 and 10,000 metres on the track, two events which he qualified in for the finals at the 2012 London Olympics. The graduate of G.P. Vanier Secondary in Courtenay also won the bronze medal in the 10,000 metres at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games before a tendon tear in the left foot and surgery interrupted his progress and kept him out of the 2016 Rio Olympics. His return to running is the result of his fierce resolve.

“I ran a lot of mileage as a track athlete, and I believe that made the transition to the marathon easier,” said Levins, who is known for volume training.

“Mileage is something that has been consistent between training. There is a different approach in the type of workouts, but running high mileage definitely lends confidence that I can handle the distance of the marathon.”

Levins has now suddenly shot up the national rankings to become a favourite to represent Canada in the marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“I will race whatever I can qualify for, but am definitely leaning toward the marathon for 2020 Olympics,” said Levins.

The transition from an encircled vulcanized rubber track loop of 400 metres length, to the open road, would be a change for anybody.

“The biggest differences are the inconsistency between races, and less of a focus on time [in the marathon],” said Levins. “Sometimes, you have really hilly courses in the marathon, and you need to be prepared to stay strong on them. Also, finishing times, while still important, can vary a lot [between race events on the track and on the road].”

Levins’ Island connections remain strong. He married wife Elizabeth on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy in Victoria on Canada Day in 2013. Levins’ start in organized running came with the Comox Valley Cougars Track Club in Grade 7 and he was Island and B.C. high school cross-country champion with G.P. Vanier before becoming 2012 NCAA champion in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres with the University of Southern Utah.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot of influential coaches growing up on Vancouver Island,” said Levins, who now trains in Portland, Oregon.

“Those include people such as Darren Skuja, who continues to be someone who provides good advice and support to me.”

On his bio sheet for the 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island, where he won gold in the 5,000, Levins listed “representing Canada on the world stage” as his goal. He has already done that in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres and now may also do it in the marathon.

Benson Kipruto, from Kenya, won the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which featured more than 25,000 participants from 70 nations, in a course-record 2:07:24. Levins was fourth across the line.

"With 3K left I knew I could do it and with half a kilometre left, I was certain it was going to happen," said Levins. "I was just enjoying the moment,” he told The Canadian Press.

"I knew in my buildup I was getting into shape to be able to do it, but you never know what's going to happen with the marathon, you never know if you're going to be a really good athlete at it or not," Levin said. "I was kind of expecting it to get really hard at one point."

The final seven kilometres were tough Levins said. But as he headed west toward the finish line, churning along Front Street then finally turning north onto Bay Street in the middle of Toronto's banking district with the finish line in sight, Levins told himself: "I have to do this. I've come too far not to do this."

"As I was doing it I was thinking 'This is not anything I haven't been through before, I've experienced this in runs, in races, that feeling,'" he said. "So it's good to know what that is now, and not have any fear of it or anxiety of what it's going to feel like."

His wife Elizabeth and parents Gus and Barb Levins fought back tears at the finish line in the shadow of Toronto City Hall.

"The (2015) Pan Am Games in Toronto was where he had his first horrible race (after his injury), so it's very serendipitous that he should run so well back here in Toronto to restart this second phase of his career," Elizabeth said. "He's been preparing for the marathon for a long time, in his mileage and his philosophy in his training, so it's so rewarding to see that be successful here, especially at home in Canada."

Levins' fast time was even more remarkable considering Sunday's chilly conditions. Temperatures hovered around 2 C, with a low of minus-2 with the wind chill. And winds were gusting between 20 and 30 kilometres an hour in some portions.

Levins' race prompted an outpouring on Twitter, including a congratulatory tweet from Malcolm Gladwell.

"Congratulations to Cam Levins for breaking the Canadian marathon record today!" tweeted the Canadian writer and journalist — and Levins' doppleganger.

Levins laughed about the tweet, and said he often listened to Gladwell's podcasts during his long runs.

Up next: Levins planned to enjoy a nice dinner with his family after "treating my body like a temple and eating really strictly." Then he and Elizabeth will leave Monday for a cruise to the Bahamas.

— With The Canadian Press