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Levins ready to take on New York Marathon

Cameron Levins Cameron Levins - Getty Images

If running more than 240 kilometres a week, training on hills, and sleeping in an atmospheric tent will give Cameron Levins a chance to win the New York City marathon, he’s all for it.

Levins will toe the line on Sunday in one of running’s premiere events with a legitimate shot to become the first Canadian to win the Big Apple’s marathon. His recent finishes have shown he is peaking at just the right time and is prepared to handle what can be a tough, hilly course.

“I’m ready to go,” Levins said from New York ahead of Sunday morning’s race. “I’ve been healthy my entire build up and I’ve been hitting the mark in most of my workouts. I’m feeling good.”

Levins has been on the rise in marathon running since his first try at the 42.2-kilometre race back in 2018. At that time, he tackled the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and finished fourth in 2:09.25, breaking the Canadian record set by Jerome Drayton, which had stood for 43 years.

Since then, he’s gone on to lower that mark three times, most recently with an eye-popping run at the Tokyo Marathon in March where he finished fifth, crossing the finish line in 2:05.36. That not only set a new Canadian record but is the fastest marathon run by any North American.

In his build-up to the New York race, Levins ran the Victoria (B.C.) Half Marathon in October and set a Canadian record of 60.18 on a hilly course, much like he will face in New York.

The marathon world has six major championships: Tokyo, Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston, and New York. Berlin is generally regarded as the fastest course, with men’s and women’s world records set there 13 times.

Boston and New York are the seen as the toughest. New York’s course winds through all five of the city’s boroughs, starting in Staten Island and finishing in Central Park. The last time a runner from North America won the race was 1995.

Levins would like to change that. He has been working hard at his craft since a poor finish in the 2020 Olympics (held in 2021) in Tokyo where he ended up 71st.

“That was really a turning point in my career,” he said. “I was really disappointed after that and so my coach and I re-evaluated everything, revamped everything.”

The new plan included a lot more strength training, and a dramatic increase in mileage with weeks where he’d put in 290 kilometres, much of that up and down hills. There were also plenty of days when he would run three different times, morning, afternoon, and evening. And there was a number of shorter, faster runs as well, helping to enhance his speed.

If all that wasn’t enough, Levins sometimes trained on a treadmill that was housed inside an altitude tent and slept inside one as well, hoping to get the same benefits as those who live and train at high altitudes.

Based on all this hard work and recent finishes, he has set lofty but realistic goals for himself.

“I am really focused on winning,” said the native of Black Creek, B.C., who now makes his home in Portland, Ore. “I’m racing to win. That’s the goal but a podium finish would be nice. I want to execute the best race I can. I’ve prepared as well as I can.”

Levins’ chances of a great finish have improved with the recent withdrawals of defending champion Evans Chebet and fellow Ethiopian Geoffrey Kamworor, who won New York in 2017 and 2019.

Still, the field is rich with great runners, including Maru Teferi and Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia, both of whom won medals at the last world championships; Kenya’s Albert Korir, who won the New York race in 2021; and Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands, who won the silver medal at the last Olympics.

As for a game plan, Levins said he has an idea of what he wants to do but knows he has to be fluid.

“You have to be adaptable because other runners may do different things that don’t fit in your plan,” he said. “There’s a lot of strategy involved, especially on a course like this.”

The race is also a step along the path to next Summer’s Paris Olympics in Paris. Levins picked the New York race as test as the course at the Games will be similarly hilly. It will give him measure of how his training will prepare him and whether he has to make any more adjustments.

While he is the only elite Canadian in the field, there are expected to be roughly 1,000 others of varying abilities and ages looking to cross the finish line in Central Park on what is expected to be a perfect day weather-wise for a run. Levins offered up some advice to that group.

“I would say stick to your game plan and don’t go out to fast,” he stated. “And enjoy it.”

The New York City Marathon will be broadcast Sunday on TSN2 starting at 8 a.m. ET.