“I think to run well you have to maintain your confidence at all times,” says Cam Levins, who recently broke his own marathon record with a time of 2:07:09 at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon on Sunday. “No matter what’s going on—whether things go well or go poorly—you can’t lose your belief in yourself, and you can’t lose it in races: You need to believe in yourself at all times.”
Believing in himself is something the 33-year-old from Black Creek, British Columbia has done all his life, and something he doubled down on after setting the Canadian marathon record at the 2018 Toronto Waterfront Marathon and then suffering a string of lacklustre results, including coming in seventy-second at the Tokyo Olympics. Levins says after his Olympic performance that he wanted to rebuild everything about how he trained, how he ate, and how he lived, and the humble pie that he ate helped fuel Sunday’s historic run.
“The really low performance at the Olympics was a turning point for me because I realized I was so far behind the best in the world,” says Levins, who not only increased mileage after that marathon race (240-kilometres-per-week!), but also added strength training to his program and changed his diet. Once worried about caloric intake and body image, Levins decided post-Olympics to eat as much as he wanted to, and to eat clean.
“I concerned myself far less on how much I was eating which is a big change because there were points in my career where I’d try to get to race weight and cut how much I ate and that’s not a healthy way to think about things,” he says, and mentions how seeing high-profile athletes discuss their own weight problems helped the longtime track star think differently about his approach to fuel. “There are some athletes in the world built so completely differently than you are, athletes that you’ll never look like, that it’s important to remember that you don’t need to look like them to be strong, and that your own strength comes just from being yourself.”
Levins is one of the country’s all-time most decorated runners and he lit up the track before turning to the marathon in 2018. He competed in the 5,000-metres at the 2014 Olympics and came in eleventh place in the 10,000-metres at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Earlier this summer, he took first place at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships in Winnipeg and the humble, hulking racer—currently running in Nike Alpha Flys and racing without a sponsor—says that breaking his own record in the marathon is only the start of what’s to come.
He felt strong in Sunday’s race and, though he pushed back a strong urge to puke during the final kilometre, he says the weight training helped him battle as the race went long. All marathoners know that the race doesn’t really begin until 30K and Levins says he was ready to respond to his opponent’s moves—opponents who count as some of the fastest men in the world. “I kept feeling like I had more and more to give and as there were less and less competitors in the race I really felt good in the battle and looked to beat every person I could,” says Levins, adding that the late-race individual competitions are his favourite part of the sport.
Levins next race, of course, or next big goal, is the 2024 Paris Olympics. On Sunday, he battled with some of the fastest marathon runners in the world, and Levins says he’s not going to France to show up and wear Lululemon clothes for his pictures on Instagram. He wants to run in the Olympics to win.
“The Olympics will be tougher than Sunday was, but I was right there and I’m prepared to run faster,” he says. “Absolutely I can go faster, and after Sunday’s run, there’s weight behind those words.”