Benjamin Preisner, the 25-year-old from Milton, Ontario whose second marathon ever was at the recent Tokyo Olympic Games, is the kind of Canadian running hero easy to get behind: hardworking, feisty, smart-as-a-whip and proud, fiercely, to represent his teammates and his country. “I’m not one to get super nervous before a race,” says Preisner, currently working towards a masters degree in artificial intelligence, “I put a lot of pride in my work.” Preisner recently updated iRun on his preparation, future plans, Tokyo experience and advice for runners around the country hoping, in our own unique way, to follow in his groundbreaking footsteps.
iRun: 30 of the 106 male Olympic marathoners didn’t finish in Tokyo. Did you ever come close to that?
Benjamin Preisner: Yeah, I definitely did. The last 5K felt like I was running in slow motion.
BP: I wasn’t getting picked off, but I wasn’t picking people off either. That last 5K was a bit of a grind for everyone.
iRun: How’d you fight through?
BP: I’m an analytic guy. I focus on my splits and what I can do in the moment. It’s very easy to doze off, which is good at some point, but staying locked in is how I can salvage any sort of bonk. I keep my mind on the actual race.
iRun: That’s interesting and relatable. Sometimes it’s the mind that gets tired.
BP: It’s important for me to stay locked in. I’m aware of what place I’m in, of being involved. When I get separated from the race it’s easy to be like, ‘whatever, this doesn’t matter. I don’t need to get a couple more places,’ but if I’m active, mentally, it helps me fight.
iRun: What was your goal for the Games?
BP: Evolving. The big thing was adapting to the heat. Would I be top 50? Top 20? We [coach Richard Lee] looked at the past Olympics, and also the women’s marathon the day before our race. In the women’s race, the finishing times were about 4% slower, on average, than each athlete’s personal best. We used that as a gauge.
iRun: Did it work?
BP: Sort of. I went out faster than I wanted to—it was mob mentality, and the whole group went faster than anticipated. But in the end, we thought 2:15-flat would be top 20—it’s been like that since the 1992 Olympics—and what do you know? 2:14:58 was twentieth place.
iRun: The smartest runner wins the marathon and you’re smarter than almost everyone.
BP: I intended to go out slower, more tactfully, but that’s how it goes. I knew it would be survival of the fittest and a war of attrition. I braced myself for the grind.
iRun: So much is made of training plans and shoes, but the mental game is just as important.
BP: Marathon training is about hitting splits and being comfortable muscle-wise, but it’s also getting used to being out there for a long time and how mentally draining that is; how much negative self-talk you’re going to experience. An important part of training is turning that negative talk into something positive.
iRun: In your second marathon, you lined up against Eliud Kipchoge.
BP: I gave Kipchoge props when he came out of the bathroom before the race. It’s such a cool environment that I wanted to embrace it, enjoy it, but at the same time: I was giving respect, but knowing I deserve respect also when I’m on the line.
iRun: How close was the Canadian contingent of marathon runners?
BP: We definitely spent a lot of time together. There was lots of hotel time with nothing to do, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. Trevor and Cam, but even the female marathoners. We all kept a positive vibe, and Dayna, with all her injuries, she showed up to the practice track with a smile. We were there to represent Canada and part of that is not getting so stressed out that we can’t perform as we should.
iRun: Your second marathon at the Olympic Games. Talk about nerves.
BP: I’m not one to get super nervous before a race. I put a lot of pride in the work. My build, of course, it’s not perfect, but when you frame it the right way, even practice workouts that don’t go great offer you something to learn from. You can bring that confidence into your races.
iRun: Like staying locked in on your races and staying locked in, also, when you train.
BP: Learn from every run. It’s a never ending cycle of trying to iron out my nutrition plan or make it one mile further without feeling it. Setting tangible goals I can learn from each session. The main goal is to hit a pace or run a distance, but the sub-goal can be working with the heat or taking in fluids, tidbits from the workouts give you confidence going into your race. Do the work and your due diligence before the race and it translates to race day confidence.
iRun: What’s your best tip for readers of iRun magazine?
BP: The positive mindset is not always easy when the going gets tough, but running is 90% mental. As long as you’ve prepared to the best of your ability, what do you have to be nervous about? Give what you’ve got on the day and be proud of what you can do.
iRun: Studying artificial intelligence while training for the Olympic Games sounds like a full dance card. How do you keep balanced?
BP: I crave balance. If I’m 100% focused on one thing, like running, I get in a rut if I have two bad workouts in a row. It’s all I’d think about. But if you can step back a little, it brings your mind to something else that’s important. That’s important because without balance, things can turn toxic real quick.
iRun: Makes sense.
BP: I think school and running play off well against each other. My mind needs to be stimulated and you can only run so many hours in a day. If I’m twiddling my thumbs I’ll drive myself crazy.
iRun: What’s next for the great Benjamin Preisner?
BP: I could look at a fall marathon, depends how I feel at the end of the month. I took a week off and now I’m sprinkling in some runs. I don’t want to rush a fall marathon, maybe a 10K in Canada or a cross country 10K—or both. I want to keep my mentality going, keep momentum going.
iRun: A fall marathon after the Olympics sounds insane.
BP: It’s a hard maybe. We’re not sure how that might bounce.