TORONTO — Cam Levins doesn't take any pain-free step for granted anymore.
Three years after a fluke fall in a race derailed his career, the 29-year-old from Black Creek, B.C., will make his marathon debut on Sunday. While he has set a speedy time goal — he has a pacer to take him through the first 30 kilometres at Canadian-record speed — getting to the finish line in one piece will be worth celebrating.
"I have an appreciation especially just for being able to go out even for an easy run, it's something that for a little while wasn't even really a viable option, being able to enjoy the sport that I love in its most basic form," Levins said. "That's been nice, it's been nice to be like 'Yup, I appreciate every step I get to take,' even though sometimes I feel better doing it than other days, but I'm always happy that I can go out and do it."
Levins' career had been on the rise in 2015. He won both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the 2012 NCAA championships, raced at the London Olympics that year, then captured bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. But he injured his ankle while crossing the finish line of the 1,500 metres at the 2015 Canadian championships. The injury required surgery and wiped out the better part of the next two seasons.
Levins is finally feeling better than he has in years.
"I think I'm in a good place, and I feel healthy and really fit," he said. "It's a combination of two things I haven't had in awhile."
Some 25,000 elite and recreational runners from over 70 countries will race in Sunday's 29th edition of the Toronto marathon. The top Canadian men such as Reid Coolsaet will be chasing Jerome Drayton's national record of two hours 10 minutes nine seconds set in 1975. Coolsaet has come closest to that mark, running 2:10.28 three years ago in Berlin.
Krista DuChene of Strathroy, Ont., the bronze medallist at this year's Boston Marathon, headlines the women's field. The 41-year-old mom of three will be chasing Lanni Marchant's Canadian women's record of 2:28.00 set at the 2013 Toronto marathon.
Levins has been reknowned for the mega-mileage he'd cover in any given week, and so moving up to the marathon didn't require a major mileage bump. The one thing that has changed is he doesn't pay as close attention to actual miles covered. He will tell you it's "lots."
"I've been running about 20 to 30 miles most days. I would guess I'm probably close to 170 miles most weeks," he estimated. "But it's one of those things I don't like trying to get myself caught up in that number so much anymore. I just want to play things by how I feel and listen to my body better. But I'm running lots. That's what it comes down to. I'm running a ton."
In a race in which any number of variables — windy weather, for example — can spell disaster, Levins knows anything can happen in Sunday's marathon.
He'll follow a pacer set to go through 30 kilometres at 2:08.30-2:09:00 pace.
"I don't know if that pacer can go that far, I never try and 100 per cent expect something to go that way, but that would be great if I could get that far," he said.
The final 10 kilometres, in particular, are where bodies can inexplicably break down.
"I've had people telling me that it's going to be the hardest thing I've ever done. And other people telling me 'Oh, it's not that bad,'" Levins said. "It's somewhere in there."
His biggest concern is suffering any kind of gastric distress during the race, saying "that's the sort of thing I would really not like to deal with on race day."
He's worked with Canadian sports physiologist Trent Stellingwerff on proper pre- and mid-race fuelling.
"There's so much depth to it that I had no idea there was so much involved with it until I started getting into it," Levins said. "It's really interesting."
Levins has been splitting his training time between Portland where he lives with his wife Elizabeth — they recently celebrated their five-year anniversary — and Cedar City, Utah, where he went to college.
Levins' brother Jordan is also running the marathon on Sunday. And Levins will have his wife and parents race-side cheering him on.
"Happy they're going to be there to celebrate this with me and I know they'll be happy that I'm able to run at all," he said. "I think we'll all just be enjoying the experience."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press