“It’s a marvel” – Canada’s Levins to race in London marathon bubble Sunday

“It’s a marvel” - Canada’s Levins to race in London marathon bubble Sunday

Cameron Levins prepared for Sunday’s London Marathon on a compound somewhere outside of England’s capital on Tuesday.

He couldn’t divulge where he was exactly.

He wasn’t permitted to accept a call on his hotel phone. He couldn’t upload his training sessions to the running app Strava, lest anyone figure out the location. The secrecy was to prevent anyone penetrating the carefully-constructed London Marathon bubble.

Six months after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the world’s top road races, London organizers have gathered a small but elite field, including Canada’s Levins and Tristan Woodfine, to race on Sunday.

“I didn’t know when the opportunity (to race again) would arise, this situation they set up is really special,” Levins said on a Facetime call from his top-secret location Tuesday. ”It’s far from what I’d consider a normal race situation, but I’m thankful for all the precautions they’re taking and for being able to put together such an elite marathon, despite everything that has gone against trying to do it.”

Levins, a 31-year-old from Black Creek, B.C., and the Canadian record-holder in the marathon, said the elite race was made possible largely by the entry fees from the 45,000 recreational runners that registered to run a virtual London Marathon.

“Marathons are built off mass participation,” Levins said. ”And they’ve completely circumvented that to do this for the athletes. It’s really, really amazing that this opportunity even exists, and I’m very grateful, beyond just how good it’s going to be in terms of competitiveness.

“It’s a marvel that it’s happening.”

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, two of the greatest distance runners in history, headline Sunday’s field of 40 men. There are no Canadians in the women’s field.

Brent Lakatos, an 11-time Paralympic world champion from Montreal, and Josh Cassidy of Port Elgin, Ont., are the Canadians in the elite wheelchair field.

Levins was required to undergo a novel coronavirus test four days before flying to London on Monday from his Portland home. He had another test Monday, and will have one more on Friday.

The runners were given a wearable “Bump” device that functions sort of like a FitBit, but for COVID-19 safety. Levins said if he gets too close to a fellow runner, volunteer, hotel employee, etc., he receives an alert on the device he wears around his neck. He downloads the Bump data every evening.

Levins will be gunning for the Tokyo Olympic qualifying standard — two hours 11 minutes 30 seconds — on Sunday. Two years ago, Levins obliterated the Canadian record in his marathon debut at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, running 2:09.25. Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old national mark of 2:10:09 had been the oldest record in Canadian track and field.

But Levins, a finalist in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the 2012 London Olympics, struggled in last year’s Toronto marathon, fading over the final 10 kilometres to cross in 2:15.01.

He’d planned to race last April, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19, along with other major road races such as the iconic Boston Marathon and the New York Marathon, leaving marathoners scrambling in efforts to run the Tokyo standard.

Canadian races, such as the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, have gone virtual, and virtual times can’t be used for Olympic qualifying. Calgary’s Trevor Hofbauer and Vancouver’s Dayna Pidhoresky qualified for Tokyo as the top Canadians in last year’s Scotiabank race, and retain their Olympic spots despite the Games postponement.

Levins’ training wasn’t interrupted much by the coronavirus — if there’s an ideal athlete to be during a pandemic, it’s arguably a long-distance runner. Levins trained largely alone already. Not having access to physio and massage therapy for four months, however, wasn’t perfect, but he said he was lucky to remain healthy through that period.

Then in August, Levins recorded a new personal best in the half-marathon, running 1:02.12 to beat his previous mark of 1:02.14. The time wasn’t official since it was a solo training run, but was an excellent gauge of his racing fitness.

“My wife (Elizabeth) drove along for a decent amount of it, so that was nice,” Levins said.”Otherwise I was out by myself on the side of the road, just zooming along. It was fun to be able to put forth an effort like that after spending half a year not really doing anything.”

Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon is being held on a closed-loop circuit — the loop is about two kilometres — around scenic St. James Park in central London. The iconic finish on The Mall from previous London marathons will remain the same.

Levins isn’t concerned about the tight loops.

“You spend so much time training at that speed that I get the feeling that, maybe not the full 20 laps, but a lot of that is going to fly by pretty quickly,” Levins said.

And while distance runners are accustomed to solitary training runs, Levins said nothing beats a true race, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the starting line with the best on the planet.

“I’m certainly excited to race again, he said. “There’s been a lot of virtual opportunities, but it’s really not the same. I love the sport so much, and a big part of that is being able to pit myself against others, to be able to dig down and actually race.

“Being able to line up against others, I’ve been excited even before coming here.”

Kipchoge is the world record-holder in the event, running 2:01:39 in 2018. The Kenyan is also famous for the Nike Breaking2 project. The 2017 event was designed to see the first sub two-hour marathon. Kipchoge was the closest, running 2:00.25.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2020.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and Roland Gaviola, Iglesia ni Cristo Church of Christ district minister in the Calgary region, stand in front of the 300-plus boxes of donated food at the Red Deer Food Bank Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Red Deer Food Bank receives big donation from local church

More than 300 boxes of food were donated Saturday

Jason Aquino has been adding to his front lawn Halloween display for the past five years. “I wanted to do it big this year, because even in the pandemic, we can still enjoy Halloween,” says the Red Deer father.
Halloween spookiness rises to new level

Rare astronomical occurrence caps off a strange holiday

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

Advocate file photo
Man awaiting murder trial facing two new trials for breaching release conditions

Quentin Strawberry going to trial in March in connection with 2019 murder

Ecole La Prairie students and teachers dressed up in Halloween costumes and paraded by Barrett Kiwanis Place, while waving at the building’s residents in Red Deer on Friday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Ecole La Prairie students parade in Halloween costumes for Red Deer seniors

Dozens of Red Deer students put on their Halloween costumes to spread… Continue reading

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

A costumed trick or treater turns after being given candy during Halloween celebrations in Toronto, on Tuesday, October 31, 2017. Families across the country have assembled their costumes and stockpiled their candy to celebrate a Halloween that is -- hopefully -- unlike any other. Public health restrictions to protect against COVID-19 vary depending on the region, but most officials have given trick-or-treating the go-ahead.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Families prepare for pandemic-era Halloween with public health restrictions in place

TORONTO — Canadians may be putting the final touches on their costumes… Continue reading

Indigenous fishermen adjust lines on their boat in Saulnierville, N.S. on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Andrew Vaughan
N.S. Mi’kmaq chiefs demand stop of alleged federal plans to seize lobster traps

HALIFAX — The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs is alleging the… Continue reading

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs speaks in Ottawa on Thursday, December 7, 2017. Dumas says he's concerned about the growing number of COVID-19 cases First Nation communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
The family of Allan Landrie, shown in a family handout photo, is disappointed the Saskatchewan Coroners Service isn’t considering an inquest into the 72-year-old's hospital death. Landrie's death in September 2019 was ruled a suicide. More than three days had passed before his body was discovered locked in a hospital bathroom in Saskatoon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
‘He was so sick,’ says daughter of Saskatoon man who committed suicide in hospital

Allan Landrie’s body was discovered three days after his death

Supporters listen as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Obama: Trump failed to take pandemic, presidency seriously

FLINT, Mich. — Calling Joe Biden his “brother,” Barack Obama on Saturday… Continue reading

Imagining the origins of Halloween

Long ago and far away, a small assemblage of English people gathered… Continue reading

Red Deer College president Peter Nunoda. (Photo by contributed)
Peter Nunoda: Winter term will be busier on RDC campus

In my column last month, I shared details about Red Deer College’s… Continue reading

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie "The Name of the Rose" at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

He died peacefully in his sleep overnight in the Bahamas

Most Read