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Chatting with Leslie Sexton ahead of the Canadian Marathon Championships

London, Ont.'s Leslie Sexton has once again been logging 200K weeks as part of training for STWM. She's hoping that will put her in a position to PB

Leslie Sexton
Photo: Canada Running Series.

Leslie Sexton is a 2:33 marathoner from London, Ont. She is considered among the favourites at this year’s Canadian Marathon Championships which take place at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct. 22. We reached out to Sexton to ask how her preparations have gone.

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Canadian Running: How has your training and preparations gone for STWM and how has it compared to past marathon builds?

Leslie Sexton: My workouts and training are very similar to what I have done over my last few buildups. At the start of the year I was injured and I wasn’t able to start running again until the beginning of April. When my coach, Steve Weiler, and I sat down to plan out my marathon build we decided that we wanted to keep the training pretty similar to what I had done before. I was still getting my fitness back and my spring mileage had been lower than usual, so it didn’t make sense to go into new territory with my training this fall. The main change I made was in my approach to each workout; I tried to run by feel rather than trying to hit a set pace. The early workouts especially were just about getting in the right zone and doing the work. Early on, my marathon pace was a fair bit slower than my PB pace, but the fitness came back quickly and in August I was seeing improvements on a weekly basis. I started my buildup this year less fit than I would usually be, but I think over the past 10 weeks I have closed the gap on my pre-injury self, so to speak. With good weather on race day I am confident that I can go for a personal best.

CR: You are known for running very high mileage, often as much as 200K a week. Can you tell us a bit about why you choose this approach to training?

LS: When we talk about mileage I think it’s important to put it into context. I’m 30-years-old now and over the past decade, my coach and I have made small increases in my mileage on a seasonal or annual basis to get here. Steve and I share a philosophy of high volume with relatively few workouts. My workout volume is only 10-15 per cent of my total volume for the week. During a marathon build this means lots of easy running, with my harder days being longer workouts at tempo or marathon pace, long runs up to the full marathon distance at the fast end of my easy pace range and some long runs of 30-plus K with some marathon pace work at the end. It can be tough to find a balance sometimes; you want to be somewhat fatigued going into each workout to get the training effect of running on tired legs but you also need to be feeling good enough to hit your pace and get all of the volume in. With each build I am getting better at listening to my body and understanding how much mileage I can handle. I love this kind of training and though the long workouts can be intimidating sometimes, I would much rather do those than shorter intervals on the track. After spending the spring doing 5K and 10K training to get back into shape, this build has confirmed for me that I respond best to high mileage marathon training and that I enjoy it more than anything else. The one downside is that I have a tendency to get carried away chasing the big mileage numbers, so Steve has to keep me in check sometimes.

CR: STWM serves as the Canadian Marathon Championships and you are one of the top Canadians in the field. How do you feel about your chances of winning the Championships and what would that mean to you?

LS: I would love to win the Canadian Championship and that goal has definitely been on my mind throughout this build. But ultimately my focus is on running to my fitness and executing well on race day. I can’t worry too much about my placing in the race because I don’t have control over what my competitors do. We all know that the race really starts at 30K, so the plan is to run nice and even splits up to that point and then I can start thinking about placing.

CR: Can you share any goals you have for the race?

LS: My “A goal” would be to run a personal best and my “B goal” is to run sub-2:35, weather permitting. Coming back from injury, this year has been tough at times and there were definitely some moments where I doubted if I would even be able to run a marathon this fall. After having some rough marathon attempts in 2016 and then being off for four months with injury in the winter, I would be very happy to run under 2:35 again. This fall I have been hitting similar times in workouts to what I was in fall 2015 before I ran my personal best, so with a great race I think I could sneak under my best of 2:33:23.

CR: What is it specifically about this event, this race, this course that appeals to you and that keeps you coming back?

LS: The Toronto Waterfront Marathon is an event that has all of the advantages of a big-city marathon and IAAF Gold Label event while still feeling like a “home course” for me. It’s a fast course and the competition is strong. I would love to race all of the Marathon Majors eventually but racing in the elite field in a marathon on Canadian soil is something special. The travel is easy and there is usually a Tim Hortons within a block or two of my hotel (just like at home, I live practically next door to a Timmies). My parents live in Markham and my sister lives in Toronto, so I will usually have family and friends out on the course cheering me on. Alan Brookes and the Canada Running Series do a great job of putting together a top-notch international field while supporting and providing great racing opportunities for elite Canadian marathoners.