Cam Levins broke the Canadian 10,000m record on Saturday night at the Nike Prefontaine Classic in Oregon. He ran a 27:07:51 breaking Simon Bairu’s 27:23:63 record set in 2010. Levins placed fourth behind Mo Farah (26:50:97), Paul Tanui (26:51:86) and Geoffrey Kamworor (26:52:65). Levins says he was going for the Canadian record and felt strong going in.
We talked with Levins on Monday afternoon about training with Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, staying in the moment during a big race and going after more Canadian records.
Canadian Running: You’ve had a couple days to let everything settle. What’s going through your head now?
Cam Levins: It was really exciting. Now I have to keep training hard, it’s no time to rest on my laurels. It was really great. I did a lot of things I wanted to accomplish and looking forward to being even better next time I race.
CR: Going in, what were you hoping for? Did you think you could go for the record?
CL: Yes. I knew I was prepared. It was definitely the goal going in. I was looking to run fast around 27 minutes or just under. I did exactly what we were looking for me to do.
CR: Tell us about the week leading up. How were you feeling in your training?
CL: Yeah, we were definitely easing up a little bit into this race and [coach] Alberto [Salazar] wanted me to run a really good, fast time. A week before I was relaxed and I’d say you always feel good when you’ve backed off training. I felt very good going into it because I was rested.
CR: Talk to us about some of your tactics. You were running solo for a long section of the race. How do you stay focused on what you have to do when that happens?
CL: I think the real key is not to let yourself get ahead of that moment. I just need to stay focused on the process and what I was doing at that moment. I wasn’t thinking about the record. I was just trying to catch everyone I could. I couldn’t hear splits or anything, I was just running as relaxed and I was pushing myself as hard as I could while still staying in that mode. You don’t try to think too much, it’s just focusing on little things.
I was ready to embrace that pain and difficulty. That’s really what it’s about. It’s going to be hard the whole way
CR: You’ve mentioned to us before that you often choose one or two specific things to work on in each race. Was there anything in particular that you were focused on improving?
CL: Going into the race I wasn’t necessarily trying to work on anything specifically. The big thing going into a race like this where you’re pushing for fast times is that I knew it was going to be tough. I wanted to make sure I was prepared for when it started getting really hard. You already know it’s going to happen. I was ready for that. I was ready to embrace that pain and difficulty. That’s really what it’s about. It’s going to be hard the whole way. It’s nothing too tactical besides making sure I didn’t go out too fast. It’s about just staying strong when it gets tough.
CR: And was there a point when it was feeling really difficult and when was it?
CL: I feel it all the time when I’m training. Luckily, when I reached a point like that in the race it wasn’t unfamiliar to me. I was prepared to be tough and I’d say probably with around six or seven laps left, I started to feel it a bit more but I had the crowd behind me at that point. At that point, I’m already so far into the race that I was able to just push knowing that I wasn’t going to fall apart. I didn’t have enough time to. I wasn’t so far out that I couldn’t push too far and die.
It’s amazing how it feels. It felt like I could do anything at that point. I could push as hard as I could and knew I wasn’t going to die.
CR: It’s interesting how you mention the crowds. Do you rely on that excitement from the crowds?
CL: Yeah it’s that atmosphere – when the three athletes at the front of the race were racing for the win and when the crowd started noticing that I was passing a lot of athletes and making up a lot of ground, it’s this situation where I’m like ‘Well I can’t let them down now.’ It’s amazing how it feels. It felt like I could do anything at that point. I could push as hard as I could and knew I wasn’t going to die.
CR: What happens when you make the decision to break away and close in the gap? Is that nerve-wracking?
CL: I started breaking away pretty early from the pack I was with. I was behind a pacer until about eight or nine laps and then for the most part that’s when I began to make my break away trying to catch who was ahead of me. It was a decision I made before the race happened no matter what happened with my pacer or if anyone was able to help me out or stick with me. I accepted that I was going to get this done. I was going to run fast no matter what the obstacles were.
CR: There was that Hoka One One meet just a little while ago but it got cancelled. Did that affect you?
CL: It’s difficult for a lot of athletes because whether you like it or not you usually ease up even a couple days beforehand to make sure you feel a little bit more fresh. Even if it’s just backing off mileage the day before. So, I eased up a couple days beforehand. So it was kind of like ‘Oh there’s another week where I wasn’t able to run quite as much as I wanted to.’ At the same time, we were able to get in a good workout. We had been up at altitude at Park City so it was good to get in a good workout at sea level. At the time it was frustrating but you just have to make the most of the situation. It’s just something that happens. I was bummed at not being able to race, I love racing but it wasn’t a huge loss. Besides not being able to chase 5K standards for Pan Ams and World Championships. I have to go do that now but there’s plenty of opportunities.
CR: Tell us about training. Farah and Rupp.
CL: They are positive to me as teammates. Being able to train with such high calibre athletes is beneficial to me because they’re pushing me to another level. I’m able to do whatever they can in workouts. They’re the ones who are pushing me to that level. I can simply say that I wouldn’t have accomplished what I did if I wasn’t training with the athletes that I am. It’s all positive.
I was at a mile left and I thought, ‘OK, I have to run a 4-minute mile to break 27 minutes.’
CR: What are you hoping for going forward?
CL: Definitely a goal is to go under 27 minutes. Even at the Prefontaine Classic I was thinking that. I was at a mile left and I thought, ‘OK, I have to run a 4-minute mile to break 27 minutes.’ I knew what I had to do. Certainly it’s going to be a focus for me in the future. Right now the next thing in my mind is to make sure I’m qualified for Pan Ams and the World Championships in the 5K as well. The major focus in the season now is making sure I’m prepared to be a medal contender in the World Championships. If I have a chance after to take another crack at going under 27 in the 10K, I’ll take whatever opportunity I can get but I’m really pleased with what I ran in that 10K already. It’s not next on my mind but it’s a goal I’d like to accomplish whenever the oppotunity arises again.
CR: Great. Tell us about chasing the 5K standard.
CL: Yeah I’m racing the Portland Track Festival on June 14. So that’s when I’d love to get 5K standard and run a good, fast 5K time. That’s the next race on my plate and what I’m looking forward to now.
CR: I know you said you’d race a double again if you had to and that made me think of your double in winter. I wanted to ask you how you handle that kind of racing mentally when that comes up.
CL: You can’t be focused on what you just accomplished. I just try to forget that I raced and treat the next race like I’m not tired. You have to treat each race you do like it’s your only race. When I raced the mile first, I was just focused on that race I wasn’t thinking of racing afterwards. when it was done I was completely focused on the two-mile and getting the best out of myself in that next race. All of us in the Oregon Project are very fit and I’m sure the other athletes could handle that as well. We’re used to workouts after races anyway. I was prepared to be able to do it, to do my best, be tough and be mentally strong. I’m physically very prepared as well.