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Leslie Sexton is finally getting the success she deserves

The veteran runner talks about her breakout season and her big win in Philly

Leslie Sexton has been on a tear this fall. She kicked off her season with a win at the virtual Canadian 5K Championships in September, followed that up with another win at the Canadian 10K Championships in Toronto in October, and capped off her season by breaking the tape at the Philadelphia Marathon last weekend in a new course record and personal best of 2:28:34. Canadian Running caught up with her recently to chat about her race, her season and what’s coming up next after what has been the best season of her career so far.

Leslie Sexton wins the 2021 Philadelphia Marathon in a new course record of 2:28:34. Photo: Karen Mitchell

Canada’s Leslie Sexton wins Philadelphia Marathon

Originally from Markham, Ont., Sexton competed for Queens University in Kingston before moving to London, Ont., where she lived and trained with her partner and coach, Steve Weiler, for nine years. She then moved back to Kingston briefly before the pair headed across the country to Vancouver last summer. At 34 years old, Sexton isn’t new to the Canadian running scene, and has been on the leaderboard at countless cross country, track and road races for more than a decade. This fall, all those years of hard work finally paid off, and Sexton found herself on the top of the podium at every race she entered (technically, she came second to Sarah Inglis at the Canadian 10K Championships, but because Inglis isn’t a Canadian citizen, the title went to Sexton).

Going into the race in Philadelphia, Sexton’s goal was to run under the 2:29:30 qualifying standard for the World Marathon Championships in Eugene, Ore. in 2022, which she did with room to spare. If she is selected to the team (the qualifying window doesn’t close until May), she will make her first-ever Worlds team at 35 years old. “I was super happy how (the race) went overall,” she says. “I wanted to pace it for 2:28 flat, and I got on the pace early on and tried to keep it as even as possible.”

Leslie Sexton and Sarah Inglis at the 2021 Canadian 10K Championships (Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 10K). Photo: Canada Running Series

How Leslie Sexton went from DNF’ing to a huge PB

After doing the majority of her training on her own, Sexton was mentally prepared to tick off the kilometres like a metronome. She was two full minutes ahead of the second-place female, but had various groups of male competitors to keep pace with throughout the race. “I decided that if at 20 miles I had anything left, I would try and pick it up a little bit,” she says, “which I did for the next five miles, but when I hit mile 25 I just felt like absolute death.”

Still, she managed to cross the line with a shiny new personal best, the course record, World Marathon Championships standard and the sixth-fastest Canadian marathon result of all time. After spending most of 2020 coming back from injury, this was a welcome result for Sexton, who’s been working for years to achieve this level of success. “I’m not looking for validation of what I’m doing anymore,” she says. “I love the training, I love the process, but running a performance that would put me in the mix is nice after all the years of work.”

Leslie Sexton wins the 2021 Canadian 10K Championships at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 10K. Photo: Canada Running Series

Her fellow Canadian elites, including Krista Duchene, Natasha Wodak and Malindi Elmore, were quick to send their congratulations, and Sexton says she feels honoured to be a small part of the strong contingent of female marathoners in Canada. “It’s really cool that everyone ahead of me (in the rankings) is still active and racing,” she says. “It obviously means the teams are more competitive to make, but overall that’s a good thing for the sport.”

Weekend recap: Luc Bruchet and Leslie Sexton win Canadian 5K Championship

Sexton doesn’t have any plans for a spring marathon, but instead will be focusing on some shorter, faster 10Ks and half-marathons. “I’m excited because we’re starting to see road racing come back in Canada,” she says. “I’m looking forward to racing some other great B.C. athletes.” She’s got her eye (hopefully) on the World Marathon Championships next summer, and running fans across the country will be eagerly watching to see what she does next.