I THINK THEREFORE I CAM
In the small community of Black Creek on Vancouver Island where Cam Levins grew up, his friends would excitedly wheel out their bikes from the garage whenever school was out. But Levins would always prefer to follow on foot.
“I thought: ‘I don't need a bike, I'll just run with the guys,’” he explains. “I loved doing it. It was my method of transportation.”
He training for track in seventh grade, and ran to a decent level through high school, harbouring aspirations to compete on the US collegiate level scene. Yet Levins wasn’t quite the finished article.
“I wouldn’t say I was amazing by any means, so it would not have been easy to pick up my performances,” says Levins, now 25. “I put myself on a website called beRecruited.com so the colleges could view my profile.”
It worked: Southern Utah University were keen and Levins made the move to Logan, a town nearly 1,000 miles from home, in the middle of the desert and 4,500ft above sea level. It was just the first step on a long journey.
At SUU, his coach Erick Houle got him on a schedule that involved running up to three times a day and as many as 170 miles a week.
Gruelling, but it paid off. In his final year at Southern Utah he secured the NCAA 5,000m and 10,000m double and made the Olympic team for Canada.
In London he finished 11th in the 10,000m and 14th in the 5,000m – the two finals memorably won by Mo Farah amid a raucous atmosphere.
Levins back in the chasing bikes and colouring years
“Going to the Olympic Games was the culmination of everything I had dreamed of to that point,” he says.
“I was in London racing Mo in what was probably the loudest crowd noise of a race ever. I probably won’t experience anything like that again, at least in terms of the crowd.”
Little did Levins know then that just eight months later he would be training with Farah as part the Nike Oregon Project.
Levins arranged to meet with Alberto Salazar – the head coach of the Nike Oregon Project – after hearing he was keen to recruit the Canadian. Levins himself was eager to move to Oregon, an area where his wife to be Elizabeth was looking to start pharmacy school.
The meeting went well and in April last year he was formally recruited to work under Salazar.
“I don’t think I realised the honour and privilege of joining until afterwards,” he admits. “Alberto is very serious about what he does. He is very meticulous about everything we do. He is always very supportive and I appreciate everything he does.”
Though his fellow athletes welcomed him warmly, when it came to training things were much less sympathetic. He remembers the first time he went on an “easy run” with Farah and Galen Rupp (who took 10,000m silver in London 2012).
“The last couple of miles were run in 5:15 or 5:20 and that was an easy run,” Levins recalls. “I would never have thought to have even approach that pace for my easy runs.”
Alberto Salazar won a hat-trick of New York City Marathon titles in his pomp
Salazar also insisted the Canadian built up his strength, and his introduction to the weights room was no more sensitive.
“That first day a bunch of journalists were following Mo and Galen around for the IAAF’s Day in the Life of project,” he says.
“They were watching us lift and I was pulled out as a prime example of how to lift. Yet there I was falling all over the place, my balance was off… I’m terrible at weights.”
Nutritionally, Levins also underwent a transformation. Out went the cookies, sweets and pizza; in came the granola and skimmed milk. He has also introduced daytime naps to prepare for the second session of the day.
“It is about being a professional athlete,” he says. “Before I joined I was a student athlete. Now I’m serious about everything I do.
“Every single action I do is to make me a better runner. I’ve done a lot of growing since I’ve been here. I thought before I was working hard, but there was far more I was able to do and I’m only continuing to learn.”
Training with Farah and Rupp: “I see what they do and try to be as good as them at everything I can.”
That approach saw him achieve his best championship result to date. His bronze in the 10,000m at the Commonwealth games was so nearly gold after Ugandan Moses Kipsiro ran him down in the final 50m of a thrilling finale in Glasgow.
Despite the medal, he was not totally satisfied with 2014. He failed to lower his PB in the 5000m or 10,000m but he is looking forward to 2015 were he will be targeting medals at the Pan American Games in Toronto and the World Championships in Beijing.
There are fewer better training partners than Farah and Rupp for motivation, and Levins is desperate to reach those levels of excellence.
“They are good at every aspect of training and it is this that makes them such great athletes,” he says.
“I see what they do and try to be as good as them at everything I can. As Alberto says: ‘If you can do everything that they can do, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to run as well as them.’”
The stage is set for Levins to prove him right.