In his marathon debut, Cam Levins of Black Creek, B.C., shattered Jerome Drayton's 43-year-old Canadian men's record on a brisk Sunday morning in Toronto.
Levins, who wanted to debut in the 42.2-kilometre race on home soil and specifically the 29th annual Toronto Waterfront Marathon, crossed the finish line fourth in two hours nine minutes 25 seconds, or 44 seconds faster than Drayton's performance at the 1975 Fukuoka Marathon in Japan.
Watch Levins break the Canadian marathon record:
"I was feeling good throughout most of the race and I made it through the last 10K. I thought, 'I'm taking back my career and I did that,'" an exhausted and relieved Levins, who is taking a cruise with his wife, Elizabeth, on Monday, told Athletics Canada.
"I'm headed to the Bahamas to get some warm weather and then I'm sure I'll do another marathon after this."
Watch the full Toronto Waterfront Marathon:
Levins pocketed $6,000 for placing fourth as the top Canadian men's runner and earned a bonus of $43,000 for the Canadian record — $1,000 for each year Drayton's mark stood.
Looking strong and relaxed, Levins took one final look at this watch and smiled before crossing the finish line where race director Alan Brookes greeted the 29-year-old and draped a Canadian flag over his shoulders.
Cam Levins' splits in Sunday's race
- 10K: 30:45
- 21.1K: 1:04:34
- 30K: 1:32:21
Before Sunday's race, Levins said it was the right time to attempt a marathon and "in a lot of ways" believed he was more fit than at any point in his career. He even grew to like the longer, more tempo-based workouts of a marathon build compared to speed work on the track.
'I want to go to the Olympics again'
"There's something exciting, liberating and enjoyable about taking on an entirely new event in the sport at an elite level," said Levins, who averaged about 150 miles per week in his marathon build and trained at altitude for the final month in Cedar City, Utah, where he worked with Eric Houle, his collegiate coach from his days at Southern Utah University.
Houle, who attended the Toronto race, said the goal was simply to start the process of marathon running with Levins.
"This was really important for his confidence," Houle said in a text message to CBC Sports. "To break the [Canadian] record was an added bonus. He's confident, strong and now with every race he should get closer to his next goal."
Is competing in the Olympic marathon two years from now in Tokyo a future goal?
"It's so hard to know, but it wouldn't surprise me if that's what my focus is come 2020," Levins, who lives in Portland, Ore., told CBC Sports recently. "I would like to keep building and hopefully be the best athlete I can be in this four-year [Olympic] cycle.
"I want to go to the Olympics again but two years is a long ways away. As I've learned before, anything can happen."
Coming off a gold-medal sweep of the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the NCAA championships in 2012, Levins competed at his first Summer Games that year in London, England, finishing 11th in the 10,000 and 14th in the 5,000.
Tendon tear in left foot
He also captured bronze in the 10,000 at the 2014 Commonwealth Games before his career was disrupted the following season at the Canadian track and field championships in Edmonton.
Following a 1,500 heat, someone ran into the back of him, catching Levins' leg and forcing him to the ground. Levins was later diagnosed with a tear of the peroneal tendon in his left foot, stress fractures in his navicular and talus bones, a bone spur and bone chips that doctors had to shave and remove.
After having "very serious doubts" about resuming his competitive career, Levins returned a year later in some 5 km and 10 km races before trying his first-ever half marathon last December, crossing the line in 1:05:07 at the Holiday Half Marathon in Oregon.
He clocked 1:05:00 on Jan. 14 in Houston after signing a sponsorship deal with athletic shoe company Hoka One One and two months later, Levins placed 30th at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in a personal-best 1:02:15, less than a minute shy of Jeff Schiebler's Canadian mark of 1:01:28 in 1999.
Ethiopia's Belete sets women's record
Meanwhile, Benson Kipruto ended fellow Kenyan Philemon Rono's two-year title reign in the men's race on Sunday with a winning time of 2:07:24. Rono, who set a personal best and course record last year of 2:06:52, was ninth in 2:13:37.
Watch Kipruto win the men's race:
Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, the first Olympic champion to race the Toronto event, finished seventh in 2:11:06 while Hamilton's Reid Coolsaet, who was making his third appearance in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, placed 10th (2:17:36) after aiming for a 2:13-2:14 finish.
In 2011, the 39-year-old two-time Olympian clocked 2:10:55 in Toronto and boasts the third fastest time for a Canadian marathoner at 2:10:28.
"I'm really excited to see what Cam does over the next whatever amount of years," Coolsaet said of Levins at the post-race news conference. "Lots of marathons ahead of him."
Elsewhere, Mimi Belete, who competes internationally for Bahrain, set a course record for the women with a 2:22:29 PB, defeating last year's champion and fellow Ethiopian Marta Megra (2:22:35).
Watch Belete set the women's course record:
Middleton top Canadian woman
Kinsey Middleton of Guelph, Ont., won the Canadian women's title, stopping the clock in 2:32:09 in her Toronto Waterfront debut. The 25-year-old American-Canadian dual citizen ran a season- and personal best 1:12:30 in the half marathon at Houston in January.
"I was just so excited to try something new in the marathon and I picked this race because it was a national championship and I knew that would bring out a little more in me," said Middleton, who worked with last year's Canadian champion, Leslie Sexton, for much of the race.
Watch Middleton finish as the top Canadian woman:
"I was really thankful to have Leslie out there. She was an incredible help, and [2018 Canadian 5K Road Race champion] Natasha Wodak paced me through half which was amazingly helpful. At 25 km, maybe, I made a move and was just happy to feel good at that point with still a long way to go in a marathon."
In March, Middleton represented Canada at the World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain, finishing 50th in 1:13:52 and also set PBs on the track in the 10,000 (32:33.38) along with the 10K (33:48).
Sexton was ninth on Sunday in 2:36:03 while 2016 Olympian Krista DuChene came 10th in 2:36:46 after placing third (2:44:20) among women at the Boston Marathon earlier this year. Toronto's Rachel Hannah was 12th in 2:37:09, more than five and a half seconds faster than her showing at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 16.
Several of Sunday's participants in the marathon, half marathon and 5K race raised money for the 191 official charities in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge. Two of them, Evan Latsky and Blaine Penny, broke Guinness World Records.
Latsky, who ran in support of Right to Play, needed to run 2:04:20 to become a Guinness title holder for the fastest half marathon runner dressed in hockey gear, minus the skates, and plans to carry a stick to complete the look. He finished in 1:39:50.
Penny, an accomplished runner with a 2:29 marathon PB, became the fastest marathoner dressed as a battery while generating funds for the MitoCanada Foundation, which helps those who live with mitochondrial disease to enjoy the best possible quality of life until there is a cure.
Mitochondrial disease is a group of disorders that affect parts of the body that require lots of energy to function such as the brain and muscles. To break the record, Penny, the CEO and co-founder of MitoCanada, had to eclipse the four-hour mark and did so with plenty of time to spare, clocking 2:59:58.