Former Canadian-record holder praises Cam Levins' inspiring marathon

Former Canadian-record holder praises Cam Levins' inspiring marathon

On Sunday morning, Jerome Drayton remained at his home a few miles away in the city's west end, while thousands of runners braved near-freezing temperatures at the 29th annual Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

The 73-year-old began the day with a strong grip on the Canadian men's record of two hours 10 minutes nine seconds, a mark that had stood since 1975 but had been threatened in recent years.

"It should have been gone about 30 to 40 years ago," Drayton told CBC Sports over the phone. "To me, it wasn't that fast. It wasn't a world record. I think the record in those days was 2:08-something."

Now battling arthritis in both knees, Drayton doesn't follow track and field much, besides watching the occasional Diamond League meet on CBC's Road To The Olympic Games weekend broadcasts. When Sunday's marathon drew to a close, he was in front of his television watching a movie.

"I switch over to CP24 on the hour to get the news," said Drayton, remembering when he first heard that Cam Levins of Black Creek, B.C., had shattered his record in a time of 2:09:25 in his marathon debut. "I figured he had a good chance of getting my record, based on his 5,000 and 10,000-metre track speed."

Watch Levins break the Canadian marathon record:

Initially, Drayton wasn't disappointed at the news but added, with a laugh: "It would have been nice if he missed it for another year or so."

Confident, strong and relaxed

Levins, who wanted to debut on home soil and specifically in Toronto, pocketed $6,000 for placing fourth as the top Canadian men's runner and earned a bonus of $43,000 for the national record — $1,000 for each year Drayton's mark stood.

From the outset, the 2012 NCAA champion in the 5,000 and 10,000 looked confident, strong and relaxed. Levins had only started transitioning to half marathons last December following ankle surgery in July 2016 that wiped out much of his 2017 season.

Still, Drayton wasn't surprised by the 29-year-old's performance in Toronto, noting British distance legend Mo Farah clocked 2:08:21 in his marathon debut four years ago and placed third in the London Marathon this past April in 2:06:21.

Watch the full Toronto Waterfront Marathon:

"He seems to know what he's doing, in terms of nutrition and training for the marathon," Drayton said of Levins, who grew to like the longer, more tempo-based workouts of a marathon build compared to speed work on the track.

Arch support came loose

The Portland, Ore., resident, who entered the Toronto race feeling "in a lot of ways" as fit as any time in his running career, averaged about 257 kilometres (160 miles) a week and finished his build running at altitude for a month in Cedar City, Utah.

Unlike Levins' record-setting effort, Drayton's attempt on Dec. 7, 1975, on a rainy day at the unofficial world marathon championships in Fukuoka, Japan, wasn't nearly as smooth, but equally as thrilling.

The 30-year-old was leading late in what he figured was his 10th marathon when he noticed the arch support in his shoes had come loose. Forced to slow down, Drayton quickly realized the problem couldn't be fixed by moving his toes and recalled being passed by a smiling Australian opponent.

5-time marathon winner

"He probably thought I had hit the wall," said Drayton, who was born Peter Buniak before reportedly basing his new name on two runners he admired, one-time Canadian-record holder Harry Jerome and American runner Paul Drayton. "I noticed he was about 50 yards ahead of me and didn't increase his distance, so I went after him, caught him with about a half-mile to go and [won] by about 17 seconds."

You gotta get to know yourself before you can break through as an elite marathoner. — Former Canadian men's record-holder Jerome Drayton

Drayton, who won three titles at Fukuoka and a silver medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton in between marathon victories at Boston and Ottawa, said he was "already long in the tooth" when he lost interest in hard training after the Canadian boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Watch Drayton's run to the finish line at the 1977 Boston Marathon:

Levins, who finished top 15 in the 5,000 and 10,000 at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, sought the advice of Canadian sports physiologist Trent Stellingwerff in the months leading up to the Toronto marathon on how to properly fuel his body before and during the 42.2 km race.

Drayton, who was known for a high volume of training like Levins, said he would read anything related to health and fitness to help adopt the best training methods.

"It's not enough just to know about the human body as it relates to running," he said. "You gotta get to know yourself before you can break through as an elite marathoner."