Doug Robinson: Doug Robinson: SUU's Levins runs large number of miles to reach lofty goals

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2012 12:05 a.m. MDT

SUU's Cam Levins of Canada (second from left) has qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 5,000m and 10,000m. He originally received little attention coming out of high school but has gone on to flourish at SUU.

Photo Courtesy of Eric Houle

Read more: SUU's Cam Levins of Canada blows past competition to qualify for 2012 London Olympics

Everywhere he goes, Cam Levins, the rising young distance runner from Southern Utah University and Canada, faces the same question: How does he run so many miles?

To prepare for 5,000- and 10,000-meter races on the track, Levins typically runs 150 miles a week and sometimes as much as 160, and that doesn't include twice-weekly speed work on the track. By comparison, the most mileage that Ed Eyestone, the two-time Olympian and former BYU national champion, ever trained was 130 a week — and he was training for the marathon. Then there's Doug Padilla, who trained only 50 to 60 miles a week, augmented by heavy speed sessions on the track, and made two Olympic teams at 5,000 meters

Padilla is both amazed by and wary of Levins' high mileage, but notes, "Everybody's different."

No one can argue the results. Levins made headlines last month with two monster performances. First he won the 5,000-meter run at the Mt. SAC Relays, clocking the second fastest time in the world at the time and outkicking three-time NCAA champion Lawi Lalang with a 55-second last lap. His time of 13:18.47 meets the stiff A standard for the Olympic Games and all but guarantees him a spot on the team Canada will send to London this summer.

Nine days later, Levins won the 10,000-meter run at Stanford University's Payton Jordan Invitational with a time of 27:27.96, the fastest in the world this year.

That makes Levins and his training methods all the more of a curiosity. Moments after his Mt. SAC victory, a reporter raised the issue of his mileage. Competitors have been known to ask about his mileage at the starting line.

"I get asked about this a lot," says Levins. "A lot of interviewers dial into it and other athletes. I'm getting known for the mileage, I guess."

It's the eternal debate in distance-running circles: How much is too much? It's no secret that one road to success in distance running is to pound out high mileage, but do so at your peril. High mileage risks injury and illness. The late Paul Cummings, who made the 1984 Olympic team at 10,000 meters, was another high-mileage runner (about 120 a week), but he was often injured and ill (which is why he ran poorly at the Olympic Games after a dominant performance in the Olympic Trials).

"Cam is definitely a mileage warrior," says Eyestone, now the distance coach at BYU. "It's great as long as you can handle it and not break down. Eventually, you will; it's not if, it's when. Hopefully, he can stay healthy through the NCAAs and Olympic Games."

"I trained 50 to 60 a week because that's where I seemed to perform the best," says Padilla. "I would have performed better if I had done more mileage, but I couldn't; I'd get sick. Everything is a double-edged sword. Cam is the other extreme. He might do all right this year, but my guess is, well, I can't imagine that he can maintain this mileage because it's so nuts."

None of this is news to Levins, who says, "I felt like I had to risk something to get the results I wanted."

Actually, Levins' relatively sudden emergence as a distance-running force coincides with his decision to try the high-mileage training plan. He grew up in Black Creek, British Columbia, a tiny town on Vancouver Island. His school didn't even have a track team until Levins and some of his classmates organized one and convinced a teacher to coach them so they could compete in school meets. There were about 10 kids on the team and Levins was the only distance runner. Training alone, he managed to run 4 minutes flat for 1,500 meters (about a 4:17 mile). That wasn't enough to attract a Division I scholarship from an American school, with one exception: Southern Utah. Coach Eric Houle found Levins on a recruiting website and offered him a scholarship.

Levins improved steadily at SUU, running a 3:47 for 1,500 meters as a sophomore, but he wanted more. He decided to increase his mileage dramatically.

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