Cam Levins is no stranger to running 10,000-meter races. He’s a two-time Canadian cross-country champion, someone who has logged countless miles over all kinds of terrain. So it isn’t inconceivable that he would have success in it. It’s just how he won an event earlier this season deserves special notice.

Participating in Stanford's Payton Jordan Invitational, this Southern Utah distance runner blew past the 37 professionals and college competitors to turn in a 27:27.96. Not only was that the best time in the world this year, it qualified him for the London Olympics with a Canadian Olympic A standard. What’s more, it was also the first time he’d run that race on a track.

Ever.

“I sort of went in with no expectations,” Levins said. “I was up in the front pack just trying to compete. I was trying to hold the same pace as the rest of the pack. I felt very inexperienced running it, so I am pleased with how it turned out.”

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The Division I Men's and Women's Track and Field Championship participants have been announced after qualifying at preliminary-round sites. Action is set for June 6-9 in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Just a week earlier at the Mt. Sac Relays, the 5-foot-11, 140-pound redshirt senior ran a personal-best 13:18.47 in the 5,000 meters for the fastest time by a U.S. collegian since 2008.

Levins will be looking for similar results as he will compete in the 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter races at this week’s NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.

If Levins wins a title in either event it will be a first for this Cedar City, Utah school – the state’s smallest of the six DI programs. And when he performs at Drake Stadium he will be in a stadium that has a capacity seven times that of his hometown of Black Creek, British Columbia – a town of 2,000 on Vancouver Island.

Seeming to come from relative obscurity has done nothing to keep him in the weeds. Competitors know who he is and that takes some getting used to.

“It’s a weird position to be in,” Levins said. “Sometimes it’s tough to look at myself as the favorite. I have been the underdog so many times. Before, I was trying to upset people all the time. It’s kind of weird going as the top guy.

“I don’t feel like I am head and shoulders above the other athletes. I feel like I just had the right race [to claim No. 1]. It’s pretty cool to be sitting on top of the NCAAs for sure. But by no means do I think I am better than anybody else. I still have work to do.”

Part of that work is maintaining concentration in the 10,000. Again, he is a cross-country guy and there is a little more scenery and visual stimulation along the way. On a track, if you’re not leading the pack, the view is always the same.

“The 10K feels like pain the entire time,” Levins said. “It’s not mentally as intense as some of the shorter races. You just have to stay focused the whole time. It feels like such a long race.
“I remember that first 10K and it got to 18 laps left. I was staring at the lap counter and going, ‘Are you kidding me? It’s that much left?’ I ran it in cross country quite a bit. It’s just different. Experience running the event itself, running that distance. It’s such a long race. You just can’t slip up.”

He hasn’t done much of that this season. He’s the first Southern Utah runner to break the 4-minute mile mark and has an outdoor-best, 1,500-meter time of 3:45.38. In the 5,000, his time of 13:40.30 and is a top Canadian contender for the upcoming Olympic trials. Talk of Olympics, though, can wait. His trials are not until the end of June which will give him plenty of time to prepare for them.

“I want to make sure I get a little bit of rest and recovery,” Levins said. “I want to make sure I am ready to take on the rest of the season leading up to the Olympics.

“I just have been sort of take it one race at a time. I’d be overwhelmed thinking about all the things ahead of me, I need to almost stay in the moment. Not get too far ahead of myself.”

What’s immediately ahead of him is a full plate with the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, which is a tall order for a runner.

“I wouldn’t say for most meets,” Levins said. “But most meets aren’t racing for national titles either. You usually want to get one good performance. A national title is absolutely my goal.

“I feel I know how to run it tactically. I think I’m going to be ready. Everything is pointing toward [Des Moines]. I feel very comfortable running it now.”