Fresh off personal bests in the 10k and the marathon, Leslie Sexton looks to test her fitness over 8km in High Park on Saturday.
Four years have passed since Leslie Sexton won her first Under Armour Spring Run-Off title, and in that time she has become nearly unrecognizable as an athlete.
The 34-year-old Markham native, who lives and trains in Vancouver, has dropped minutes off her road times since winning the 2018 edition of the High Park 8km race in 27:51. Just last fall, she won the Canadian 10km championship in a personal best of 32:04, and weeks later became the sixth fastest marathoner in Canadian history by covering the Philadelphia Marathon course in 2:28:35.
“Some of it is the shoe technology,” she said, reflecting on her recent improvements, “but I’m also in the best shape of my life. Stacking on lots of years of consistent training pays off, with patience.”
Racing times and pandemic notwithstanding, much has changed for Sexton since the 2018 edition of the race: she left her long-time training grounds of London, Ontario for Kingston and then Vancouver in 2021, where she and her partner are coaching with the Vancouver Thunderbirds Track Club. She said that moving west has intensified her love for training and racing.
“Relocating out here allowed me to get rid of some life and work stress, and live within running distance of lots of friends. I’ve never had such a big running community around me,” she said, before adding that she now occasionally links with fellow elite marathoner Natasha Wodak for workouts. “Mentally I’m doing well, and I’m just really enjoying the training.”
Despite now living three time zones away from her stomping grounds, Sexton made it a point to come back to Ontario for the Spring Run-Off because she sees the race as an important step towards her ultimate goal: to qualify for the 2022 World Championship in Eugene, Oregon. In the past, a marathoner of her calibre would easily have made the team: her personal best is almost a full minute faster than the competition standard of 2:29:30. But times have changed in Canadian distance running: three women have broken the 2:27:00 mark since 2019, and Sexton fully expects others, like national marathon record holder Malindi Elmore, to challenge her for a spot on Team Canada.
A maximum of three athletes can qualify for the World Championship, and Sexton wants to stay sharp in case she eventually has to post an even faster time to secure her place. That’s where the Spring Run-Off comes in.
“For me, being fit for the marathon means I’m also fit for the shorter distances,” she said. “Last fall, I used the 10km championship as preparation for my goal marathon in Philadelphia. Running well there gave me a lot of confidence, and if I can prove this weekend that I have good range, that’s a good sign.”
The key to staying sharp, said Sexton, is to race athletes who are more speed-inclined than she is. This year in High Park, the marathoner will be up against a fleet of fellow road warriors like 2:33 marathoner Brittany Moran and 1:15 half-marathoner Laura Desjardins, but also track specialists like the world record holder in the women’s 40+ indoor mile Sasha Gollish, and 9:01 3,000m runner Alex Lucki.
Sexton, however, is the only woman on the elite start list with a Spring Run-Off title under her belt, and Canada Running Series Race Director Alan Brookes calls her the class of this year’s field. Yet, Brookes wonders if Cleo Boyd, a late addition to the elite women’s field, might pull off a surprise victory.
“The race can still be Leslie’s to lose – she was National 10k Champion on the Waterfront last October, but Cleo Boyd was 2nd behind her – albeit over a minute back in 33:21.
Still, Sexton is not taking a race win for granted. Besides, her objectives have more to do with effort than placing.
“Really, the goal is to get back to doing a race and event I really enjoy and get a feel for that 8k pain, which certainly won’t be a problem with the hill at the end of the course,” she said.
“At that point, you’re not saving energy and there are no decisions left to make… it’s simple: you just go hard.”
About The Under Armour Spring Run-Off
Date: Saturday April 9, 2022
8K Start Time: 10:00 a.m.
Location: High Park, Toronto
For media access on race day, please contact Sam O’Neill, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at email@example.com
About Canada Running Series
Canada Running Series is the nation’s premier running circuit with seven events: four in Toronto, two in Vancouver and one in Montreal. It annually attracts over 70,000 participants and raises more than $6 million for some 320 mostly local charities. The Series includes the World Athletics Gold Label TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the Athletics Canada National Marathon Championships. Since 1999, CRS has gained international recognition for innovation and organization.
We are passionately committed to staging great experiences for runners of all levels, from Canadian Olympians and international stars to healthy lifestyle people and charity runners, and to making sport part of sustainable communities and the city-building process. Our mission is “building community through the sport of running.”
More info: https://canadarunningseries.com/