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Great Irish poet William Butler Yeats once wrote, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Perhaps the answer in Chandler, Arizona will be, “because the dancer will dance only with the best.”

And so we ask, will Canadian Ben Preisner run the 2020 Tokyo Olympic standard of 2:11:30 during his official marathon debut on Sunday, Dec. 20? We are going to find out, as the 24-year-old Milton, ON native will race The Marathon Project to attempt just that.

Preisner running 63:04 at the 2019 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. Photo credit:Maxine Gravina

“I definitely have my eyes set on running the Olympic standard,” said Preisner. “It has been great seeing Canadian marathoners step it up this year and that just motivates me more. There will be several top Canadians at The Marathon Project, so I’m preparing mentally just as much as I am preparing physically to compete not only for the standard but also a good placing in the race.”

Preisner, an alumnus of the NCAA University of Tulsa Hurricane program, is referring to fellow Canadians: national record holder Cam Levins (2:09:25), Rory Linkletter (2:16:42) and fellow BC Endurance Project teammate Justin Kent. Kent will also be debuting and has run a half-marathon this year in the time of 64:20 as well as an unofficial 62:31 this autumn.  

There will be approximately 50 men and 50 women to toe-the-line in this elite-only event. It is turning out to be a bit of a defacto Tokyo Olympic Trials. Most athletes are from the US; however, the top seed is Eritrean Amanuel Mesel, who owns a 2:08:17 best. There are 10 runners who have clocked a sub-2:11:30, as well as nine more who have struck within a minute of that standard.

Preisner ran a solo 2:15:24 in April this year when he found out that the London Marathon that he was preparing for was cancelled. That would have been his debut. Like then, he is currently enjoying a bout of training at elevation in Flagstaff, AZ.

Asked how training is going this time around he said, “Training is going to plan, and I am really enjoying the process. Marathon training is still a big learning process for me, but I am definitely getting used to the volume, longer workouts and general fatigue that comes with it. I decided to come up to Flagstaff for about five weeks before the race to get a little bit more out of training and have adjusted well and love it up here. I have had such great support from my family, my girlfriend Vanessa and my friends, which has made training so much more enjoyable.”

He has worked his way up to around 110 miles per week (near 180K).

One recent workout that he is happy with is a 12 x 1K interval session on the track — a meat and potatoes workout for would-be marathon runners. He took 90-second recoveries. This was done at 4500ft of elevation (1371m), down in Sedona. He averaged 2:51, which is a sub-29-minute pace. His personal best is 29:08:17 from the 2018 Payton Jordan Invitational.

Flagstaff resides at 6900ft or 2106m. Athletes who take in altitude training in Flagstaff, often drop down to the track that is located in Sedona, to work on turnover, speed and anaerobic training, then head back up to Flagstaff.

Working out on the track. Photo credit: Stephen Kersh

“A big focus of marathon training for me is finding consistency as much as possible. I try to maintain solid workouts throughout the entire build rather than smash one workout and be drained for the rest of the week,” added Preisner. “In the past couple of weeks one of my bigger workouts was:

5-mile easy + a 5-mile progression effort + 1-mile steady + 4-mile-3-mile and 2-miles at marathon pace with a 1-mile steady recovery + 2-miles easy (5:22–> 5:04, 4:59s x 4, 4:57s x 3, 4:50s x 2) for a solid 24-mile session.”

Now that’s dancing.

Preisner has always known that he was better built for longer distances. The 63-minute half-marathon in Toronto last year helped the decision to move up to the marathon an easy one to make.

“The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon definitely gave me the road racing itch and I knew that I wanted to try and give a good shot at the marathon. I was feeling the fittest I had ever been while I was training for the London Marathon. And that feeling really drove me to keep training hard and try to accomplish big things at The Marathon Project in December.”

The course is enclosed in a traffic-free area of Chandler, AZ. Runners will cover a loop of 4.26-miles (6.85K) six times, plus additional mileage at the start and finish area to make it officially 26.2 miles (42.195K).

For The Marathon Project, organisers have arranged pacers under the Olympic standard to 2:10:00 and 2:24:00 for the women (women’s standard is 2:29:30). The event will be streamed live. Details about the marathon can be found here>>