Legendary Senior Runner, Ed Whitlock is remembered for his indomitable spirit by Capt Seshadri

It was a warm summer day in Toronto, on March 13, 2017. It was a day of mourning for the marathon runners of the world. The day marked the unfortunate demise, due to prostate cancer, of a master athlete, just a week past his 86th birthday, the only runner to complete a series of marathons at an age past 80, in less than 4 hours. RIP Ed Whitlock!

Born on March 6, 1931, this English-origin Canadian did not start running again until he was 41, concentrating at the time on middle-distance running, and after several years recording best times of 1:59.9 for the 800 metres and 4:02.5 for the 1500 metres. His initiation into marathon running came at age 48, from a spat with his 14-year old son, who Ed could not dissuade from competing but, rather, ran alongside and casually completed the course in 2:31:23. Now he was bitten by the running bug!

Well into his 60s, he turned his attention to road racing. However, it was as late as in 2003, when at age 72, he ran the 26.2 miler in 2:59:49. Two years later, the time was 2:58:40, creating the record for the oldest man to run a marathon in under 3 hours. The number crunchers confirm that, if extrapolated in age with a 20-year old runner, this time would have been equivalent to 2:03:57, probably one of the fastest marathons of all time!

Fifteen minutes at eighty years; that was the improvement Whitlock made to the world record for his age category, with an astonishing time of 3:25:43 at the April 2011 Rotterdam Marathon. Not satisfied with this superhuman effort, he improved the timing in October the same year, at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, to 3:15:54. Nothing could stop this remarkable athlete, least of all age. In October 2016, all of 85 years old, he became the oldest marathoner to complete the course in less than 4 hours, with a run of 3:56:34, once again at Toronto.

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Ed’s running career and training program are unusual and unorthodox. His running shoes are worn out and outdated. His running vest is probably a couple of decades and a half old. He has never consulted a coach or trainer and has no records of his training mileage. And, unimaginable to any hardcore runner, he had no masseur, did not do weight training or stretching and abhorred supplements of any kind. What probably worked in his favour is an extraordinary lung capacity and a lean mass. But, above all, a dedication to win against time, against the track and against the body clock. With a cemetery as a running ground, Ed trained all alone, running around it for over 3.5 hours at a time, day after day.

Aging is an argument among the medical fraternity when it comes to Ed Whitlock. His running records at such an advanced age have prompted scientists and geriatric specialists to take a relook at the processes of aging and athletic performance. However, Ed’s own philosophy is quite simple. “I believe people can do far more than they think they can. You have to be idiot enough to try it.”

In a fitting tribute to a senior runner, Ed Whitlock, the super marathoner with undying stamina and indomitable spirit, was inducted into the Milton Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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