By Paul Gains
It’s the morning after the day before and Ed Whitlock has made headlines once again for an outstanding road running performance.
The 85 year old from Milton, Ontario carries expectations into every race as he sets record after record and again did not disappoint his supporters at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Crossing the line in 3:56:38 he added the over 85 age class world record to the half marathon record he set this past spring.
“Have you seen the Globe and Mail?” he asks more out of astonishment than boastfulness. “They have a photograph of me on the front page of the sports section. Scotiabank and (race director) Alan (Brookes) will be well pleased.”
Whitlock laughs but admits the effort has taken its toll.
“I feel Ok. My legs are not the best.,” he admits laughing. “They are very, very stiff but apart from that everything else is ok.
“I had got in sort of the bare minimum of appropriate training preparations and I had a couple of months of serious long distance training runs and I felt that was enough. Certainly, ideally, I would have liked six months instead of two months but I felt that was just enough to get by.”
Roughly one hundred yards from his house is a cemetery which he uses for training on a daily basis. The man who caught the road running world’s attention when he became the first man over 70 to beat three hours in the marathon – he ran 2:54:49 at age 73 – still runs laps of the cemetery for hours on end.
He calls it ‘very fast walking’ with his customary humour. But as age tries to catch up with him and his future marathons will be nearer four hours he knows he must do more.
“I actually got up to three and a half hours this time,” he says. “The thing is three hours doesn’t do it any more. That’s the hell of it. I need four hours now. And it’s only going to get worse.”
Laughing again he turns serious when asked if he can further reduce the record in subsequent marathon races.
“I think 3:40 would have been possible if the weather had been perfect and if I had had six months training,” he declares. “I really think 3:40 would have been possible.”
Well wishers surround him at every race and he is asked to appear at various events and dinners. In many ways he is a reluctant hero. Notoriety doesn’t suit him. Indeed, after the race last night his 56 year old son, Neil, himself a two time Boston marathon finisher, drove him home where he had a minor celebration with his wife, Brenda. They cooked dinner together then opened a bottle of Bordeaux, the race and the crowd of well wishers now a fond memory.
“I don’t know how to respond to them. Well how do you respond to that?” he says laughing again. “I suppose it’s nice for people to say I inspire them but I am somewhat embarrassed and I don’t know what the appropriate response is to that.
“I don’t consider myself to be an inspiring person. I am not one to stand up on the stage and say ‘you all can do this.’”
Whitlock will gradually overcome this year’s marathon race and before long will be out on that cemetery road churning out the miles. There are more races to run and more records to chase. And if he inspires many to keep running as they age then that’s a good thing too.