By Paul Gains
As the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon quickly approaches organizers have revealed plans to honour a man who was a critical and inspirational part of the event for years but who, sadly, passed away seven months ago.
Ed Whitlock was 86 when he succumbed to prostate cancer on March 13th.
Over the years Ed defied aging to set world age-class records that perhaps will never be broken and which astonished runners around the globe. He also developed a close relationship with Toronto Waterfront, turning up for press conferences in his suit and tie whenever he was asked, and supplying the mantra which Race Director Alan Brookes eagerly adopted: “Don’t limit yourself.”
Ed, as he was known to the thousands who queued up to meet him at races, or, who ran alongside him, was the oldest man to beat three hours for the marathon when he ran 2:52:47 at age 69. But that was only the beginning.
A World Masters’ 70+ record followed when he ran 2:59:10 at age 72 in 2003 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and became the first and only septuagenarian to go under the magic 3-hour mark. He took that out of sight with a 2:54:49 at age 73 at the 2004 event. Indeed, as Brookes is fond of saying, Toronto Waterfront was “Ed’s race”. As his fame spread globally, Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon took off, almost tripling in numbers between 2003 and 2005, then earning first an IAAF Silver Label, then the coveted IAAF Gold Label.
Ed went on to set World Masters’ marathon records for age 75+, 80+ and most recently 85+ with a time of 3:56:38 last October 16th, 2016 in Toronto. In all, he set roughly 25 World Masters’ records over distances from 1,500m to the marathon. All this success meant that Ed was the subject of innumerable magazine and newspaper interviews and adored by runners of all abilities. It was a conundrum for him as he was as humble as much as he was talented.
“I don’t know how to respond to them. Well how do you respond to that?” he said with a laugh on one occasion. “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.’”
No doubt he would be a little embarrassed then by what Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon organizers have planned to remember him.
With the blessing of his family, a #RememberingEd Signing wall at the Runners’ Expo is to be set up along with a display of memorabilia including Ed’s famous singlets, shoes, medals, trophies and photos, courtesy of the Whitlock family and the Milton Hall of Fame.
Also at the Runners’ Expo, noted chalk artist, Victor Fraser, will do a live drawing of Ed using a photo taken at the 2003 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
At the 8:45 a.m. race start there will be a minute’s silence in his memory. That will be followed by perhaps the most exciting element in this tribute, the inclusion of three designated pacemakers who will take runners through to the finish in three of Ed’s most recognized world marathon record times: 2:54:49 (age 73), 3:15:54 (age 80) and 3:56:38 (age 85).
The volunteer pacemakers are from local running clubs and crews: Nick Croker from Black Lungs Toronto (2:54); Noel Guy from Longboat Roadrunners (3:15) and Ben Kaplan from iRun assuming the 3:56 pacemaking duty. Kaplan is writing a book on Ed tentatively entitled “The Master.”
In the words of Alan Brookes, with whom Ed had a close relationship: “This year’s race is going to be very emotional. No Ed. But he’ll be with us. He’ll be with us forever. He’s part of our DNA, of who we are, and what we’ve all achieved together — for our event, our sport, our city, our country and running worldwide. We just have to carry the torch from here, and never limit ourselves. Join us in #RememberingEd”
Ed Whitlock setting a world 70+ Masters marathon record of 2:54:49 at age 73 during 2004 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Photo Credit: Action Sports International.
Ed with Race Director Alan Brookes, after finishing the 2012 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Age 81. Photo Credit: Victah Sailer/Photo Run.