Photo Courtesy: Canada Running Series
In 2005, the New York Times had a piece on Ed Whitlock just after he ran two marathons under three hours in his 70s: after crunching the data, they determined his performance was the most impressive ever completed by a marathon runner. The difference between his finishing time and other finishing times for people his age was more significant than any world record at any distance than any other runner had ever completed.
That was eleven years ago and before yesterday’s race, when Whitlock broke another record. At 85, Whitlock completed the marathon in 3:56:38, more than 30 minutes faster than anyone had ever completed a marathon in his age group.
Whitlock was perhaps already the world’s most impressive runner. And then he went much further than that.
I saw Ed on the course yesterday and he was smiling. Granted, this was in the early stages of the marathon race, but still: anyone approaching Whitlock at the Expo would’ve have seen a genial older gentleman, resplendent in a slim-fitting grey suit, eagerly listening to the other speakers and spending time with anyone who wanted a photograph. He doesn’t look like an elite athlete. But don’t be mislead. Whitlock has the dedication that runners half his age (three times?) long for. Running is his passion. It’s his north star. It’s his heart. He’s been through injury and personal setbacks, the same life dramas as everyone else — except, at 85, he’s taken more than his fair share of blows. Many times it seemed like his career was over and when we interviewed him last year, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever run the marathon again.
Asked to explain his famous running style, in which he runs three hours through the cemetery near his home, he said in his martini dry fashion: “You go the cemetery and by comparison to everyone else there, you’re in good shape.”
Whitlock doesn’t have a shoe sponsor. When asked about the vintage of his sneakers and his singlet, he said they were, “very well-worn.” I asked him three tips for having a long running career and he said quickly that you need good genes and good knees, and when I said that makes his talent sound arbitrary, he said: “Have a lot of patience. Have time to waste.”
He was asked how he felt going into Sunday’s race. “Apprehensive,” he said.
What’s your plan to get over that apprehension, I asked. “Get to the start line, I guess,” he said.
What do you think about when you run? “When will this be over.”
In a sport where we have any number of heroes, like Eric Gillis, Krista DuChene, Lanni Marchant, Reid Coolsaet and Rachel Hannah, who not only run fast, but are delightful, offering encouraging words to runners who applaud their grit. Ed Whitlock stands apart. At 85, he just broke another record. In our cover story, after the writer pleaded with Whitlock for some kind of insight into his singular greatness, Whitlock finally gave a straight answer.
How does he do it?
“I have a great deal of what you might call perseverance, I guess.”