Long May You Run, Mr. Whitlock

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    “Well, Ed, how was your race?”

    “Oh, it was good, another world record.”

    That was at the Longboat Toronto Island 10K last September, the first of a few times I met this lovely man. That day, he broke the 10K world record for the 85-90 age group. He’d break another a few weeks later when he ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in under 4:00.

    The term that will surely be used most in remembrances of Mr. Whitlock is “inspiration,” though Ed said he never thought of himself as such. In a sense, the term really doesn’t fit, at least in the very basic sense of an inspiration being a person or thing we hope to imitate or model ourselves after.

    Ed Whitlock at the 2016 Longboat Toronto Island Run.

    After all, no runner in their right mind is going to go chase world records, or anything for that matter, in shoes with decades of wear and tear on them, but that’s what Ed did. He didn’t like the stiffness of the new models, he said. No coach in their right mind would tell an athlete to eschew speed work and tempo runs and train solely based on long distances, but Ed did that.

    What made him wonderful was that he was just so damn unique and gloriously unorthodox. Running three hours a day every day before becoming the oldest man to run a sub-3:00 marathon at the age of 74? Ed did that.

    Just as when Glenn Gould slouched over the keys on a chair too low to the ground in a way that you’d never hold up as a model to a student and like Ali dropped his hands in violation of the first commandment of combat, to protect yourself at all times, you just couldn’t question the methods no matter what common sense told you. All you could do was be in awe.

    Ed with Alan Brookes after running the fastest marathon ever by an 81-year-old.

    If you tried to be Ed, your body would revolt, almost as if it meant to remind you that there was only one Ed Whitlock and you weren’t him. But we still searched for some of that magic in ourselves and maybe in the end found a bit more than we thought was there because Ed made us look, so perhaps we have to give him the title of inspiration he was so reluctant to wear.

    Really, though, he was a maverick. And when it comes to mavericks, the best we can do is savour the joy and privilege of watching them be great, knowing full well that there’ll never be another like them. And those of us who had the opportunity will certainly never forget the joy and privilege of watching that mop of white hair bob up and down along the course.

    Long may you run, Mr. Whitlock (1931-2017).