Ed Whitlock is one of the most prolific record breakers in masters athletics. We find out more about the 85-year-old Canadian who is proof that there's no reason to act your age.
Breaking records is nothing new for Ed Whitlock. The 85-year-old who lives in Milton, Ontario, owns dozens of masters age-group world records from 1500m up to the marathon.
Yet his life has not been devoted to running. In his youth, when he lived in the UK, he was the University of London champion at cross country. After moving to Canada he focused on his engineering career. It was only in his more senior years that he took up road running seriously. He soon began breaking records, and he has not stopped since.
Earlier this year he set a mile best for the M85 (85-89 years) category, running 7:18.55 at a race in June in Cambridge, Ontario, ten years on from clocking 5:41.80 for the M75 record. In 2016 he has also posted a 1:50:47 half marathon for the M85 record.
Graft in the graveyard
Just 100 yards from Whitlock’s home is a graveyard where the octogenarian trains. Though he laughs at the suggestion that his style is anything other than “very fast walking”, it is a technique he hones daily, completing laps of the graveyard.
In the past, his longest training runs would last three hours. As he’s grown older he has had to run for longer to maintain his fitness.
“The thing is, three hours doesn’t do it any more,” he says. “That’s the hell of it. I need four hours now. And it’s only going to get worse.”
More in the tank
In 2003 Whitlock became the first man over 70 to beat three hours in the marathon, running 2:59:09 in Toronto at the age of 72. He improved the M70 record to 2:54:49 the following year, before becoming the oldest man to beat three hours for the marathon with 2:58:40 in 2005. Since then he has set the M75 (3:04:54) and M80 (3:15:54) marathon records.
At the 2016 Toronto Waterfront Marathon he did it again, running 3:56:38 to smash the M85 world record by 38 minutes. It was his first marathon in three years and he broke the record in spite of just two months of training.
“I had got in sort of the bare minimum of appropriate training preparations,” Whitlock admits. “I think 3:40 would have been possible if the weather had been perfect and if I had had six months training.”
If you think running fast requires hi-tec gear and a well-planned schedule, think again.
Whitlock says he is “not sufficiently organised or ambitious” to do interval sessions or tempo runs, have physio or ice baths – he just runs. His current footwear choice is a 15-year-old pair of Brooks with minimal cushioning.
They are positively cutting edge compared with his race day singlet, which he thinks he’s owned for around 30 years.
Who you calling hero?
Whitlock’s achievements are inspirational. They capture the imagination. That’s why his face was on the front page of the sports section of the Toronto Globe and Mail on the day after the 2016 marathon.
Yet he has no ambition to indulge his fan base with words, only to carry on with the actions that have won him plaudits from around the world.
“I suppose it’s nice for people to say I inspire them,” he says, “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’.”
Rather, he is one to put on his running shoes and prove it.
Photo credit: Todd Fraser/Canada Running Series