The Canadian athletics community is in mourning as Ed Whitlock – a road racing legend who rewrote the 70 and older record books and forever changed the way we look at human endurance – died Monday at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. Whitlock turned 86 on March 6 and is survived by his wife Brenda and their two sons, Neil and Clive.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ed Whitlock. The Master. The Legend.” said Alan Brookes, founder of the Canada Running Series and race director of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. “Somehow we thought Ed would just go on setting records forever.”
The Canadian Masters legend defied convention, especially for older runners. He trained in the Milton Evergreen Cemetery doing five-minute perimeter loops for hours on end. He did no stretching or strength training, and when he was injured he simply quit running until the pain had subsided.
Canadian athletics stars far and wide shared their condolences on social media following Whitlock’s passing.
Reid Coolsaet: “Ed was a trailblazer who showed us all what is possible. You will be missed Ed Whitlock.”
Eric Gillis: “What a smile, what an amazing person, so long Ed ❤.
Rob Watson: “Sad, sad day. RIP Ed Whitlock. He was an inspiration to thousands and an amazing ambassador for our sport.”
Perdita Felicien: “Sad to hear about the passing of Ed Whitlock. Was just the other day he welcomed me to his home for a sit-down interview. RIP.”
Here’s a look at where Whitlock’s late-life career as a marathoner started.
“I realized in my late 60s that this silly objective of being the first person over 70 to get under 3:00 in the marathon was just sitting there waiting for someone,” said Whitlock in an interview last fall. That someone was him.
Whitlock began training and in 2003 at the age of 72 became the first septuagenarian to run a marathon in under three hours. He shocked the entire road running community and posted a time of 2:59:10 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Overnight, Whitlock become a hero and an inspiration to runners around the world.
A year later in Toronto, Whitlock improved that record with a time of 2:54:49 at the age of 73 in what is widely considered his greatest master’s race. Adjusted for age, that race was the equivalent of a runner in his prime completing a marathon in 2:04:48, which is less than two minutes off the current world record of 2:02:57.
Whitlock would go on to set world master’s marathon records for age 75+, 80+ and, most recently, 85+ with a time of 3:56:38 on Oct. 16, 2016, in what was his final marathon.
“More than anyone in modern times, I think Ed was an inspiration; a legend to millions of runners across Canada and around the world,” said Brookes. “Everyone could relate to Ed. It’s hard to relate to ‘breaking two hours’ or running three minutes a kilometre to join the ‘three-minute club [2:06:35]’. But millions can relate to putting everything in to running a sub-three or a sub-four hour race.”
Whitlock’s world records inspired millions of runners of all ages, and attracted attention to the sport of running from all corners of the globe. His final marathon world record was one of the most talked about performances of 2016, which is especially impressive given that it was an Olympic year.
“I think Ed’s accomplishments will be with us for a long, long time,” said Brookes. “In terms of our other Canadian marathon legends, in his own modest, unassuming way, I’d put him up there with Jerome Drayton or Terry Fox.”
World renowned author and running enthusiast Malcoml Gladwell agrees, he said on Twitter, “Ed Whitlock. RIP. Easily one of the ten greatest runners of all time. Faster in his seventies than more runners in their twenties.”
Though Whitlock would strongly disagree, he’s a hero and an inspiration to millions of road racers and runners around the world. His passion and droll sense of humour, will surely be missed.
Whitlock owns nearly 20 world records, and more than 40 Canadian road records from M60 to M85 and older, from 5K to the marathon.
One age-group world record in the mile
Two age-group world records in the 3,000m
Three age-group world records in the 5,000m
Four age-group world records in the 10,000m
Four age-group world records in the half marathon
Four age-group world records in the marathon