The distance running fraternity is mourning the passing of the greatest ever veteran marathon runner. Just five months after setting a world age-85 best (3:56:38) at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, Ed Whitlock succumbed to prostate cancer on 13 March at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. Whitlock was born in London on March 6, 1931 and was a member of Ranelagh Harriers from 1948.
Ed Whitlock's final race was in the annual Ranelagh Harriers versus South London Harriers mob match in Richmond Park on 10 December, 2016. Wearing the cherished bib number one he completed the tough 7.7 mile cross country course in 1:10:37 to win his category (96th). This was an emotional return to his roots as his early successes were in school races and he became the University of London champion at cross country and three miles on the track.
Ed emigrated to Canada to pursue a career in engineering, residing in Milton, Ontario and did not run seriously again until his 40s, when he began to set about toppling the world age-group records from 1500m to marathon. With a wide smile and an even wider stride he became the most fearsome competitor the veteran running scene had yet encountered.
His many accolades include becoming the oldest man to run the marathon under three hours (2:58:40 aged 74) in 2005 and his extraordinary marathon world records are M70 2:54:48; M75 3:04:54; M80 3:15:54 and M85 3:56:38. In a total of 36 officially recognised world bests perhaps two that stand out are his M75 half marathon (1:29:26) and his M80 3000m indoors (12:00.88) – a fraction outside 4min/km or 20:01 parkrun pace!
To put Whitlock's achievements in perspective, his recent M85 marathon best took more than 28 minutes off the previous best by an 85-year-old. All his training was completed in a cemetery close to his home in Ontario – just another unique aspect to a remarkable athlete.
Ed Whitlock was famously modest and understated about his age-defying abilities, although when age-graded his performances exceed the current world record and come close to the equivalent of a two hour marathon. When asked about being celebrated throughout the world after his M85 record in Toronto, he said: “I don't believe I should be a hero. I'm not sure what I am doing is good for me, let alone anyone else”!