Just a week after his 86th birthday the ever so gracious and remarkably talented long distance runner Ed Whitlock has died at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.
In a statement issued this morning his family wrote:
“The family of Ed Whitlock is saddened to report his passing on March 13, 2017, of prostate cancer at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. His 86th birthday was on March 6th. His wisdom, guidance and strength of character will be greatly missed by his wife Brenda, sons Neil and Clive, and sister Catherine. The family requests privacy at this time.”
Although he was an accomplished British club runner in high school and in university Whitlock put the sport on hold while he embarked on an engineering career in Canada. As a master’s runner, he quickly established his credentials becoming the first septuagenarian to go under the 3-hour mark with a 70+ world marathon record of 2:59:10 at the 2003 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, an event to which he became particularly attached.
A year later he improved that record with a 2:54:49 at age 73, again in Toronto. Eventually he set world master’s marathon records for age 75+, 80+ and, most recently, 85+ with a time of 3:56:38 M85 last October 16th, 2016 in Toronto. In all he set roughly 25 world master’s records over distances from 1,500m to the marathon.
Alan Brookes, the race director of the Toronto event, an IAAF Gold Label race the past three years, enjoyed a longstanding friendship with Whitlock.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ed Whitlock, The Master. The Legend. This is an enormous loss to Canada and the global running community. Somehow we thought Ed would just go on setting records forever. We are especially saddened at Canada Running Series.
“We grew up with Ed. He won many of his 20+ year-old shoes at our Series’ races in the ’90s and, in many ways, he defined our Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. He will always be a vital part of the identity and spirit of that race.
“In 2003 Ed shocked the entire running world when at age 72 years he ran 2:59:10 at STWM, to become the first 70-year old on the planet to go under the magical 3-hour mark. Ed was, overnight, every marathon runner’s hero. He then ran the 2:54 with us the next year – a race he often said was his finest performance.
“Over the next couple of years, the STWM grew from 935 to 2,526 participants and keeps growing. ‘Don’t limit yourself,’ was one of Ed’s key messages, and it was one we latched onto. It gave us the vision and the inspiration of what STWM could become.
“We travelled many miles together. He will be deeply missed, but his indomitable spirit, his love of racing, his modesty and inspiration, and so many unforgettable Ed memories, will be with us always.”
Whitlock’s story has been told in periodicals around the world. He lived a hundred yards from Milton’s Evergreen Cemetery where he did his daily training. It consisted of laps of the cemetery for hours. With his customary sense of humour he called it ‘very fast walking.’
“I actually got up to three and a half hours this time,” he said after his most recent marathon record. “The thing is three hours doesn’t do it any more. That’s the hell of it. I need four hours now. And it’s only going to get worse.”
At races all over the world he was approached by runners of all ages who wanted pictures with him as well as autographs. The attention made him a little uncomfortable.
“I don’t know how to respond to them. Well how do you respond to that?” he said with a laugh. “I suppose it’s nice for people to say I inspire them 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.’”
An inspiration to millions around the world, a reluctant one perhaps, but a gracious one nonetheless.