My heart sunk when I learned that Ed Whitlock had died. If you are unfamiliar with this remarkable athlete, read his obituary over at Runner's World.
Ed Whitlock, the Canadian runner who rewrote the 70+ record books and forever altered conceptions of human endurance performance in older age, died on Monday in Toronto, not far from his home in Milton, Ontario. Whitlock was 86. A statement released by family listed the cause of death as prostate cancer.
n 2003, at 72, Whitlock became the first person 70 or older to break 3:00 in the marathon, with a 2:59:10 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. A year later, at 73, he lowered that 70+ best to 2:54:49. Over the ensuing years, Whitlock set age-group marks in the 70+, 75+, 80+, and 85+ age groups at distances from 1500 meters up through the marathon. Just last October, at 85, he ran 3:56:33 at the Toronto Marathon, becoming the first in his age group to break 4:00 and taking 28 minutes off the previous 85+ record.Indeed, that marathon he ran last October put Whitlock back into the headlines. At around that same time, I drew upon Whitlock's life and example to organize an address that I gave to a group of cross country runners.
Here, then, are my 3 "Whitlockian Wisdoms"
1) Focus On What Matters, Avoid "Fiddle-Diddling"
Let's just say that Ed Whitlock's training routine was not particularly conventional. He didn't have a coach, trainer, or much of a plan. What he did was run for 3 or 4 hours a day around a small cemetery that was roughly 100 meters from his front door. Loops and loops and more loops.
It seems both repetitive and boring to me. But the image of this trudging octogenarian ought to be a reminder that to run well one must run often. Simplicity. It's a virtue for a reason. All of the stuff that hovers on the periphery of running risks cluttering our view. Sometimes, the running part of running gets lost. As Whitlock puts it....
"I don’t follow what typical coaches say about serious runners. I’m not sufficiently organized or ambitious to do all the things you’re supposed to do if you’re serious. The more time you spend fiddle-diddling with this and that, the less time there is to run or waste time in other ways."
2) Running Will Always Be There For You
Ed Whitlock's competitive running career had three stages. He ran in high school and college until an Achilles injury and an engineering job took him away from the sport. He resumed running in his 40s, in part out of concern for his youngest son Clive, who at age 14, decided to run a marathon. After the pair crossed the finish line at 3:09, the father continued running and training. Four years later at the age of 48, Whitlock ran his personal record time of 2:31 at the 26.2 mile distance. He soon stepped away from running again, only to return after he had retired from his job. Then at age 74, Whitlock achieved what is arguably his greatest accomplishment, completing a marathon in an eye-popping time of 2:58:40. Just for some perspective, that averages out to a 6:48 per-mile pace.
While the years might pass by, and while our priorities might shift, we can always return to running. The payoff is not just a trim figure and increased blood flow. Instead, the running life offers a stage for us to achieve, to strive, and to struggle. Ed Whitlock found meaning in pursuing records in his 70s and 80s. Why? Because he could. Good enough.
3) Embrace Your Strange
If you have ever run with other people, you know the truth of this Whitlockism: "All people are strange in different ways."
Out on the roads and trails, everything is inverted. That is, what is on the inside--sweat, snot, and... stuff--sporadically appears on the outside. There is no hiding what you really are. This is probably why so many of my running conversations are more real, more profound, and more honest than in "real life." All of this confirms that I am, without a doubt, strange. And it is comforting to see that my friends are as well.
So today, let's celebrate our strange together, holding close a memory of Ed Whitlock--the man who just runs and reminds us to just run too.
Happy trails, friends.