Runners World : Ed Whitlock by Peter Gambaccini
Ed Whitlock, 72, a retired mining
engineer living in the Toronto suburb of Milton, Ontario,
ran 2:59:10 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon
September 29 to become the first man over the age of 70
to break 3:00 for the marathon. He was already the oldest
man to run sub-3:00, having clocked 2:52:50 at the 2000
Columbus Marathon when he was 128 days short of his 70th
birthday. Whitlock also holds the 70-plus world track
records of 18:33.38 for 5000 meters and 38:04.13 for
10,000. His 2003 road performances include a 1:02:25 at
the Crim Ten-Mile in Michigan and a 58:55 at the Utica
Boilermaker 15-K. Whitlock is originally from Surbiton,
England and ran a 4:31 mile at age 17. His career
marathon best was a 2:31:23 in Ottawa at age 48. Whitlock
is retired and the father of two adult children.
"I'm running the 5-K at the Syracuse Festival of
Races this weekend," he said Tuesday. "How my
legs are going to take that, we'll see."
World Daily: You were having some trouble in the last
mile at Toronto. Did you feel the sub-3:00 time was a
Ed Whitlock: I felt it was going to be touch and go anyway, because of the times I was doing in other races. It seemed to be just possible, but by no means in the bag. Two years ago when I tried (he ran 3:00:24 in 2001), I was fairly confident, but I didn't have that same degree of confidence this time. With two years further deterioration, you know, you lose a little bit with age. Another thing that did nothing for my confidence is that I managed to fall over the Tuesday before the race. I wasn't running, I was just walking to the store. I did my head a fair amount of damage (with cuts and scrapes). I was a real sight. Even by race day, I was hardly looking photogenic. And as I said to Alan Brooks, the race director, I was only going to run it if weather conditions were ideal. And they were.
RWD: So how did things go from the beginning?
EW: It didn't go that well for the first five, six, or 7-K. I was running slower than I wanted to and wasn't feeling that great. But then somehow, it started to come together, and by about 20-K, I was about 2 minutes under 3:00 pace. I sort of held that until almost 40-K. Then things started to leak out, and it was really quite a struggle to finish. I lost over a minute of my cushion there and finished just under 3:00. I was just plain exhausted. I'd hit the wall, that's what I'd done.
RWD: When you did the 2:52:50 very near age 70, did you think a sub-3:00 marathon at age 70 would be easier than it turned out to be?
EW: Oh, yes, I thought at that time that it was in the bag. But I tried to run a spring marathon, the Forest City Marathon in London, Ontario, the following year (2001, his 3:00:24), two or three months after I turned 70. I don't know what was wrong with me, but I wasn't running that well right before the race. It was a small marathon, and I ended up running by myself past halfway, and I found that difficult. A good thing that happened in Toronto was that a group of about five other guys and myself coalesced at about halfway and we fed off each other mutually. Group psychology, or something.
RWD: You indicated you thought the 3:00 mark for 70-year-olds was fairly soft and were surprised no one had done it before.
EW: My 2:52:50 at 69 certainly indicated that at 70, it should be possible. Before me, Clive Davies ran 2:52:45 at 68 and 2:42 two years earlier, so he should have done it. According to the age-graded tables, I think a 76-year-old should have been able to run under 3:00. I think I've run my last sub-3:00 marathon. I probably won't run another marathon until at least next fall, and with another year gone by, I think 3:00 will be out of reach for me. A marathon is not my best distance. It's too far for me. My best is probably five or 10-K.
RWD: From your background, it sounds like you're a believer in a lot of mileage, and you treat your races, about 30 a year, as your speedwork.
EW: That's still my same regimen. And I don't particularly advocate that for anybody else. That seems to work for me. Everybody has to find their own medicine.
RWD: What is your weekly mileage?
EW: I don't actually measure that. I just go out and run every day typically for two hours. I run 'round and 'round a little circuit in the cemetery and I don't count the laps so I don't know how far I ago, but I'm probably only doing 8:30 or 9:00 miles. The cemetery is near my house. It's easy to get home when I don't feel well. It gets fairly cold here in the winter, so when you run a small circuit, you don't run against the wind for too long. When the wind is biting and the temperature's down, you don't have to suffer for too long in one direction.
RWD: For professional reasons that kept you busy, you were in and out of the sport for long periods of time. Were you always yearning to get back and compete?
EW: Yes and no. When I came to Canada (in 1952), my running hadn't been going that well in England. There was no running in the place I went to in northern Ontario in those days. So I just quit and didn't start again until I was 40. I had no particular yearnings to start again, but happenstance came along and I got involved and I'm happy that I did. I went to a track club because someone indicated they needed a coach. When it came down to it, it didn't seem as though they needed a coach, so I started running. I don't know anything about coaching.
RWD: How have you managed to maintain your level of dedication and enthusiasm for the sport?
EW: I guess I like it. I find the
long distance fraternity to be great people. They're very
supportive of other public's objectives and help them
along with a great spirit of camaraderie. There are a lot
of people with longer careers than mine. As I say, I
didn't start up again until I was 40. I found it lots of
fun to run. I like to race. I like to race against
people, but mainly I guess I compete against myself.