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Junk Mileage - The Spirit of Ed Whitlock

Posted 4 months ago

It’s been one week since we got the word that Ed Whitlock, the greatest masters runner of all time, had passed away at age 86.

The story of Ed is the next thing to lore in running circles; Ed grew up in London, England, moving to Canada in early adulthood. While Ed was an accomplished club runner in his youth, he took a break from the sport shortly after arriving here until his early 40s. From there, Ed re-wrote the National and World record book for masters running, famously running a 2:54:49 marathon at age 73, and just this past year, a 3:56 marathon at age 85.

Ed was more than just those numbers, though; he was a personality, beloved by all who knew of him in the sport. News of his death prompted a universal outpouring of grief and sadness from a typically divided running community. A brief skimming of the related thread on the oft-cynical, but skewing more to the competitive side of the sport, Letsrun message board showed nothing but admiration for the man and his accomplishments, while the comment sections of publications aimed more at recreational runners read the same way.

There is no doubt that Ed was very special to runners of all abilities, with the list of reasons “why” extending far beyond just being a fast runner.

First and foremost, Ed was a real character. While I only got to meet him a couple of times, I can attest to the fact that each time I got the honour, he was always incredibly graceful and modest, but also quick witted and captivating, no matter what the circumstance. Just last year in the post-race press room, I remember when Ed joined us (he got the biggest reaction of all the runners who passed through), he had the entire room of reporters hanging onto his every word and laughing at his many quips and jokes.

Ed was also an incredibly unconventional sort of person, a trait that I think made him all the more intriguing. In a sport that seems to stress the importance of frequently replacing footwear, Ed preferred to run in footwear older than some of the people he was racing against (and beating). Ed also chose to do his training in a nearby cemetery, a brilliant idea (low traffic, well maintained paths), but probably not one that many people would try out.

Perhaps what made Ed most beloved was his persistence and his ability to conquer elements of athletics that we assumed were steadfast and unmoveable. To be competitive is to be immersed in conflict; fighting off mediocrity, fending off the limitations of the body and mind and in the case of Ed, turning the impossible into achievable. Amazing, but achievable.

We will not see Ed at anymore races, he will not be breaking any more records, but to anyone who has taken the time to learn the Ed Whitlock story, his spirit will follow them around with every footfall.

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