Ed Whitlock died on March 12 at the age of 86. In running circles Ed Whitlock was an icon, an enigma, and someone who defied the aging process. He set world records at various distances after turning 70. Five months before his death he ran a 3:56 marathon in Toronto. Physiological tests indicated the highest VO2 Max of anyone measured at his age and his muscle retention astounding. He was a rail at 110 pounds, carrying no extra baggage.
I had dinner with Ed and Bill Dixon a few years back at the Stockadeathon. Ed was a pretty understated and unassuming guy. Had a twinkle in his eye and clearly enjoyed being around the races. He didn’t like to train and was known for his endless laps around a local cemetery. He didn’t listen to music – just ground it out. Maybe he experienced a runners high in the races – he certainly did not in training. Ed did nothing but run – no weights, stretching, or cross-training.
Ed died from prostate cancer that had apparently spread to his bones. He didn’t say anything publically about it, which is why it caught most everyone by surprise. Surely Ed knew something was wrong, but had he been diagnosed, it’s unlikely he would have undergone treatment. Ed lived by the basics and chemo and hormones would not have been his cup of tea.
While I certainly marveled, along with everyone else, about Ed’s longevity and accomplishments, there was little about his training I could relate to. My premise is, and has been, that we can’t just run to succeed in later years. I advocate strength and flexibility training, running equivalents, and a break from constant running. And I still think for 99% of us that is necessary. Perhaps Ed did a disservice to some by suggesting, indirectly if not directly by his own example, that this work was superfluous. Ed had a certain body type and constitution that allowed for his particular regimen. But if that works for 1 out of 100, it won’t for the other 99 of us. As we age, we hopefully continue to have the fire to drive ourselves to do our best. For me, the full complement of training is both enjoyable and necessary to do that.
So we celebrate Ed Whitlock’s life as a pioneer who showed aging is relative and need not be as progressive as once thought. Ed, it was great to read about the records you broke. But I view you as an Experiment of One, and in some respects you were probably one-of-a-kind. You found what worked for you and followed your passion. Perhaps that is your lasting legacy. Certainly that is all any of us can ask of ourselves.