“Ithink genes are 80– 90 per cent responsible,” he says. “I suppose longevity genes enable me to keep going. I’ve been able to overcome my injuries and have never had any serious setbacks. There’s a degree of perseverance but that may well be genetic, too.” Whitlock’s father lived to 82, his mother 95 and he notes a relative living to 106. Whitlock has two sons, Neil and Clive, both in their 50s, with his eldest still competing. Whitlock and Brenda have no grandchildren.
Whitlock recalls three times overcoming what was believed to be serious knee injuries that forced him to take time off for at least one year at a time. Whitlock describes one episode where he was told that he has serious osteoarthritis and nothing could be done. A second opinion, however, from Toronto specialist (and runner) Mark Bayley, suggested that nothing was too bad. “I was able to gradually run it off and after that, I felt better,” Whitlock recalls.
Training-wise, Whitlock is transparent with details, albeit his methods are quite simple: just run, a lot. His training runs reach as long as three-and-a-half hours in the cemetery around a 500 m loop. No water, even on the hottest days. (He ran the men’s 85–89 10,000m world record in 35 C under a heat warning in Toronto last summer.) Perhaps, the most glaring difference between Whitlock and the average runner are his shoes.
On Oct. 16, Whitlock raced with a pair of 20-year-old Brooks, one of many identical versions, though all in varying stages of disrepair, he has in his home. To give the shoe a Whitlock makeover, he removes the rubber sole, cuts out the majority of the cushioning on the heel, and reattaches the grip in a sort of running shoe surgery. “All the newer shoes seem too stiff,” he explains as he folds his pair of Brooks f lats in half like he would a piece of paper. At the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon expo, he brought his favourite pair to the Brooks booth and asked, “why can’t you make them like this anymore?” He still owns a “brand new” pair of the Brooks shoes, still pristine white decades later.
He also follows no specific diet. “I just eat what I want,” he says. “I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat a lot of meat.” He admits that he consumes more sugar, mostly in the form of peppermints and ice cream, and fat than a dietician would recommend. He drinks less than a dozen beers a year, mostly on special occasions, but has wine at dinner.
One of the world’s most famous masters runners has never run the world’s most prestigious marathon. Though he has done about 40–42 marathons (he’s not sure exactly how many), averaging about one per year since his debut, Whitlock has never run Boston.
“It’s not record legal,” he says, alluding to the race’s point-to-point course and net downhill profile. “I would like to run Boston because it is the marathon and I’m sure the atmosphere is great. But it would not be a good course for me as there are hills. I also don’t like running one-way races. At the end you have to assess how well you have done and apply any adjustments – wind, course and elevation – to explain away your performance. All those things even out in a race that starts and finishes at the same place.”
On the topic of races, Whitlock says that he followed the Rio Olympics last summer. He has no favourites, saying “I don’t have heroes in my life,” and that “I don’t believe I should be a hero.” He says that “the most exasperating event is the 1,500m. That’s ridiculous the way they run that race now,” referring to a really slow first three laps followed by a fast final 300 m.
Whitlock often receives questions about training and what he advises other people do. “I’m not sure what I’m doing is good for me, let alone anyone else,” he says. “In general, people should find what’s best for them and go according to that.”
His records would suggest his methods are doing him just fine.
ABOVE LEFT Whitlock with challenger Joop Ruter from the Netherlands, both competing in the M70–74 age group at the 2005 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, their ages reflected in their bib numbers. Whitlock outruns Ruter by 42:33 to finish in 3:02:41 OPPOSITE Whitlock with his record-setting and custom-tuned Brooks Running shoes
ABOVE RIGHT In 2010, Ed Whitlock carries the Marathon Flame through the streets of downtown Toronto, to mark the 2,500th Anniversary of the Marathon