Long may Ed run.
Exactly ten issues ago I wrote about the amazing Ed Whitlock, who, at 85 years old, had recently broken 4 hours in the marathon to set yet another age-group world record. Whitlock shattered a glass factory’s worth of all-time marks after the age of 60—highlighted by an unheard of 2:54:49 at 73—most of which will stand the test of time. Well, it’s with great sadness this morning that I write of Ed’s passing from prostate cancer yesterday at the age of 86. The man was/is/always will be one of the sport’s true legends, not just for his exploits as a Masters runner but for the spirit of competitiveness, sportsmanship and hope he inspired in so many, regardless of age. It’s for those reasons that I’m dedicating Issue 70 of the morning shakeout to him. To me, Ed embodied what it meant to be a racer, unapologetically following his own motivations, adopting a simple training approach that worked for him and competing with a ferocious humility that more athletes would be well-served to try and emulate. “The real feeling of enjoyment,” he told The New York Times a few months ago, “is getting across the finish line and finding out that you’ve done O.K.”
— Whitlock did not mind expressing his aversion to training (often describing it as a “drudge”), a daily task he simply regarded as a necessary means toward his competitive ends. “I like racing and setting world records, but I find training is a bit of a drudge,” he said not long after his sub-4 last fall. After his age-group world record for the half marathon last spring (1:50:47), Whitlock admitted to Runner’s World’s Alison Wade that, “If somehow or other, I could race well without doing any training, that would be ideal. I find this training a bit of a drudge really. I don’t suffer from runner’s highs in training and that kind of thing. It’s all a bit of a chore, really, but I have to [put in a lot of time running] if I want to run well.” Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal recounted yesterday that Whitlock once told him training is “kind of a drudge. Small loops, hours on end. I don’t do it for my health. I do it to be able to compete well.” And staying on message, Whitlock admitted in 2012 that, "I don't particularly enjoy this daily drudge, it's something that has to be done if you want to run well. I suppose it's the sense of satisfaction to be able to keep going for one thing. And to run well, for another (reason). I suppose I'm results-oriented, I'm mainly running for certain times in races, setting records, that sort of thing is what gives me my satisfaction I guess. And I find for me the more running I do the better I'll race. That's the incentive.” Now, someone who’s reading these quotes for the first time might be questioning why I’m celebrating a guy who didn’t even appear to have liked running. Quite the contrary. It’s more of an appreciation of the competitive runner’s daily toil and a respect for the fact that the training process isn’t always pretty. You’ve got to put in the work if you want to race well. Whitlock’s quotes about training me of one of my favorite lines from John L. Parker Jr.’s cult classic, Once A Runner. “Cassidy figured that a natural affinity for interval work was the difference between those who liked to race and those who like to train,” Parker wrote. “Racers express little enchantment with training.” Ironically, Ed wasn’t a fan of interval workouts, instead preferring to “plod” around the cemetery near his house for hours on end at whatever pace felt right for that day. To each their own.
— Despite mostly being known for his marathon exploits, one of the things I always liked and admired about Ed was that he wasn’t afraid to mix it up at other distances. Here he is clocking a world-record 7:18 mile on the track just last summer. “I don’t know what my splits actually were but I think they were fairly even,” Whitlock said afterward. “I’m relieved it’s over.”
— Ed’s battle with prostate cancer wasn’t publicized before his death, and it seems things went downhill quickly for him in the past couple of months. I remember reading in Scott Douglas’ 2010 profile of Whitlock for Running Times that he didn’t like doctors and hadn’t had a physical since the age of 40. As much as I admire Ed’s longevity as an athlete, this attitude is just silly. No matter how old we are, how good of genes we think we have, how much we exercise or how tip-top of shape we think we’re in, Ed’s relatively sudden passing is a reminder that we shouldn’t take our health for granted. In fact, I’m going to practice what I preach and schedule a check-up with my doctor since it’s been over a year since my last voluntary visit. I challenge you to do the same this week.
— “It was really refreshing how simple he kept things,” said two-time Canadian Olympian Reid Coolsaet. “It’s easy to get caught up in all the gadgets and splits and chasing sponsors and promoting stuff, but he just did what he wanted to do and stuck to it.” This compilation of reactions to Ed’s death that Runner’s World put together is a sad but fitting tribute to one of the sport’s all-time great athletes and ambassadors.