British-born Canadian masters runner has died the year after clocking an incredible 3:56:38 at the Toronto Marathon aged 85

We will never know just how many people Ed Whitlock inspired with his age-defying running feats but a huge number of them were among the many to pay tribute to the 86-year-old following news of his death on Monday, March 13.

Whitlock’s record-breaking achievements are remarkable. Just last year, aged 85, the British-born Canadian clocked 3:56:38 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM) to become the first in his age-group to break four hours for 26.2 miles.

In 2000 he became the oldest man to run a sub-three-hour marathon with 2:52:47 aged 69. Soon after he became the first M70 to go sub-three hours as he ran 2:59:10 aged 72 in Toronto in 2003 and he improved that M70 mark with 2:54:48 the following year. He extended his feat as the oldest man to run a sub-three-hour marathon with 2:58:40 aged 74 in 2005.

He set numerous age-group world records from 1500m through to the marathon, but it was his achievements over the longer distances for which he was best known.

He ran the M75 record of 3:04:54 as a 76-year-old in 2007 before clocking his M80 mark of 3:15:54.

He set the M75 record for the mile of 5:41.80, while 10 years later he ran 51:07.53 for 10,000m and another M85 world record.

In a statement issued on Monday, his family wrote that Whitlock died of prostate cancer at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto just a week after his 86th birthday, adding: “His wisdom, guidance and strength of character will be greatly missed by his wife Brenda, sons Neil and Clive, and sister Catherine.”

Born in London in 1931, Whitlock was an accomplished British club runner but the sport took a back seat as he concentrated on an engineering career in Canada.

He would later return to the sport as a record-breaking masters runner.

“In 2003 Ed shocked the entire running world when at age 72 years he ran 2:59:10 at STWM to become the first 70-year-old on the planet to go under the magical three-hour mark,” said Alan Brookes, the race director of the Toronto event. “Ed was, overnight, every marathon runner’s hero. He then ran the 2:54 with us the next year – a race he often said was his finest performance.

“Over the next couple of years, the STWM grew from 935 to 2526 participants and keeps growing. ‘Don’t limit yourself,’ was one of Ed’s key messages, and it was one we latched on to. It gave us the vision and the inspiration of what STWM could become.

“We travelled many miles together. He will be deeply missed, but his indomitable spirit, his love of racing, his modesty and inspiration, and so many unforgettable Ed memories, will be with us always.”

Whitlock never saw himself as an inspiration, however, saying: “I don’t consider myself to be an inspiring person. I am not one to stand up on the stage and say ‘you all can do this’.

“I suppose it’s nice for people to say I inspire them but I am somewhat embarrassed and I don’t know what the appropriate response is to that.”

» With thanks to Paul Gains for information