Paul Mitchinson is a part-time writer and a full-time father of two. He writes when he can. » more about me

Ed Whitlock is a marvel. At 74, he will be running in today’s Toronto Waterfront Marathon, attempting to shatter his own world record for 70+ runners. The time to beat? 2:54:49. As any amateur competitive runner will tell you, this is a crushingly fast pace. It will almost certainly place you in the very first corral of qualifying runners at the Boston Marathon, for instance.

I’ve raced next to Whitlock on more than a few occasions in Toronto, and–if memory serves–at the 2001 Jasper-Banff relay. Even beat him a few times, I’m pretty sure. (Hah! I’ve got proof!) Raising two children has rather put a dent into my training schedule, unfortunately. Ed Whitlock would crush me like a bug now. Oh, and did I mention? Whitlock is 74. I’m 40.

But what I really like about Whitlock is that he shines a spotlight on an increasingly rare phenomenon–the serious amateur athlete. I’m talking about those individuals who take part in sport, long past their physical prime, not primarily for “fitness” or charity, but for … competition. The National Post just ran one of those endless series on “Why They Run,” a look at the reasons why various individuals are training for marathons or local races. Of course, it was to raise money for a good cause (cancer, diabetes, etc.) , or to get in shape after a health scare had made them aware of their own mortality. All laudable reasons.

But the marathon and the 10-k are races, after all. They are competitions. And training to race a marathon is a very different monster from training to “just finish”– the unofficial slogan of Runner’s World magazine. Whitlock captures this grim reality beautifully in the National Post article (by subscription only).

“It’s mainly a drudge for me. I wouldn’t say I positively dislike it, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience. It’s just something that I have to do in order to run well.

“One does it for the accomplishment, I suppose.”

Why does he run? To compete, dammit. Run, Ed, run.

Update: Ed’s opened up a significant–though far from insurmountable–1 minute and 48 second lead on his Dutch arch-rival, the 72-year-old youngster Joop Ruter. This was measured at the halfway point, so it doesn’t look like a world record day. But another sub-3 hour marathon is still well within his grasp.

Final Update: Final result: Whitlock finishes with a time of 3:02:40, with Joop Ruter having a very bad time of it, coming in at 3:45:37.

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