The golden age of running

For those of us who like to lace up a pair of over-priced running shoes and move one foot in front of the other a little more quickly than most people would like to, this is the best time of year.

Yeah, the hours of daylight are rapidly diminishing as summer fades to fall – and mornings are a little cooler. But it's marathon season – and all the big ones are coming up.

People who have been prepping for the distance are getting ready to scale back, to peak just in time for their goal races.

It's nice to see that race season means 78-year-old Ed Whitlock will be back challenging himself on the streets of Toronto. This week, organizers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon announced Whitlock may be running the half marathon.


Ed Whitlock

Whitlock's a guy I really look up to. He's got two things I've had to some extent in the past – speed and a full head of hair.

He's also the only person in the world over the age of 70 to run a marathon in under three hours. He's done that twice. The last time was five years ago. He may have lost a step or two since, but he's still very much at it.

Two years ago, he suffered a knee injury – his second since 2000. He took all last year off from the race circuit to give his body time to heal. He resumed training about a year ago but isn't quite back to marathon shape. He's had some setbacks this year, but – with a bit more rest – he's confident he's firmly on the road back.

Whitlock's sure his latest injuries aren't related to his age. He doesn't subscribe to the theory that the older you get, the more prone you are to injury and the longer it takes for you to recover.

A lot of researchers have said similar things.

"Age is no barrier," he says. "At least I like to think it's not. Time is always the best healer. Racing is what we do between injuries."

Whitlock's regular marathon training routine is a three-hour daily run at an easy pace. He's up to about an hour a day and is slowly adding to it. If all goes well, he expects to be fit enough for another crack at the marathon distance next fall when he's 79.

Still, he says he may have to limit himself to the five-kilometre race this year instead of the half marathon. He'll make that decision after he runs a 10-K race on Sept. 20.

If Whitlock does run the shorter distance, he'll be joining 98-year-old Fauja Singh – one of the oldest distance runners in the world. And the fastest. Six years ago in Toronto, he shattered the world record for fastest marathon by a runner over the age of 90: five hours, 40 minutes and four seconds. He took more than an hour off the previous record.

What about the rest of us – those of us who are mere mortals? Israeli researchers suggest it's never too late to reap the benefits of exercise. Even if you're well into your 80s.

Reporting in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers said that previously sedentary 85-year-olds who start exercising can double their three-year survival rate compared to their peers who'd rather watch the world go by.

For people like Whitlock and Singh, it's not about life extension. It's about extending what you do with your life.