I don’t have any heroes. Never have, in fact. The idea of holding up a human being as a paragon of anything doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I do, though, see certain people as exemplars, which is a different thing entirely. The Collins English Dictionary defines an exemplar as “a person or thing to be copied or imitated; a model.” Some of my non-running exemplars are Sigmund Freud, Mahatma Gandhi, Buckminster Fuller, and Jiddu Krishnamurti.
My running exemplars include George Sheehan, Ken Bob Saxton, Ed Whitlock, and Fauja Singh. Let’s leave Sheehan and Saxton for another post, and I’ll tell you why Whitlock and Singh are exemplars for me.
Ed Whitlock is 80 years old. This past Sunday, he broke his own his age category world record for the marathon at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, with a time of 3:15:54. He also excels on the track, holding 10 world age group records, ranging in distances from 1500m to 10,000m and age groups 65+, 70+ and 75+, as well as 70+ and 75+ age group marathon records. Whitlock ran competitively as a teenager, then took the sport up again when he was in his 40s. His training regime consists of running two or three hours a day on a loop in a cemetery near his home in Milton, Ontario.
Fauja Singh, who is 100 years old, also ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday. He finished with a time of 8:11:06, and in doing so, set a world record as the first 100 year old to run a marathon. Previously, he’d set (and still holds) the world record for the over-90 category after running the 2003 Toronto marathon in 5:40. Three days before this year’s Toronto marathon, Singh broke another eight records for 100-year-old men by completing eight distances ranging from 100m to 5,000m. Remarkably, Singh only started running when he was 89, after his wife and son died, and he wanted something productive to do with his time. He trains by running 16K each day. He says “The secret to a long and healthy life is to be stress-free. Be grateful for everything you have, stay away from people who are negative, stay smiling, and keep running.”
It’s not hard to see some common threads here. First, Whitlock and Singh are old. Not just middle-aged, not just seniors, but old. While I’m sure each of them deals on a daily basis with the implications and consequences of age, that hasn’t stopped either of them from doing remarkable things. Second, their training methods aren’t exactly by the book. Whitlock runs one kilometer loops around that cemetery, day after day, and Singh runs a considerable distance each day around the streets of Ilford, a suburb of London, England. They run a lot. Last – and perhaps most importantly – both Whitlock and Singh seem to take a fierce joy in running and in life.
I’m only 63. I’ll never be as fast as Ed Whitlock, and I may not be runnng marathons when I’m 100. But you can be sure that, with these two as exemplars, my running (and my life) will be richer by far than if I hadn’t heard of them.