Two Veteran Runners Continue To Prove That It’s Never Too Late To Excel-And Inspire.
By John Bingham
The late, great baseball pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige is often quoted as having said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” He also said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Mr. Paige should have been at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon last September. If he had been, he would have seen 93-year-old Fauja Singh gaining on a lot of folks.
Singh is the current marathon world record holder for runners over 90. His time? A solid 5:40. Content that his marathon record was secure for the time being, Singh ran the half-marathon in Toronto and set the world record for that distance as well, crossing the line in 2:30:02.
But as astounding as Singh is, his accomplishments were nearly overshadowed by a 73-year-old youngster named Ed Whitlock. On the waterfront course, Ed the Younger broke his own marathon world record for runners over age 70, running an astonishing 2:54:48. That’s right, a sub-three-hour marathon at 73 years old. I had a chance to meet both Whitlock and Singh at the race, and their humbleness is even more impressive than their speed, skill, and dedication.
You may not have heard of him before, but in his hometown of London, Singh’s name is mentioned in the same breath as David Beckham’s (and if you don’t know who David Beckham is, you need to stop running so much and read the sports pages). Originally from India, Singh explained through an interpreter that he doesn’t consider his running accomplishments remarkable. He first went for a run when he was 81. He soon discovered that he enjoyed both the physical act of running and the sport itself. He is so humble that during the pasta party, he deferred to his 76-year-old mentor, saying that it wouldn’t be right to speak in front of his teacher.
Then there’s Whitlock. He ran a 2:59:10 at the 2003 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, becoming the first person over 70 to break three hours. At the time, Whitlock said he really wasn’t as fit as he wanted to be, and so the record didn’t seem deserved. He also won’t accept endorsement contracts because he feels it would compromise the integrity of his amateur status. Whitlock will try for another historic finish this year in Toronto.
These two runners confirm my belief that what distinguishes most baby-boomers from those of earlier generations is our absolute unwillingness to get old. True, Singh and Whitlock aren’t “boomers,” but they share the baby-boomer philosophy: Age is no longer an excuse for inactivity, and inactivity is no longer the reward for getting old.
During Singh’s and Whitlock’s world-record races, I saw my own potential future come to life. After all these years as a runner, I finally identified a life goal. I just have to maintain my current marathon pace, live to be 100-plus years old, then try to beat Singh’s time. Clearly there’s no hope of me challenging Whitlock’s record. But Singh’s? That’s another story. I’m about even with him right now. I know that because he passed me at mile 18 of the 2004 Flora London Marathon. And I’m sure if I hadn’t stopped for coffee and chocolates, I could have kept up with him.
So I know now what I need to do. I must keep up my current training for another 40 years, then put in a few months of speedwork, tempo runs, and hills, and I can take a shot at a going sub 5:40.
That’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it.
Waddle on, friends.