I want to be like Ed Whitlock when I grow up.

I first became aware of Ed only six years ago, when he ran the Toronto Marathon in 3:15 at the age of 80, and I immediately became a fan. I ran my fastest marathon when I was 35 years younger than that, and was still nine minutes slower than Ed.

Ed was a record-setting marathoner for multiple age groups, running an amazing 2:54 at the age of 73. It seemed like he would live forever. Especially that since just last fall he was still setting records, achieving a 3:56 for the over 85 group.

It wasn’t just marathons Ed set records in, but multiple distances. Prostate cancer stole him from us today.

When I wrote my piece on compressed morbidity for the Chicago Tribune, Ed was who I had in mind. The piece is about staying spry and active and having a “compressed” period of disability during the end of life, rather than a long, slow, painful slide into the grave with tubes in orifices. The fact that Ed ran a sub-4-hour marathon just five months before passing shows just how spry he remained.

That’s the kind of life I want to have, but I feel like I’ve been slipping lately. At 48, my low back is being a pest again, and it’s affecting my running and generally making me miserable. But the memory of Ed has inspired me to deal with it. I know it won’t get better unless I make it, so I’m dusting off my copy of Back Mechanic by Stu McGill and getting my running game going hard again.

The last race I did was the Boston Marathon in 2014, but I’m more into the 10K distance these days. I’ve only run four 10K races. The first was a Mother’s Day race when I was 14. I completed it in 49 minutes, then broke my leg a month later and didn’t run for over 20 years. The other three 10Ks were all for the Underwear Affair, a race that no longer runs, but was all about fundraising for “below the waist” cancers. So, I’ve done my share of fundraising for prostate cancer. It’s hit my family too. All cancer sucks.

Since it’s been three years without any racing, the memory of Ed has inspired me to race again. As soon as I heard the news about Ed, I ran a 10K in 53 minutes. Still dripping with sweat, I then registered for a race that has personal meaning for me. Finally, I sat down to write this. I don’t think I’ll PR, but I’m going to set an ambitious goal of a 44-minute time for the Betty’s Run for ALS, and hope to raise $1,000 while I’m at it.

Because it’s not just Ed who is inspiring me to run. My close friend Jody was diagnosed with ALS not long ago, and it’s already taking a toll on her.

Prostate cancer took Ed too soon. ALS is taking my friend Jody a little further away with each day that passes. My bulging lumbar discs are a sorry excuse for not making the most of what time I have, so as of this moment, I’m jumping back onto that hardcore wagon. I’ll be running the intervals, strengthening my back, and racing my heart out on June 11 to get the best time I possibly can.

If you’re able to donate to ALS to help push me along, Jody and I would greatly appreciate it.

That link again.


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James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com, and a contributor to Men’s Health, Women’s Health, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and NPR.