TORONTO - Ed Whitlock has been such a fixture at Evergreen Cemetery in Milton, Ont., its caretakers must wonder where the distance runner has disappeared to.
The 83-year-old multi world record-holder is battling injuries, and hasn't been out to the old cemetery — his favourite running spot — in months. But Whitlock is hopeful the bad hip and shoulder that have stalled his career won't slow him down for good.
"I'm 99 per cent confident that I'm going to be running again sometime. But maybe not in the near future," Whitlock said. "It may take a while to get rid of it, but at the moment I'm pretty confident that I'm going to get going again, I don't think this is a career-ending situation. I really don't think that.
"Obviously at my age, there's some chance of that, you never know when you have run your last race, but at the moment I'm not thinking along those lines."
Whitlock last competed at the Ontario masters track and field championships in June, where he ran the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. He woke up a few days later to pain in his groin, which has developed into a hip injury. Then to add to his injury woes, he also has a frozen shoulder — or adhesive capsulitis — a painful condition in which the shoulder joint is inflamed and stiff, restricting movement.
He's not a big believer in physiotherapy and said he's never been into stretching or yoga, so his rehabilitation is simply to rest.
"I have done a little bit of walking, but that doesn't seem particularly to help. Mainly I'm doing nothing. I'm good at doing that," he said, laughing.
"I've been through these sorts of things before and I find that treatment rarely seems to do anything for me," he added. "The only thing that seems to work is to take a rest and let it get better, so that's what I'm doing at the moment, and hoping that things improve before too long. I've been off with other injuries for more than a year in the past, waiting for them to go away, and hopefully this one will go away, and hopefully before a year."
Whitlock has been shattering age-class distance running records for years. He owns 15 age-class world track and field records, three world marathon records plus his name is on a couple dozen unofficial world road-racing marks.
One of his top achievements came when he was 73 — he ran two hours 54 minutes 48 seconds in a marathon in Toronto, a time that, if age-graded, is considered by many to be the fastest marathon ever run.
For more than a decade, he's trained at the cemetery a short walk from his Milton home. The lean Englishman, with his grey hair that hangs to his shoulders, painted quite the picture as he loped along the looping trail through the cemetery, often for as long as three hours a day.
Surprisingly, he doesn't miss his training runs.
"I'm quite happy to miss that, really," Whitlock said. "That's a chore that kind of has to be done if I want to run well."
Arthritis in his knees had doctors telling him several years ago that his running days were behind him. He took a year off, first with one knee and then the other, but managed to bounce back both times.
With no running to fill his morning, the former mining engineer spends a lot of time on his computer. He watches the stock market, he reads up on sports.
He has a fan following — although he joked about why anybody would be interested in his injuries.
"I'm not a hockey player you know," Whitlock said.
He clearly held celebrity status at last week's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and runner's expo, where people asked him to pose for photos.
"If the good old film days of Kodak were around, Kodak would be making a fortune on all the people who want to take a photograph of me with them," he said, laughing. "That's OK."
He hasn't set any timeline for his return.
"Wait until it feels better, and hopefully start again at the right time. Not too early and not too late. It's always a matter of judgement," he said.
He insisted he hasn't let the injury frustration get to him.
"I just take life as it comes, and roll with the punches."