“We lost one of our heroes,” says Toronto runner Jeff Garcia a day after the death of Canadian marathon icon Ed Whitlock. “He was a really big part of our running community.”
Garcia himself is known in the Canadian running scene. Many runners would better recognize him by his artist name– Mango Peeler– as he’s the man behind the recognizable design that was imprinted on the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon finisher’s T-shirts.
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Ed Whitlock’s name will forever be associated with that running of the Toronto marathon because for one, that was where the then 85-year-old set the 85-89 world record in the distance by running a 3:56 marathon. It was also the last time he would ever run the distance. Whitlock died early in the morning on March 13, just days after turning 86.
E D * F O R E V E R~ Today we lost a ?? running Legend. If there is one runner that embodies the simplicity of our sport and why we lace up our trainers everyday, it’s Ed Whitlock. To honour him today we ran for 86 minutes through Mount Pleasant with this 1/1 shirt I made for him. One of a kind, what a smile, & a true badass! #ripEDWHITLOCK #86yearsyoung
News of his death broke on Tuesday afternoon and spread like wildfire through the running scene— both Canadian and global– proving just how much Whitlock was adored by runners. At the age of 86, the man who many refer to as a Canadian running legend had a string of records to his name including the October 2016 marathon that he ran in his eighth decade as well as his sub 3-hour marathon that he ran at 73. He is the only person over 70 to have ever broken that three-hour mark.
Whitlock excelled both in longer distances on the roads as well as middle distance events on the track– despite his age– and in the last months of his life, he added several record-breaking runs to his repertoire. That’s why many claim that Whitlock was the embodiment of inspiration and an athlete who knew no limits– and if he did, he looked past them and carried on, determined, straight towards the finish line.
RELATED: Runners remember Ed Whitlock
When Garcia heard of Whitlock’s passing, he created a T-shirt with the man’s portrait to pay his respects. “I made the shirt right away. My art process is pretty immediate,” he says.
Garcia has a background in illustration and has been working in the industry for quite some time. Using apparel (specifically T-shirts) as a canvas for his work is what he specializes in and so creating a shirt to honour Whitlock only seemed natural.
“This shirt is my medium. It’s not just a garment, it’s my way of paying tribute,” he says.
After creating a design for Whitlock, he set up a community run around Mount Pleasant Cemetery– a gesture meant to symbolize Whitlock’s daily runs around the graveyard down the street from his home in Milton, Ont.
A small group of runners agreed to meet up at 7:00 p.m. to run a minute for every year of Whitlock’s life, for a total of 86 minutes. They didn’t get creative with the route, instead just circling the cemetery, lap after lap “just like he would,” says Garcia.
While they ran, they shared memories of the old runner who managed to inspire so many runners in Canada over the years.
When asked about how he’ll remember Whitlock, this Toronto artist shares a significant detail.
“I remember the first time I broke sub-three,” he says. “I was trying to break his record.” Garcia didn’t succeed that time around, but he did come close. At age 32, he ran 2:54:53– four seconds off of the 2:54:49 mark that Whitlock set at 73.
“It was a small group,” Garcia says of the pack that ran on Monday. “We were just talking about Ed and our experiences with him and why we related to him.”
Just before 8:30 p.m. yesterday in Toronto, the run for Whitlock was over. The runners approached a water fountain in the cemetery, looked at Garcia’s design and completed their last lap.
“It was pretty powerful. It was kind of emotional,” says Garcia. “The cemetery was quiet and soft. It was really beautiful.”