Normally, a 2:54 marathon time would be nothing to get sentimental about for 32-year-old Nick Croker. That mark is 20 minutes off the Toronto runner’s PB. This year, however, he aims to cross the finish line in Toronto right when the clock strikes 2:54:49 – and it’ll be a moment to remember. The significance of the time? It’s one of Canadian distance running icon Ed Whitlock’s many record-breaking times and Croker will be the pacer bringing runners to hit this time at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon this month in memory of the much-loved Canadian runner.
“It’ll be interesting,” says Croker. “Everyone in the Toronto running community knows who Ed was. Everyone knows Ed and liked him.”
RELATED: Ed Whitlock dies at 86
Whitlock was famous in the sport for running into his final days and clocking seemingly impossible times despite his age. He excelled both in the middle distance track races as well as lengthier road events like the marathon. For many who followed his running career in his senior years, it seemed he broke a new record every time he crossed the finish line. Whitlock died early this year at the age of 86.
The great distance runner’s last marathon was on the streets of Toronto at the Waterfront Marathon last fall where, well into his eighties, he ran 3:56:33. He was in high spirits soon after his achievement and while it may have been a grande finale for Canadians to look back on, it was not his final race. His last time toeing the start line was back home in England when he ran 12.3 kilometres at a meet in London.
This year, as a tribute to the man who inspired so many runners in our community, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon has pace groups that will be running Whitlock’s record times: 2:54:49; 3:15:54 and 3:56:33. (Noel Guy and Ben Kaplan will be the pacers leading the latter two times.) Whitlock ran his legendary 2:54 marathon at the age of 73. It is arguably his most famous race. He is still the only person over the age of 70 to have broken three hours over 42.2K.
For Croker, this is his first time on pace duty but he was already entertaining leading a group when he caught word that Canada Running Series was looking for a 2:54 pacer.
“They were looking for a 2:54 pacer. I’d been looking at running but I wasn’t in PB shape,” he says. “I really admire Ed Whitlock,” he adds.
Ed Whitlock’s 2:59 marathon at 72, the year before he ran 2:54
The Torontonian has run eight marathons to date with one being on the course in Toronto. He has also done the city’s half-marathon several times and says the scenic course along the shores of Lake Ontario and the supportive crowd make the race stand out. “I love the finish at Bay Street,” he says. “The support is incredible.”
The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon goes off Oct. 22.