70-Year-Old Sets World Age Group Record for Marathon
Ed Whitlock’s famous marathon mark, once considered untouchable, could be in trouble.
Gene Dykes, a 70-year-old retired computer programmer who discovered a talent for distance running late in life, set a world record for his age group in the marathon on December 15 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Dykes ran 2:54:23, breaking the previous record—2:54:48—set by the great Canadian runner Ed Whitlock (when he was 73) by 25 seconds. Whitlock ran his record, thought by many to be untouchable, in 2004.
Dykes, who averaged 6:39 pace for the 26.2 miles, told Runner’s World after the race that he wasn’t sure that his achievement had sunk in yet.
“My first thought was that this really frees up my schedule for next year,” he said. He can sign up for the races he enjoys—ultramarathons and hard marathons on courses that aren’t record-eligible—instead of chasing Whitlock’s mark.
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A frequent racer, Dykes has a knack for recovering quickly from difficult efforts. In October, he ran the Toronto Marathon in 2:55:17 to come within 30 seconds of the age-group record. Then just two weeks ago, he ran an ultra in San Francisco, the Vista Verde Skyline 50K (31 miles) with his daughter on December 1, and the California International Marathon on December 2. It’s a highly unusual racing schedule for an elite athlete.
“I’ve often said that my ability to recover is my super power,” he said in the days leading up to his Jacksonville attempt. He also said that he’s been tested twice for banned substances—once in competition after a masters track meet and once, about 18 months ago, testers showed up unannounced to his home.
In the early miles of the Jacksonville Marathon, Dykes said he felt strong, and he passed the 13.1-mile split 30 seconds ahead of Whitlock’s record pace. But with a couple miles to go, he started suffering cramps in his calf muscles, which slowed him over the final stretch. “Cramping is usually a sign that you’re running faster than you’re trained for,” he said.
But with the record in hand, he crossed the line smiling. It wasn’t because he ran faster than anyone else his age in history, but because he had set a goal and worked at it. The satisfaction, he said, was being “able to do what I set out to do.”
To celebrate his achievement, Dykes and friends who accompanied him to the race were going out for a nice dinner and seeking a fine cabernet sauvignon. Then he plans a few days of golf before heading back home to Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia.
“The golf,” he joked, “will be much less successful.”