Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Friday, May 20, 2005

Older Runners

An interesting article about how much runners slow down as they age.

With the 3 hour marathon barrier now falling to 74 year olds it is a bit unclear exactly what the limits of performance by senior athletes is.

The article notes research showing a precipatous drop in performance after age 75:
The worst is yet to come, according to a University of Pittsburgh research team that examined performances at the 2001 national Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge, La., and among other record-holding senior athletes.

The study, yet to be published, found moderate decline in performance among athletes in their 50s and 60s, and then a steep decline starting at 75.

I think this is probably right, but there are a few issues with the study, at least as reported. First it compares drops in age group times, and shows a steep drop off between the 70-74 and 75-79 group. That might suggest the precipatous decline occurs earlier, as most of the best times will be among the youngest members of an age group. Second, it doesn't control for athletes dropping out. There are very few runners after age 70, probably because of injuries. If many of the best runners stop competing, the drop in the best times in a group may be much more than the decline in each individual runner. In other words, the 30th best runner in the 70-74 age group may be the 5th best runner in the 75+ group, just because so many better runners have stopped competing (died, injured, too sick, etc).

In any case these guys are quite an inspiration.

I also wonder if the recent move toward wide spread strength training will incresae performance in older athletes in the years to come.


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