In 2014, in an attempt to nail down the golden age for marathon racing, Spanish researchers analyzed the New York Marathon finishing times of over 45,000 athletes.
“This information included the top ten runners in both the male and female categories between the ages of 18 and 75,” Juan Del Coso Garrigós, scientist from Madrid University and main author of the study, explained.
Before this study, it was thought that after 30-years-old, athletic performance in the marathon began to steadily decline, following a straight line downward. This turns out to be about half right. Performance does decrease, but the line is a bell curve, first decreasing slightly with time after peak performance age, and then more dramatically after age 55. The parabolic shape of the graph reveals that 18-year-old marathoners have similar times to 60-year-old athletes, with the apex of the bell curve reflecting the optimum racing age for marathoners.
The Golden Age
According to the Madrid study, runners saw fastest times at 27 years old for men, and 29 years old for women. Before this age, athletes’ marathon times were 4 percent slower for every year under this age in both men and women. Afterwards, athletes increased their race times at a rate of 2 percent per year in both genders.
Battle of the Sexes
There was a 20 percent difference between male and female finishing times until the age of 55. After this age, the gap begins to steadily widen, peaking with women about 40 percent slower than men at the age of 70.
With this, as with any study, there is always missed information and outliers. The data used was from only one of hundreds of marathons. It’s impossible to collect all of human ability into graph form. Each athlete and their ability is unique. Some folks are still getting PR’s well into their 70’s.
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