To do so, they looked at the top 10 runners in both the male and female categories between the ages of 18 and 75. The received wisdom had been that performance in the marathon decreases after 30 years old, following a straight line downward.
However, the study showed something slightly different. While performance does decline after 30 years old, the line is a bell curve: it decreases only slightly at first, and then more dramatically after age 55.
Interestingly – and somewhat surprisingly – the research revealed that 18-year-olds have similar marathon times to 60-year-olds. The best marathon times, however, belonged to men and women in their late 20s.
For men, the golden age was 27; for women, it was 29. The runners’ marathon times were 4% slower for every year under this age in both men and women, and 2% slower for every year after this age in both men and women.
Other interesting findings from the study include the fact there was a 20% difference between male and female finishing times until the age of 55. At this point, the gap begins to widen, with women ending up about 40% slower than men at the age of 70.
It’s worth noting, of course, that this is only one study on one marathon. Those who come to running later in life, train hard and consistently, can still run their quickest marathons in their 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s. Just look at the example of Jo Schoonbroodt. The Belgium, 71, recently set a marathon world record for the 70+ category at the Maasmarathon of Visé. His time? 2:54:19. Your best years may yet be ahead.
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