What is the best age to run marathons? Researchers from the University of Madrid looked into this question by analyzing the results of the 45,000 runners who participated in the New York City Marathon in 2014.
To do this, they looked at the top 10 runners in the men’s and women’s categories between the ages of 18 and 75. The received wisdom was that marathon performance declines after age 30, following a straight downward line.
However, the study showed something slightly different. Although performance declines after age 30, the line is a bell curve: it declines only slightly at first, then more dramatically after age 55.
Interestingly – and somewhat surprisingly – research has found 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 twenties.
For men, the golden age was 27; for women, it was 29 years. Runners’ marathon times were 4% slower for each year below that age for both men and women, and 2% slower for each year after that age for both men and women.
So, on average, a 27-year-old man who runs a 3:30:00 marathon will run 3:34:12 next year. Meanwhile, a woman who runs a 3:00:00 marathon at age 29 will run 3:02:36 the following year.
Other interesting findings from the study include the fact that there was a 20% difference between men’s and women’s finishing times up to the age of 55. At this point, the gap begins to widen, with women finishing about 40% slower than men at age 70.
It should be noted, of course, that this is only a single marathon study. Those who start running later in life, train hard and regularly, can still run their fastest marathons in their 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s. Look at the example of Jo Schoonbroodt. The Belgian, 71, recently set a marathon world record for the 70+ category at the Maasmarathon in Visé. His time? 2:54:19. Your best years may still be ahead of you.
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