Next week I’m doing a series of talks on training for endurance sport in Bangkok. One of the topics I’ll cover is the aging athlete. The following is an excerpt from that talk.
We’re obviously all getting older and that has implications for performance and for training. Around age 30 endurance athletes seem to reach a peak in performance. After that there is a slow decline year after year. At first it is so slight that the athlete may not even notice or may mark it up to poor training or bad luck. But by the early 40s it is generally apparent to most that performance is going the wrong direction. And the trend continues after that.
The accompanying chart of “World Marathon Records” (click to enlarge) illustrates what has happened to the best marathon times in the world by age group (this chart is a couple of years old now so please forgive me if I've missed a new record). Realize that the runners who set these records are the cream of the crop. They are undoubtedly blessed with remarkable genetics and have most likely trained very well in order to produce their best-ever-in-the-world times. Notice the steady increase in marathon race times until about age 70 when the change is rather abrupt. I’ve seen this same trend in age-group records for cycling and swimming also.
Some of this dramatic change around age 70 may be due to societal effects. The leading edge of the “baby boom” generation is just now reaching their mid-60s. In the early 1970s when that generation was just in their late 20s the running and fitness boom began. Many from that group are those who are now breaking age records in all sports. The generation that came just before the baby boomers (did they have a name or is that something relatively new?) didn’t have the same exposure to sport and fitness. The Great Depression and WWII probably had a lot to do with shaping that generation’s mores and lifestyle. My point here is that we may soon see the world records in all sports for the 70-year-old category drop as the next generation “ages up.”
In my next post I’ll discuss what you can do to slow the decline in performance as you get older.