The negligible effect of age on performance

This is from “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.

We monitored the results of the 2004 New York City Marathon and compared finishing times by age. What we found is that starting at age nineteen, runners get faster every year until they hit their peak at twenty-seven. After twenty seven, they start to decline.

So here’s the question — how old are you when you’re back to running the same speed you did at nineteen?

The answer: 64!

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Hermit, long distance hiker, primitive cabin dweller, seeker.

7 thoughts on “The negligible effect of age on performance”

  1. I hate to quibble over statistics, especially since I haven’t actually read the book, but I think those findings are misleadingly worded. Since this is a cross sectional study (everyone of all ages in 2004) rather than a longitudinal study (following a set of athletes from when they are 19 to when they are 64) it doesn’t really tell us that someone will tend to run marathons the same speed when they are 19 and 64. What it tells us is that 64 year olds who are running the NYC Marathon (not a random sample of people generally or even distance runners specifically) tend to run about as fast as 19 year olds who are running the NYC Marathon. There may well be something specific about the 19 year olds who qualify or the 64 year olds who qualify that is suggesting that relationship erroneously.

    TLDR – To be nitpicky, the question should really be “How old can you be before you shouldn’t try to keep pace with a 19 year old in the 2004 NYC Marathon? 64!”

    Still an amazing finding, and it makes quite a case for long distance running (or hiking probably) being a good lifelong sport. I just know too much about statistics for my own good.

  2. Although an endurance(tri, duos, halfs, cyclocross, half irons, century rides…) athlete all my life, I ran my first marathon in 2011 at the fine age of 55. Last year, one month prior to my 500+ PCT section hike, I ran my second marathon. I beat my first time by 25 minutes and finished under 4 hours(couldn’t hold the 3:40:00 pace-argh!).You are all correct with your comments on endurance athleteshandling the trails. However, I am humbled by the thrus I meet and they indicate that their only training was on the PCT. They are typically in their 20’s. Wow! to be young again!!! HYOH
    I plan on training and competing in at least one marathon prior to my future section hikes. I also run trail hills with a 25# pack and eat and sleep for 30 days prior to the hike.

    For what its worth.

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