Defy Your Age And Run Strong For Life

New research shows that you may prevent age-related decline in your race times with consistency and motivation.


  • Runners who can finish a marathon in under three hours showed reduced age-related decline in performance, according to a new study.

  • However, no matter what your running level is, researchers believe that keeping your training volume and intensity strong could limit age-related decline in performance to less than 10 percent per decade.

No matter how long you’ve been running and how many kays you log each week, it’s not uncommon to see your race times start to slow as you age. However, runners who can finish a marathon in under three hours showed reduced age-related decline in performance, according to a new study in Frontiers in Physiology.

The question on all of our minds: Do these findings apply to those of us who aren’t lining up in at the front of the field?

Researchers analysed the marathon performances of 40 runners who have hit that sub-3 mark in five consecutive decades. The group consisted of 39 men and one woman, 1984 Olympic gold medal winner Joan Benoit Samuelson.

The researchers concluded that, with consistent training and racing regimens, it is possible to limit significant performance drops, at least until age 60. And although Samuelson was the only woman in the study—she’s the only woman to have achieved this mark, after all—Lepers said there’s no reason the results should not be true for female runners in general.

“The takeaway message could be that it is possible to limit the age-related decline in performance to less than 6 percent per decade, at least between 35 to 60 years old, if you keep training hard and stay motivated for that,” study co-author Romuald Lepers, a professor at the Université de Bourgogne-Franche Comté in France, told Runner’s World.

No one can perform at a top level without the motivation to train and race hard.

While the researchers still need to learn more about the running economy, specific training regimens, and recovery time of these top runners that make their performance so unique, Lepers believes their motivation is at the heart of their achievements.

In the end, it all comes down to motivation. No one can perform at a top level without the motivation to train and race hard. They might be chasing personal records, or maybe world records. But they need very high motivation,” he told Podium Runner.

In terms of whether the results might also hold for runners with slower race times—say, a sub-4 marathon—Lepers said too many people are in that category to perform a full study. However, he would expect that whatever level you might be at as a runner, keeping your training volume and intensity strong could limit age-related decline in performance to less than 10 percent per decade.

Another important adjustment is your mindset, according to Michelle Gilpin, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Evolution Healthcare & Fitness. She told Runner’s World that she’s seen many athletes in their 40s and 50s who express frustration at not being able to train like they did a decade or two before.

“They used to be able to go for a 32km run on a Saturday, for example, even though they hadn’t run in a few weeks, but now that’s not the case,” she said. “That’s because as you age, the body’s tissues start to lose elasticity, and you don’t rebuild collagen as quickly as before. That makes repair and recovery slower.”

Slower, but not impossible. The muscle does rebuild, she added, but it takes a new perspective and training regimen than before. To keep your running intensity strong in order to maintain your performance as you age, Gilpin suggests adding sprint workouts into your training routine about once a week. She also recommends more cross-training—such as yoga, swimming, or biking—to move in different ways and build strength.

“You won’t build new muscle fibre [by just running],” she said. “You have to balance out by trying new things. ”

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