The Aging Athlete (7) – Women’s 1500m

Photo courtesy Doug Shaggy Smith

In the previous post we reviewed the data on the Men’s 1500m. Let’s do the same with Women. (For those who are new to this blog and site, and/or would like a “refresher/reminder” click here to see where the data comes from and how it is calculated.)

Like the Men’s 1500m (with Bernard Legat holding the M35 and M40 WRs), the Women’s early (W35-W45) world records are held by former Olympic/IAAF World Championships medalists (Maricica Puica from Romania W35 [1985] and Yekatarina Podkopayeva from the former Soviet Union, W40 and W45, [from 1994 and 1998.] These records are very much out of line with the age-groups that follow.

This  chart tracks the Women’s 1500m WR (in green) against the average best time for 1500m runners (in blue) as they age. Times have been converted to seconds.

(Blow the chart up to full size by clicking here Womens1500m  As you can see, the WR is fairly flat from W35-W45, but takes a significant uptick at W50. Now look at the pink bars toward the bottom of the chart. They track the percentage slower the average 1500m Woman is than the WR. The W35-W45 age-groups have an astounding 43%-45% difference. But at W50, the difference seems to come back to reality … a 34% difference, which continues to W55, and then further grows through the advancing age groups.

How do the various percentile* groups compare over time with the World Record? Like we did with the Men’s 1500m, we have broken out the 90th percentile (ie the fastest 10% of the world’s 1500m runners in each age-group) and tracked how they fare against the World record. After we get by the W35-W45 ages, the top 10% of runners’ performances  seem to decline at similar rates to the WR, since their racing bests tend to be a fairly consistent 10% – 12% slower than the WR (until W75 where it dips). We’ve done the same with the 75th percentile (the top 25% of 1500m Women racers), and this group, too, generally hold their “gap” with the WR until about W70.

So let’s summarize how those who run the 1500m age. The table below tells you, on average, what you can expect the performance decline will be in your 1500m per year.

Women's 1500m Trends and Average Annual Decline in Performance

Age-GroupWorld RecordAvg WR Decline in Performance/YearAvg 90th PC Decline in Performance/YearAvg 75th PC Decline in Performance/YearAvg Women's 1500 (50th PC) Decline in Performance/Year
W353:57.73

n/an/an/an/a
W403:59.78

0.17%

0.82%

0.60%

0.39%

W454:05.44

0.47%

0.73%

0.71%

0.70%

W504:36.79
2.55%

0.41%
0.57%

0.73%

W554:51.26

1.05%

0.63%

0.85%

1.05%

W605:06.65
1.06%

1.24%

1.54%

1.81%

W655:25.65

1.24%

0.96%

1.12%

1.27%

W705:46.90

1.31%

1.71%
2.06%

2.40%

W756:34.22

2.73%

1.66%

2.40%

3.00%

W806:52.77

0.94%

2.62%
2.26%

1.97%

W858:50.42

5.70%

n/a
n/an/a

Let’s discount what the WR declines look like. For the 90th, 75th, and 50th (the overall Women’s average), the annual performance declines are very similar ( 1/2% – 3/4% per year) until W50. At that point, the data says,the faster you are, the less (percentage-wise) you will decline. Right through all the age-groups from then on, the 90th percentile is a little less than the 75th, which is a bit less than the 50th.

The bottom line? As simplistic as it sounds, and hopefully without sounding condescending, get as fast as you can as early as you can … because you know what? You will likely keep it longer.

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  • * It is important to realize that when I refer to “90th and 75th percentiles” these are statistical reference points and do not necessarily refer to actual performances or averages of actual performances.

The Aging Athlete (6) – Men’s 1500m

Photo Courtesy Doug Shaggy Smith

Based upon the previous post, we have learned that 1500m Male runners’ performance after age 35, on average, tends to decline about 1/2% per year until M50. Then the erosion in time increases to about 1% annually until age 60. From there it jumps to over 1% a year.

Comparing the “average” male’s declining times versus the declines seen in the World Record (which form the basis of the age-grading curve) is a bit of a two-step process. Bernard Legat holds the the WRs for M35 (3:32.51 at age 36) and M40 (3:41.87 at age 40), followed by the UK’s Anthony Whiteman (M45), and David Heath (M50) and Australia’s Keith Bateman (M55) and the US’s Nolan Shaheed (M60).

It’s interesting to track the “gap” between Mr. Average and the WR. All through the M30s, M40s, and M50s, the “gap” (as measured by the percent the average is slower than the WR) is a pretty consistent 33%. From M60 on the average man slows down at an increasing rate vs the Legats of the world so that by age 85 we are 63% slower. You can see this in the chart below.

Click    Mens1500m                          to blow it up to full size and look at the pinkish bars on the bottom of the chart. They track in percentage terms how much slower the average is than the WR.

But let’s dig a bit deeper. Let’s look at the 90th percentile*. These are the top 10% of 1500m runners in the world in their age group. The 90th percentile for M55 1500 is about 4:37.65. How well does the 90th percentile of 1500m runners (essentially those who could possibly medal at an Outdoor World Championship … see here how I arrived at that conclusion) fare? Well blow up that chart again.    Mens1500m

Below the pink bars tracking Mr. Average’s greater times than the WR you will see a line called “90th PC Diff (%)” … the percentage slower than the WR of the 90th percentile runner across the age-groups. Note how consistent it is right up to M85 … 11%-14% slower right through time. The top 10% runners really are different! Right through until their mid 80s they hold their relative performance versus the absolute best in the world.

So if the 90th percentile pretty well tracks the WR decline in performance, where does the “royal jelly” in endurance begin to slip? On the chart, just below the 90th percentile you can find the 75th percentile, which is about 5:25.59 for M60. The 75th percentile is about what it takes to qualify for a World Championship final in the 1500. For the 75th percentile, the difference vs the world record also tracks pretty darn consistently until M60. From there the percentage behind the WR increases by 2 points or so every age group. The royal jelly is seeping out. It is somewhere around here at M60 that tracking the WR begins to no longer truly reflect “everyman’s” changing performance in an endurance event through time.

Where does that leave us? I suggest you find out exactly where YOU are. What percentile is your 1500m? To find out just just click below, select your age-group from the drop down menu, select event (e.g. 1500m), and then enter your time in minutes, seconds, and hundredths of seconds. Then click the green “Ok … Done … Go” and see your standing.

Track DE

Once you know your percentile, peruse the following table. It gives the average ANNUAL decline in performance over time for the 90th percentile, the 75th, and the 50th (the average man). Your standing is probably close to one of those, so you should be able to roughly establish what kind of decline in your 1500m time you can expect over the next few years. (One proviso. I suspect that you will decline less in the first year or two of an age group, and then probably a greater percentage loss as you get to the latter years of the age-group.) After age 60 you probably should not be upset if your age grade no longer is holding with previous years. You likely are maintaining your standing among your non-elite peers.

Men's 1500m Trends and Average Annual Decline in Performance

Age-GroupWorld RecordAvg WR Decline in Performance/YearAvg 90th PC Decline in Performance/YearAvg 75th PC Decline in Performance/YearAvg Male 1500 (50th PC) Decline in Performance/Year
M353:32.51
n/an/an/an/a
M403:41.87
0.88%
1.18%
0.81%
0.47%
M453:50.55
0.78%
0.72%
0.63%
0.54%
M503:58.26
0.67%
0.60%
0.80%
0.99%
M554:12.35
1.18%
0.63%
0.88%
1.12%
M604:24.00
0.92%
1.35%
1.32%
1.30%
M654:39.87
1.20%
1.16%
1.50%
1.80%
M704:52.95
0.93%
1.31%
1.50%
1.67%
M755:22.40
2.01%
1.46%
1.82%
2.13%
M805:47.35
1.55%
1.53%
2.35%
3.11%
M856:27.30
2.30%
4.11%
3.74%
3.40%

Good luck!

Next up more information on Women’s 1500m.

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  • * It is important to realize that when I refer to “90th and 75th percentiles” these are statistical reference points and do not necessarily refer to actual performances or averages of actual performances.

The Aging Athlete (5) ENDURANCE – 1500M

Photo courtesy of Rob Jerome

It’s time now to see what aging does to our ability to continue on at an above “normal” pace … our endurance. And the 1500m (the “metric mile”) is as good a place as any to start that analysis.

While the 1500m certainly packs a speed element into it, by far the bigger slice of success revolves around the endurance component. Look how John Walker (never the quickest thoroughbred on the course) uses his superb endurance to win the 1500m in the Montreal Olympics.

That’s all fine and good! But once we have endurance, how long do we hold on to it? And to what extent? How fast does it slip away?

First, let’s look at the trend of the 1500m as we age. This chart shows the trend of the AVERAGE “best performance” times from mastersrankings.com (2013-2016). [For new readers to this blog and the background behind this site, you can go here to read and understand how the statistics I use are pulled together.] The chart compares Men’s and Women’s 1500m averages over time. Get a blown up look at the chart by clicking here.

MW 1500m

All times are in seconds.

You will probably note, both the Men’s and Women’s curves are quite flat in the beginning. For Men, the average ANNUAL decline is somewhere around 1/2% (see the table below)  until M45 .(Note the “annual” decline I refer to is simply the arithmetic average of the loss of performance from the previous age-group divided by 5. It’s not foolish to assume the majority of that decline is in the final 2 years of the age-group, while the first 2-3 years’ performance hit is likely to be much less pronounced.)  At M50 the yearly decline doubles to 1%+ up to M60, then edges upward until it reaches over 2% at M75, then over 3% annually thereafter.

.For Women 1500m runners, the average ANNUAL slowdown begins very much like the Men. Performance slips 1/2%-3/4% every year until it hits 1% at W55. Then the decline reaches 1.8% (W60), eases back smartly at W65 (1.25+%), and then starts to increase again thereafter You can see all the details in the table below..

Age-GroupMen's Avg 1500mM Avg Decline per YearWomen's Avg 1500mW Avg Decline per Year
M-W 354:48.68
n/a5:40.28
n/a
M-W 404:55.40
0.47%
5:46.87
0.39%
M-W 455:03.32
0.54%
5:58.94
0.70%
M-W 505:18.34
0.99%
6:12.08
0.73%
M-W 555:36.20
1.12%
6:31.57
1.05%
M-W 605:58.07
1.30%
7:07.06
1.81%
M-W 656:30.39
1.80%
7:34.08
1.27%
M-W 707:03.01
1.67%
8:28.48
2.40%
M-W 757:47.97
2.13%
9:44.77
3.00%
M-W 809:00.69
3.11%
10:42.29
1.97%
M 8510:32.50
3.40%
n/an/a

To sum up on our ability to hold our endurance … we lose 1/2%-1% per year until we hit age 55. Then the next 10 years (Men to M70) our performance will decline somewhere between 1.3% and 1.8% annually. In our 70s the performance decline gets a little faster … 2%-3% per year.

You know what? That’s really not too bad at all!

Next we will go into more detail on the Men’s 1500m

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The Aging Athlete (4) – Men’s 100m

Photo courtesy Dan Slovitt

The previous posting analyzed the available statistics on Masters Women’s 100m and tried to make some sense of all the numbers. Let’s do the same with the Men’s 100m and follow where the numbers lead.

We have charted the average time for Men’s 100m by age group (in blue) versus the existing World Record (in red) for each age-group (note the M90 average is blank because the number of performances is fairly low from our reporting years 2013-2016). See full size Mens100m

One thing to note is the early Men’s WRs (M35 and M40) which are 9.92 and 9.93, held by 2 incredible Olympians (Justin Gatlin and Kim Collins). Secondly, except for the big increase between M40-M45 in the WR (and that is due to the incredibly small increase of 0.01 second in the WR for M40 by Kim Collins), the upward slope (ie the decline in performance) is gentler for the WR line than it is for the “average” male sprinter. But both lines slope rather gently (certainly more gently than Women’s) until M80 in the average line, and M90 for the WR.

As the table below shows, the average ANNUAL decline in 100m performance is very similar if you look at the WR and at the average as I have calculated from mastersrankings.com. Close, but generally we slow down a little bit more for the “average” than the WR might indicate. That is until M75 when the difference becomes much more pronounced (and perhaps this is partially due to the decreasing participation rate in the older age-groups)

Typically your performance will erode around 1/2% per year until M50, 3/4%-1% or so annually until M70, and then  1 1/2-2% a year until you hit 85.

Age-GroupWorld RecordWR Avg Annual DeclineMen's Avg 100m TimeAvg Annual Decline
M359.92n/a
12.58n/a
M409.930.02%
12.930.55%
M4510.721.59%
13.180.40%
M5010.880.30%13.590.61%
M5511.300.77%
14.130.80%
M6011.700.71%
14.820.97%
M6512.311.04%
15.811.35%
M7012.770.75%
16.300.61%
M7513.491.13%
17.551.53%
M8014.351.28%
19.442.16%
M8515.081.02%
21.552.17%
M9017.533.25%
n/an/a

So as I tried to point out in the Women’s case, even though your training is good and consistent, as you move into a different age-group, your age-grading may slowly get worse, and you may not understand why.

Here’s the answer. Not to worry. You’re typical!

I plan to investigate this with more cuts at the various percentiles to see where the changes begin to occur between “elite” and average. I’m very curious about this.

But my next project is to look at the decline over time in endurance. So next up will be the 1500.

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