The Aging Athlete (8) – Which Leaves First … Speed or Endurance?

We are all familiar with that perennial verbal chestnut … which came first, the chicken or the egg?

In track terms, for most of us, that translates into “As I age, which do I lose first … my speed or my endurance?”

We know, of course, that both decline over time. But do they exit with the same timing? And at the same rate? A running friend of mine speculated that we lose our speed first. After all, most of us can think of elites in the distance events (particularly the Marathon) who continued well best their prime. But sprinters are harder to identify. There are a few. Justin Gatlin, Kim Collins, Dwaine Chambers, Linford Christie come to mind. And Merlene Ottey for the Women. But based upon my own experience, I wasn’t so sure.

To try and come up with some answers, let’s see what the data show. Let’s start first with the Roosters … Men, speed vs endurance as we age.

For this bit of analytical work, I have taken average Men’s “best” performances from mastersrankings.com from 2013-2016 in the 100m (to represent “speed”), and the 5000m (to represent “endurance”).

(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.)

To try and derive some answers, here is what I have done. I have taken the average 100m “best” time for M35 and used that as a “base”. Then I have indexed each age-group’s average time to M35. This gives us the % slower at each age-group than we were when we were M35s (on average). I did the same with the 5000m. See the chart graphing the trend.

Click M_Ch_Egg to blow the chart up to full size.

What the chart shows is that in the early years Men’s performance decline per 5-years is extremely similar, speed vs endurance. Until we hit M55. At that point,things begin to get clearer. The race is over for endurance! From there on, we seem to lose more endurance than speed, and that decline versus speed accelerates particularly so as we hit M70. By M75, while we have “lost” 39% of our speed, our endurance is down by over 57%.

What about the elites? Is it the same for them, too?

The table below gives us some answers. I’ve also done the same analysis for the World Records. Here I should note, the M35 WRs are exceptional … probably even more than the “usual” outliers. The M35 100m WR is Justin Gatlin’s 9.92 set at the IAFF World Championships in 2017 (when Justin beat Usain Bolt). The M35 5000m WR is Bernard Legat’s 12:53.60 set at a Diamond League meet in Monaco in 2011, when he finished inches behind Mo Farah and set an American record. Comparing all later age-groups against these outstanding performances is a trifle “iffy” … but then, of course, that is essentially what age grading does. But the data shows that the “elites” … the World Record, the 90th* percentile (the top 10% of Masters in the World), and the 75th* percentile (top 25% of Masters) experience a greater decline in endurance over speed beginning at M45- M50 and growing in discrepancy from there on.

Age-GroupW-R 100M DeclineW-R 5000m Decline90th PC 100m Decline90th PC 5000m Decline75th PC 100m Decline75th PC 5000m Decline Avg (50th PC) 100m DeclineAvg (50th PC) 5000m Decline
M400.10%
1.70%
3.54%
3.87%
3.19%
2.62%
2.73%

1.37%

M458.06%
11.63%
6.19%
7.22%
5.46%
6.07%
4.78%
4.91%

M509.68%
15.42%
9.20%
11.26%
8.56%
10.06%
7.98%
8.86%
M5513.91%
20.18%
12.48%
14.99%
12.34%
14.83%
12.29%
14.61%
M6017.94%
25.72%
15.31%
19.81%
16.54%
21.06%
17.74%
22.22%
M6524.09%
29.11%
16.55%
26.61%
20.91%
28.35%
25.67%
29.96%
M7028.73%
41.61%
26.28%
34.30%
27.96%
37.47%
29.53%
40.46%
M7535.99%
48.27%
33.01%
39.41%
36.19%
48.80%
39.43%
57.63%
M8044.66%
50.26%
42.83%
51.84%
48.53%
64.82%
54.49%
71.76%
M8552.02%
86.66%
54.87%
n/a63.06%
n/a71.27%
112.61%

The answer then? It’s simple. For the average man and even the elites, we lose more endurance first. And proportionately more later too.

In the next post we will examine Women’s speed versus their endurance.

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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 (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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The Aging Athlete (2) – 100m

How do Sprinters age? When does the aging effect on our speed really begin to increase its decline? Is the timing different women vs men? It’s probably neither consistent nor smooth. I’ve often heard it said that we, on average, lose 1% a year. Is this speed? Or endurance? Or both? I don’t know, but let’s see what the data appears to say.

I’m going to start with the 100m, which should be a good reflection of how “speed” declines with age.  I am using the duncanSCORE data base which contains 8,626 Women’s 100m entries up to and including W75 and 21,540 Men’s 100m performances (from mastersrankings.com for the years 2013-2016) used to calculate our scores and percentiles (if you are interested, you can get the details of the data processing here). Beyond W75  and M85 the numbers of performances are too sparse to use in our analysis.

The above graph may be a bit small to view properly. Here it is in full size Average    

What we see are some differences Women (in green) vs Men (in blue). Both genders decline in performance (vs the previous age group) generally about the same rate until “55”. This is shown in the tabular section under the graph lines and is labeled “% to Prev” (the percentage decline vs the previous age-group).   At that stage Women slow down 6.6% vs W50s, while M55s are averagely 3.99% slower than M50s.

The Men’s slowdown continues to accelerate (reaching 6.74% slower than the previous age group at M65), but then a sort of miracle happens! See where the blue line flattens a bit? The Men’s rate of decline (3.07%) is less then half the previous, but then accelerates much faster at M75 onward.

Women get their “mini miracle” to happen at W65. There the speed decline does indeed decline (to 4.74% from 6.29%), From there as you can see in the graph, the line begins its 45 degree upward slope. The Men’s roughly 45 degree slope commences at M75.

That’s it in a nutshell. I hope I haven’t bored you to tears, because the next posting will look at the Women’s 100m in more detail.

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If you are new here and this is all a little confusing and really don’t get what I’m talking about, please have a quick read that will explain the concepts behind the duncanSCORE

Delving Into The Aging Athlete (1)

We all age. That is if we are lucky enough to live so long. And supposedly, we all age at different rates. Probably that is true, but the data showing that is surprisingly light. Tracking aging is particularly important (and interesting!) for Masters athletes.

I am hoping to be able to provide some basic information on how we age as track and field athletes. Unfortunately, what we won’t be able to quantify is the slowdown by individual year ie how much is a 49 year old slower (on average) than a 48 year old. One day I hope enough data will be available for that.

And how does it differ Men versus Women? Or maybe it doesn’t? We will definitely look into that.

And perhaps in the not too distant future, we can look at how top performers tend to do over advancing years versus the average Master. I’m very interested in that.

We will start with the 100m, men and women, using 4 years of mastersrankings.com data (2013-2016). Then we will move on to some other events.

But first 100m. Stay tuned.

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