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.

[table id=7 /]

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.

2 thoughts on “The Aging Athlete (7) – Women’s 1500m

  1. Very helpful. Would be useful to know if a same pattern emerges for the longer endurance events such as 10k and marathon. As a 1980 Olympic 50km racewalker, now 70 and a masters world champion and record holder, my experience seems to prove the conclusion, despite the fact I took a 25 year break. However, there have been many instances of past internationals returning as older masters and not get the results you might have expected. My take on that is that you have still got to train bl…. hard, nothing comes for free!

    • Hi Ian;
      Thank you for your feedback. Unfortunately I have no data on Road Races. The best I can do is to analyze the data I have on Outdoors 3000m, 5000m, and 10000m. I hope to look at those events, but probably not for a month or so. Data on RW will come too … haven’t secured it yet but have not forgotten the Race Walkers

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