The myth of losing your speed

The autumn marathons are upon us and first we’ve seen Eliud Kipchoge set a world record time in Berlin and then Keninisa Bekele placing 5th in London in under 2hr06. What makes these runs so impressive is Kipchoge turns 38 next month and Bekele is already 40. These are not the sort of times or placings you expect men approaching their midlife crisis to achieve.

Kenenisa Bekele readies himself for the off …

Both, of course have a long history as elite runners with both of them winning gold medals at the 2003 World Championship in Paris. Kipchoge won the 5,000m; Bekele the 10,000m. Since then Kipchoge has become the world’s premier marathoner and Bekele set a world record in the 5,000m. In 2019 he ran the second fastest marathon in history behind Kipchoge.

Both runners are naturally better suited to distance running than the rest of us and at around 3:50 their mile times are some way down on what the best can achieve but it doesn’t make them slow compared to the rest of us. Less than 2,000 men have managed a sub-4 minute mile and basic speed is the foundation of Kipchoge and Bekele’s distance running success.

Two marathon world record holders (Kipchoge and Radcliffe) watch near London’s finish lline

The pace of their recent marathons comes in at 4:36/mile (or 2:52/km) for Kipchoge and 4:48/mile (2:59/km) for Bekele. Few of the runners I meet can even run 400m in a time under 1:12, let alone a mile.

This harks back to a point I often make about how people returning or taking up running at forty say they’re getting old and can’t expect to be as fast as they were when they were young. Technically they’re right, but realistically they’re just making excuses in case they aren’t.

There is no reason why a decently trained man or woman in their forties can’t be near the front of local races, winning their age category and running their best times. One of my good friends ran his first sub-3 marathon (2hr58) at age 38 then spent his forties training properly with a club and was running 2hr34 as he was about to hit fifty. Improvement is easily possible for almost all the runners I meet.

For the most part staying fast as you age is simply about dedication and getting the training right. If you’d like me to help you improve as a runner then do not hesitate to contact me.

Staying healthy

I was in my early twenties when I made, what I now realise was, a very insightful observation. Where I worked the majority of people were older than me. (That’s not the insight). Of course when you’re young you have no judgement of how old other people are. Thirty seems wise and mature when you’re twenty and anyone over forty is ancient like your parents!

Now while I didn’t go around asking people their age you get a feel based on their seniority. There were the people who did the actual work, like myself, and we were all under thirty. The people who were middle management were usually in their thirties and the senior managers were over forty. Of course there were some workers in their forties who only made it to supervisor or team leader level or not even that far.

I’d get an idea of their age based on their family circumstances or how long they’d been working and the stories they told about when they were growing up. Whether it was supporting a football team that had success in the Sixties, their drinking stories from the Seventies or being single in the Eighties.

Despite this inability to accurately age people, what I noticed about the men who were under forty was they generally looked similar to people in their twenties. Yet the men who were over forty-five were overweight, grey or bald and wearing spectacles. Something happened to men between the age of forty and forty-five and it wasn’t flattering. This was the big insight!

This forty to forty-five change isn’t quite as prevalent today as it was thirty years ago. There’s certainly some artificial manipulation going on with hair dye, shaving the head completely bald rather than a combover and eye surgery or contact lenses instead of spectacles. But generally people look after themselves a little better and fifty has become the new forty! There are even people looking amazing in their sixties – think Tom Cruise.

I decided then I didn’t want this rapid ageing disaster to befall me and I would stay fit and healthy as best I could. The prevailing wisdom was that you can’t stop the ageing process but I’ve never been one for believing that and you did occasionally see people who looked much better than their years.

As I exited my thirties I found the occasional grey hair and a very gradually receding hairline, but it wasn’t until I turned forty-five that I saw a photo where my hair looked notably greyer. Even then I looked good for my age yet my reaction was to start learning what I could do to slow the decline. I bought a copy of Joe Friel’s “Fast After 50” as I wanted a headstart on what I should be doing when I hit them. That’s all summed up in my “The Ageing Runner” series of posts.

I’ve continued to decline a little more over the past five years. My eyesight is declining but I’m holding off on the specs and have tried various exercises to strengthen them. My hair is beginning to grey up on top where before it was just the temples. I still have a decent head of hair but my male pattern baldness is following the same trend as my uncle who is now seventy-two and looks exactly like I recall my grandad looking.

Now at fifty, I’m thinking ahead again. I don’t want to be one of those people who reaches their eighties and stoops, shuffles, struggles to get up and downstairs and has a variety of illnesses that keep flaring up. I’ve seen my parents, relatives and neighbours hitting this age and it’s saddening to see the decline kick in more strongly because they haven’t done any exercise beyond the housework, gardening and walking around town.

It doesn’t have to be the end, I keep telling them they could build more fitness. Over the past few years the BBC has aired programmes taking groups of sedentary seventy-somethings and improving their health and fitness by having them doing appropriate weightlifting and fitness exercises. This is good news for those who’ve left it until later but it’s much harder to build up when you’re faced with a big reclamation project rather than an ongoing maintenance task. If you get too far overweight or unfit, you may struggle to be able to get an exercise programme started plus you’ll have lived your fifties and sixties with many of the effects of ill-health – aches, pains, getting out of breath on stairs, fatigued and possibly feeling unhappy when you look in the mirror.

It might seem strange to be thinking thirty years into the future but doing so gives you a chance to identify and build good habits and if you take a month off, it really isn’t going to cause too much decline. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for sedentary adults to put on 1-2 pounds of fat each year (and that’s a conservative amount for people who don’t exercise) which will leave them two to four stone heavier in thirty years’ time with all the problems that brings.

This is why I’ve been training for the 800m. I think it’s the best blend of aerobic exercise and speed you can do. To support it, I do press-ups, bicep curls and corework to keep my upper body toned and strong. The trick to slowing the ageing decline is to make sure you maximise using what you have got. The reason others get slow is they stop doing hard all-out exercise at all, get comfy and think going for a jog or walk is enough. It really isn’t.

This all began the better part of thirty years ago for me when I spotted the rapid decline between forty and forty-five. Reaching fifty, I’m pleased to consider myself about as fit and healthy as I can be at this age. It’s worth pointing that I haven’t been obsessive about this over that span. There have been periods where I didn’t exercise or ate badly but it was never too difficult to get back into shape because I was never too far away from my best!

The Ageing Runner – Part 5 The Facts

If you missed part 1 you can find it here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here.

There’s no doubt that some decline occurs as we age but, in the past, it was thought to be purely a genetic thing. To still be racing well beyond fifty, if not forty, was something only those who were blessed and lucky could do. This myth has lasted well into the 21st century and is only beginning to be broken down in recent years. Often it’s used as an excuse or rationalisation by runners who either don’t know how to train, can’t be bothered to train or simply fear not being up the front.

The reality is decline, as experienced in the past, was more often a circumstantial thing. The people who went running usually competed for clubs. They started when they were young, had a high level of commitment and/or natural talent and continued on for some years. As their lives took on family responsibilities, they often found themselves racing slower and beginning to turn to the longer distance events.

Even twenty years ago training knowledge was less sophisticated. Plans, advice and methods were simpler than today’s but also often consisted of runners exhorting each other to “run hard” and “train hard” if they wanted to be fast. That’s a surefire recipe to having creaky knees and injuries.

Players of other sports went through the same process and once reaching their forties, some genetic loss began to kick in and once-committed sportsmen (and women) would hang up their football boots or running vests for a quieter life.  As I grew up men and women in their fifties and sixties rarely looked as fit and healthy as many do today. Some of it is better preening but, there is often, also a better focus on staying fit through alternative means like cycling or going to the gym. Playing something like golf may keep you active but it won’t keep you fit because of the Primary Rule.

Primary Rule – Use it or lose it

The primary rule for the Aged Runner to remember is if you stop using it, you lose it. This is fundamentally the issue that causes most people to age poorly, put on weight, lose strength and stiffen up. They stop exercising as regularly or intensely as they once did. A sport like golf does little to push the muscles to their limitations, most of the time is spent walking which is easily achieved without too much extra exertion. Walking miles every day isn’t going to help you when your body is already efficient at it.

The more muscle your body has, the higher the “running costs” of living. Your body burns more calories simply by needing to keep that muscle alive. An athlete burns more calories sat on the sofa watching TV than the habitual couch potato who hasn’t toned their muscles up.

Many of the aches and pains older people suffer from are because the few muscles they do have are straining to do the simple tasks. A regime of getting stronger quickly gets rid of many minor aches and pains.

Your ageing body tempts you to stop doing difficult things and if you stop doing them, you decline quicker. Then it becomes a downward spiral as your body tempts you to do even less. You either “use it or lose it”.

Fit, healthy and running strong at fifty

Distance runners suffer a loss of top end speed because they rarely practice sprints or fast finishes. This is true of both young and old runners but becomes more noticeable with ageing. To access the faster speeds requires a dedicated programme of strides, hill sprints and short intervals to recruit and build the muscle. The occasional session is not enough to build up, it takes weeks of building session on session to maximise the gains.

Running is an activity which is very good at propelling the body forwards. While this keeps the lower body toned, what it doesn’t do is very much for the upper body (e.g. chest / shoulders / arms) unless you are a sprinter. The core muscles are worked if you have good running form. But with running being a straight ahead activity there’s also potential loss of strength for lateral movements (e.g. the types of movements that tennis, badminton or football players use regularly to sidestep or go left and right). These are all areas which will fall prey to the “use it or lose it” rule.

If your only sport is running, it is advisable to take up circuit, weight training or cross train to keep these other muscles active.

Secondary Rule – Recovery takes longer

The second rule for the Aged Runner is to understand that recovery takes longer.  When you are young and full of hormones, you can train hard at least three times per week and recover from it. Sometimes more.

In middle and older age, you have to be sure the body has recovered enough before taking on the next workout. You’ll know you’re not getting enough recovery if you start feeling tired or getting aches or tightness setting in. The consequence of slower recovery is older runners cannot do as many workouts in a three month training period as younger ones. So the older runners have less speed or endurance when it comes to race day.

Another consequence of slower recovery is that injuries take longer to repair. If forced to take a break it can mean the athlete is no longer “using it” so potentially they are “losing it”. Once healthy, the temptation becomes to cram in training to try and rebuild quickly which is more likely to prolong the injury cycle. With a spiralling level of fitness, it’s easy to believe it’s purely an age-dictated decline rather than one which is in large part caused by impatience and bad habits.

Staying fast

Some decline is inevitable but it will be very gradual if you maintain good training habits. We saw in the Ageing Sprinter, there are men like Steve Peters or Charles Allie who at seventy years old are capable of running times that runners half their age do not achieve. The basis of all running events is strength which produces high cadences and long stride length which combine to produce high speeds. The people who are fastest over the shortest distances tend to be the fastest over longer distances.

  • Good training becomes about ensuring you do regular bouts of high intensity work like strides, hill sprints or short intervals to keep the fast-twitch muscle recruited. Having this muscle toned and active will also keep the fat off.
  • Ageing requires you to be patient and listen to your body, to understand how long it takes to recover. It is better to do one or two key workouts each week from a well-rested state than to do them badly in an under-recovered state.

You can’t be in denial about ageing taking some toll but, equally, simply throwing up your hands and accepting a big decline as inevitable is a mistake. Other people will be all too quick to tell you it’s age and encourage you to accept it but hopefully you now know better. If you’re to continue being fit, healthy and fast into older age, you have to find a realistic, common sense position somewhere between these extremes.

For the runners who’ve been to the pinnacle of the sport, of course the only direction is down. But for many runners who never achieved their potential at a younger age there is no reason to discount the possibility of improving as they get older. Even if they don’t improve, any decline can be minimised to allow them to keep running well into their seventies and beyond.

The Ageing Runner – Part 4 Long distance

If you missed part 1 you can find it here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here.

When we started Poole parkrun the attendance was well below two hundred runners each week which made it easy to get to know everybody. As the London Marathon rolled around in the April, I was excited to follow runners like Liz Yelling, who was aiming at an Olympic place, and Steve Way, who’d run three consecutive 2hr19s. But it wasn’t just the elites who caught my interest, I’d got to know runners of all abilities and using the online tracking kept an eye on a variety of people who’d be running from over four hours through to those attempting to run sub-3.

One of the success stories was Dave Cartwright, who ran a sub-2hr55 marathon on his way to being the fastest man in the 60-64 age group that day. Footage of him crossing the finish line was doubly amusing as he was shown on BBC TV patting model Nell McAndrew on the shoulder who, despite being over twenty years younger, had finished only just ahead of him. Now in his seventies, Dave is still running round Poole parkrun in under twenty-two minutes and completing Blackmore Vale half marathon in under 1hr40. These times are fantastic to most people and yet, they’re not close to the times of the best in his age group as we shall see.

Recently two V55s, Andrew Ridley and Duncan Cooper came 8th and 9th in a field of over seven hundred runners. Their times were 16:27 and 16:35 respectively. Andrew’s age-graded time equates to 95% but his efforts also give insight into how slow decline can be. He set his Poole parkrun PB of 16:15 having only just turned fifty, yet here he is seven years later running only twelve seconds slower. Barely two seconds decline per year. I know Andrew trains very hard to keep his speed intact for 800m racing.

Age group world records for 5000m

World Record12:35Joshua Cheptegei14-Aug-20 14:07Letesenbet Gidey07-Oct-20
V3512:54Bernard Lagat22-Jul-11 14:34Edith Masai02-Jun-06
V4013:07Bernard Lagat20-Aug-16 15:05Joanne Pavey05-Jun-14
V4514:24Lucien Rault19-Jun-82 15:56Nicole Leveque01-Jun-96
V5014:53Sean Wade25-Mar-16 16:51Gitte Karlshøj23-Jun-09
V5515:30Keith Bateman05-Jan-11 17:29Silke Schmidt27-Jun-15
V6015:56Yoshitsugu Iwanaga14-Nov-20 17:59Silke Schmidt20-Sep-19
V6516:39Derek Turnbull13-Mar-92 20:08Kathryn Martin28-Oct-16
V7018:16Ron Robertson09-Jul-11 20:56Angela Copson25-Jun-17
V7519:07Ed Whitlock23-Jul-06 23:31Lavinia Petrie28-Apr-19
V8020:20Jose Vicente
Rioseco Lopez
04-Sep-21 25:40Yoko Nakano12-Sep-18
V8524:04Ed Whitlock30-Jul-16 27:38Yoko Nakano23-Nov-21
V9030:00Yoshimitsu Miyauchi20-Sep-14 
V9539:43Antonio Nacca04-May-19 

Age group world records for the 10,000m

World Record26:11Joshua Cheptegei07-Oct-20 29:01Letesenbet Gidey08-Jun-21
V3526:51Haile Gebrselassie24-May-08 30:53Joanne Pavey03-Aug-12
V4027:49Bernard Lagat01-May-16 31:25Sinead Diver28-Sep-19
V4529:44Kevin Castille17-Mar-17 32:34Evy Palm04-Sep-88
V5030:49Sean Wade01-Apr-16 35:06Fiona Matheson16-Oct-11
V5531:52Keith Bateman26-Mar-11 36:47Sally Gibbs11-Nov-19
V6033:40Yoshitsugu Iwanaga28-Nov-20 37:58Mariko Yugeta14-Nov-20
V6534:42Derek Turnbull15-Mar-92 41:40Angela Copson05-Aug-12
V7038:04Ed Whitlock09-Jul-01 44:25Angela Copson28-Jul-17
V7539:25Ed Whitlock21-Jul-06 50:01Melitta
V8042:40Ed Whitlock09-Jul-11 51:47Yoko Nakano06-May-18
V8551:08Ed Whitlock12-Aug-16 1:26:15Vladylena Kokina21-Sep-14
V901:09:28Gordon Porteous17-Oct-04 

Age group world records for the marathon

World Record2:01:39Eliud Kipchoge16-Sep-18 2:14:04Brigid Kosgei13-Oct-19
V352:03:59Haile Gebrselassie28-Sep-08 2:19:19Irina Mikitenko28-Sep-08
V402:06:25Ayad Lamdassem24-Feb-22 2:19:52Helalia Johannes06-Dec-20
V452:14:23Bernard Lagat29-Feb-20 2:28:34Catherine Bertone23-Sep-17
V502:19:29Titus Mamabolo20-Jul-91 2:31:05Tatyana Pozdnyakova06-Mar-05
V552:25:56Piet van Alphen19-Apr-86 2:50:40Jenny Hitchings03-Nov-19
V602:30:02Tommy Hughes25-Oct-20 2:52:13Mariko Yugeta31-Jan-21
V652:41:57Derek Turnbull12-Apr-92 3:07:51Kimi Ushiroda15-Dec-19
V702:54:48Ed Whitlock26-Sep-04 3:24:48Jeannie Rice29-Sep-19
V753:04:54Ed Whitlock15-Apr-07 3:53:42Yoko Nakano23-Nov-12
V803:15:54Ed Whitlock16-Oct-11 4:11:45Yoko Nakano26-Feb-17
V853:56:38Ed Whitlock16-Oct-16 5:14:26Betty Jean McHugh09-Dec-12
V906:46:34Ernest Van Leeuwen06-Mar-05 8:53:08Mavis Lindgren28-Sep-97

Notes on Masters world records

All data was updated from Wikipedia in mid-June 2022. The aim is not to create a comprehensive set of records but to give readers an indication of what is possible. I will periodically update these when I can.

The Ageing Runner – Part 3 Middle distance

If you missed part 1 you can find it here, part 2 is here.

Typically the 800m and 1,500m are the commonly run middle-distance races, but I’ve used the mile because it’s more relatable for most runners than the 1,500. This article also includes times for 3,000m which is on the cusp of being middle distance. For elite men, it takes around 7½ minutes and puts them on the edge of their aerobic limits whereas for women it’s almost a minute slower. But one reason why I’ve included them is to have three balanced articles containing records for three distances!

With all the women’s records from here onwards, many of the older age group times have good potential to be broken. Some of the over-ninety records don’t even exist. It was only in the 1980s that women began to compete at Olympics and World Championships in the longer distances and so many of the older age category records are held by women who started running later in life.

Katharine Switzer still running at Boston in her seventies

Of course there were women who ran distance before the eighties but they were fewer and far between. Katharine Switzer, who was the first woman to run the Boston marathon, was born in 1947 and opened the door for other women at the distance. In fact, many of the pioneers are younger and barely turning sixty at the time of writing.

The consequence of all this is the older age groups records have never been seriously trained for, or contested, by lifetime runners. To an extent this is also true of some of the older male records as few kept going past seventy but certainly with the women’s records we can expect some of their records to fall as the generation that started running distance in the late sixties are now hitting their seventies and the ones who followed them will have benefitted from increased participation and training.

Age group world records for 800m

World Record1:40.9David Rudisha09-Aug-121:53.8Jarmila Kratochvilova26-Jul-83
V351:43.4Johnny Gray16-Aug-951:56.5Lyubov Gurina30-Jul-94
V401:48.1Tony Whiteman12-Jul-141:59.3Yekaterina Podkopayeva30-Jun-94
V451:49.9Tony Whiteman19-Aug-172:02.8Yekaterina Podkopayeva26-Jun-98
V501:58.6Nolan Shaheed13-May-002:12.5Eva Trost03-Aug-18
07-May-162:19.6Anne Gilshinan08-Jun-19
V602:08.6Nolan Shaheed23-Apr-112:33.1Lidia Zentner14-Sep-13
V652:14.3Earl Fee18-Jul-952:39.6Sabra Harvey31-Oct-16
V702:20.5Earl Fee17-Jun-992:50.7Sabra Harvey19-Jul-19
V752:30.6Jose Vicente
Rioseco Lopez
18-Jun-163:07.3Jeanne Daprano23-Oct-11
V802:41.6Jose Vicente
Rioseco Lopez
30-Apr-213:25.8Yolande Marchal10-Oct-20
V853:06.7David Carr28-Jun-173:58.2Yoko Nakano23-Oct-21
V903:34.9Earl Fee22-Jun-195:01.3Melitta
V954:51.4Antonio Nacca09-Jun-199:30.5Hollyce Kirkland10-Jun-17

Age group world records for the mile

World Record3:43Hicham
El Guerrouj
07-Jul-99 4:12Sifan Hassan12-Jul-19
V353:51Bernard Lagat06-Aug-11 4:17Maricica Puica21-Aug-85
V403:58Bernard Lagat25-Jul-15 4:24Yekaterina Podkopayeva09-Jun-93
V454:10Davide Raineri05-Sep-20 4:48Yekaterina Podkopayeva13-Sep-97
V504:20Brad Barton31-May-19 4:58Nicole
V554:35Keith Bateman18-Dec-10 5:08Anne Gilshinan07-Aug-19
V604:48Håkan Eriksson28-Aug-21 5:40Lesley Chaplin Hinz14-Jul-18
V654:56Derek Turnbull29-Feb-92 5:55Angela Copson19-Jul-15
V705:20Joop Rüter11-Jul-03 6:38Sharon Gerl06-May-18
V755:42Ed Whitlock28-Jul-06 6:58Jeanne Daprano21-Jul-12
V805:57Jose Vicente
Rioseco Lopez
18-Jul-21 7:35Yolande Marchal12-Oct-19
Alonso Domingo
22-May-21 10:55Blanche Cummings20-Jun-15
V909:43Gunnar Linde17-Feb-19 12:49Heather Lee11-Jan-20
V9511:56Antonio Nacca07-Apr-19 13:46Colleen Millman07-May-22

Age group world records for 3000m

World Record7:21Daniel Komen01-Sep-96 8:06Wang Junxia13-Sep-93
V357:29Bernard Lagat29-Aug-10 8:28Maricica Puica07-Sep-85
V407:43Bernard Lagat14-Jul-15 9:03Nuria Fernandez24-Jun-17
V458:16Vyacheslav Shabunin17-Jul-15 9:17Yekaterina Podkopayeva22-Jun-97
V508:41Christian Geffray07-Jul-04 9:47Gitte Karlshøj19-May-09
V558:57Keith Bateman13-Nov-10 10:04Silke Schmidt10-Jul-15
V609:21Yoshitsugu Iwanaga26-Sep-20 10:29Silke Schmidt22-Aug-19
V659:47Derek Turnbull08-Feb-92 11:43Kathryn Martin03-Sep-17
V7010:42Siem Herlaar02-Jul-99 12:13Angela Copson01-Sep-18
V7511:10Ed Whitlock25-Jul-06 13:56Yoko Nakano21-Sep-12
V8011:56Jose Vicente
Rioseco Lopez
04-Sep-21 14:27Yoko Nakano27-Oct-17
V8514:13Julian Bernal Medina20-Feb-05 16:39Yoko Nakano23-Oct-21
V9016:42Yoshimitsu Miyauchi19-Oct-14 
V9522:46Antonio Nacca16-Dec-18 

Notes on Masters world records

All data was updated from Wikipedia in mid-June 2022. The aim is not to create a comprehensive set of records but to give readers an indication of what is possible. I will periodically update these when I can.

The Ageing Runner – Part 2 Sprinters

If you missed part 1 you can find it here

This series grew out of my attempts to write about Sports Psychology because it’s a topic which dominated my reading for a couple of decades. I wanted to impart the wisdom I’d learned along the way, but it’s a big topic ranging across all sorts of areas such as goal-setting, attributions, mental skills, relaxation and learning among many more; so being unsure of how to start writing it, I did the obvious thing and gave up for the time being!

During my research however, I looked up Dr Steve Peters to sharpen up on the details of his work. He’s famous for writing The Chimp Paradox; a best seller that brings together many of the ideas and methods he used while working as a sports psychologist for Great Britain Cycling to support their successful Olympic programme of the past two decades. Given his association with the cycling programme I was surprised to find out he’s been a highly successful Masters athlete in sprinting, to the extent that he won multiple gold medals at the World Masters Championships in the M50, M55 and M60 categories between 2005 and 2015.

Steve Peters competing in the British Masters

On the UK Athletics’ website, The Power of 10, there are records of his performances in the 100, 200 and 400 since 1996 when he was age forty-three up to pre-pandemic. It makes for interesting viewing to see the decline, or should I say lack of decline in his sprinting over that period. Even in his late sixties, he’s still running under 13s for 100m, under 26s for 200m and breaking a minute for 400m. There’s been a noticeable decline in the last couple of years which is more likely due to lack of competition or injury than age itself.

Would you have thought those times were possible for someone who was never an elite sprinter in the first place? At fifty I can’t even run the times he’s achieving in his late sixties. Not because it’s necessarily beyond me but because I’ve never trained specifically for them. How you train is a bigger determinant of your performance than your age.

Steve Peters is the World Champion for his age group, so he is obviously something of an outlier, but there are many former Olympians who are no longer competing who could be faster. Steve isn’t even the world record holder in his age categories. Below are tables of the age-graded world records for both men and women, updated in June 2022.

Age group world records for 100m

World Record9.58Usain Bolt16-Aug-09 10.49Florence Griffith Joyner16-Jul-88
V359.87Justin Gatlin30-Jun-19 10.74Merlene Ottey07-Sep-96
V409.93Kim Collins29-May-16 11.09Merlene Ottey03-Aug-04
V4510.72Willie Gault24-Jun-06 11.34Merlene Ottey12-Aug-06
V5010.88Willie Gault07-May-11 11.67Merlene Ottey13-Jul-10
V5511.3Willie Gault07-May-16 12.24Julie Brims13-Feb-21
V6011.7Ronald Taylor04-Jun-94 13.63Karla Del Grande18-Jul-14
V6512.31Damien Leake16-Jun-18 13.91Karla Del Grande11-Aug-18
V7012.77Bobby Whilden06-Oct-05 14.73Ingrid Meier30-Jun-17
V7513.25Kenton Brown03-Oct-20 15.03Carol LaFayette-Boyd04-Aug-18
V8014.35Payton Jordan10-May-97 16.26Kathy Bergen06-Jun-21
V8515.08Hiroo Tanaka25-Jun-17 18.49Christa Bortignon07-May-22
V9016.86Hiroo Tanaka01-May-21 23.15Mitsu Morita06-Oct-13
V9520.41Frederico Fischer30-Jun-12 30.16Elena Pagu28-Aug-21

Age group world records for 200m

World Record19.19Usain Bolt20-Aug-09 21.34Florence Griffith Joyner29-Sep-88
V3520.11Linford Christie25-Jun-95 21.93Merlene Ottey25-Aug-95
V4020.64Troy Douglas09-Aug-03 22.72Merlene Ottey23-Aug-04
V4521.8Willie Gault26-Apr-08 23.82Merlene Ottey27-Aug-06
V5022.44Willie Gault07-May-11 24.33Merlene Ottey18-Jul-10
V5523.24Willie Gault07-May-16 25.07Julie Brims07-Mar-21
V6024.00Ronald Taylor10-Jun-94 28.11Karla Del Grande22-Oct-13
V6524.65Charles Allie26-Jul-13 28.53Karla Del Grande05-Aug-18
V7025.75Charles Allie21-Jun-18 31.3Ingrid Meier02-Jul-17
V7527.73Robert Lida05-Aug-12 31.56Carol
V8029.54Hijiya Hisamitsu16-Sep-12 35.34Kathy Bergen06-Jun-21
V8531.69Hijiya Hisamitsu17-Sep-16 41.58Emiko Saito12-Nov-17
V9036.02Hiroo Tanaka23-May-21 55.62Mitsu Morita30-Jun-13
Ernst Mahlo
10-Sep-07 1:12.99Diane Friedman22-Jul-17

Age group world records for 400m

World Record43.03Wayde
van Niekerk
14-Aug-16 47.60Marita Koch06-Oct-85
V3544.54Chris Brown30-May-15 49.46Allyson Felix06-Aug-21
V4047.81Enrico Saraceni25-Jul-04 52.50Geisa Aparecida Coutinho09-Apr-21
V4549.09Allen Woodard18-Mar-17 56.14Angee Henry-Nott23-Jul-21
V5050.51Juan Luis
Lopez Anaya
16-Jul-21 57.66Marie Lande
V5552.24Charles Allie12-Jul-03 59.36Julie Brims23-Jan-21
V6053.88Ralph Romain22-Jul-95 1:04.3Caroline Powell12-Aug-15
V6556.09Charles Allie18-May-13 1:08.0Karla Del Grande12-Jul-19
V7057.26Charles Allie11-Sep-18 1:11.8Barbara Blurton10-Dec-20
V751:02.4Guido Müller28-Jun-14 1:19.5Christa Bortignon22-Aug-13
V801:10.0Hisamitsu Hijiya09-Sep-12 1:29.8Rietje Dijkman09-Sep-19
V851:17.1Earl Fee12-Jul-14 1:41.6Emiko Saito29-Apr-17
V901:29.2Earl Fee19-Jul-19 2:16.2Melitta
V952:21.8Orville Rogers12-Jul-13 3:21.0Diane Friedman27-Jul-19

It’s my guess that most runners, male or female, can’t even run the times being set by the 80-year-old women; let alone run close to the times for their own age or gender. It’s only when these runners get into their eighties that the times begin to noticeably degrade and I suspect this is as much down to circumstance, as it is ageing. There are fewer of these runners competing and most of them probably took it up later in life.

Lots of facts and figures so far but here’s a chance to enjoy watching M70 Charles Allie in action over 200m.

You can read Part 3 by clicking here

The Ageing Runner – Part 1

When I began parkrunning I was in my thirties. I’d never been a serious runner but my Saturday morning endeavours motivated me to get training and as I began my forties I started recording Personal Bests at all distances. As I approached forty-five I ran my first sub-40 10K. I was getting better with age.

Now as I move into the VM50-54 category at parkrun, I still believe there’s more to come. This is not to say that age doesn’t see a decline in your capabilities, only that I never fulfilled my potential when I was younger.

I’ve never believed the limitations of the human body are as pronounced as other people like to believe and in this five-part series of posts I’ll detail how fast older runners, both men and women, can be as they go up through the age categories and over different distances. I think you’ll be surprised to find out it’s much more than you can imagine.

There’s no doubt a fifty-something runner is not going to be capable of the times they could have achieved in their twenties, but there is a belief that this decline is rapid. It’s generally agreed athletes peak at around twenty-seven but it can be a couple of years either side. Becoming a world class athlete takes a decade of development and while the body finishes its growth by eighteen years old, there are still maturation processes going on within the brain and hormones that continue into the twenties.

Here’s a question to ponder for a moment …

If an athlete’s peak is twenty-seven and they begin to decline after this, at what age are they achieving the same standards as when they were seventeen? For example, if your parkrun PB at seventeen was twenty minutes and you continued training for the rest of your life hitting a lifetime best of fifteen minutes at twenty-seven; what is the age when you will last be able to record twenty minutes again?

I’ll give you the answer at the end of the article.

Ageing in sport is one of those myths that is slowly being deconstructed. In most professional sports, athletes are usually finished in their mid-30s with just the occasional highly skilled technician or specialist (think golfers, goalkeepers or quarterbacks) making it into their forties. I recall watching the Barcelona Olympics where Linford Christie became the oldest sprinter ever to win the Olympic Gold at the advanced age of 32!

32-year-old Linford Christie becomes Olympic Champion

In recent years we’ve seen athletes extending their careers into their late thirties despite professional sport now being played at a higher level than it was. In tennis we see Roger Federer and Serena Williams still near the top as they close in on forty; while sprinter Justin Gatlin won the World Championship in 2017 at age 35 and is still running sub-10 second 100 metres. Eliud Kipchoge just won his second Olympic marathon at 36.

As you’d expect these elite athletes are gradually losing their ability to compete at the top of their sports. I often meet runners who, having given up for twenty years or, never run when they were young, believe that because they’re older, the faster times are going to be beyond them. Now while well-trained elite runners are never going to be as fast as when they were younger, for those of us who start late, didn’t train or got poor coaching there’s every chance we can be faster and fitter than we’ve ever been before.

Within this series of articles I’m going to give you the facts and figures about what runners over the age of thirty-five are achieving. While you won’t necessarily be able to match them, what it should give you is a realistic view of how slow the decline is and how quick it’s possible to stay running well into what most people consider old age. I want you to come away from this series feeling inspired about what is possible. Whether you decide to get the best out of yourself is your choice, but age is not going to be an excuse if you don’t!

  • In part 2 I’ll examine the Masters sprinters (100m / 200m / 400m)
  • In part 3 It’s the turn of the middle-distance runners (800m / Mile / 3,000m)
  • In part 4 We’ll look at the long distances (5,000m / 10,000m / Marathon)
  • In part 5 I’ll give a brief overview of what’s happening as the body ages and what you can do to delay the effects

Answer to the quiz questionthe old age equivalent of being seventeen is sixty-five years old. That’s right. Your physical maturity peaks at age twenty-seven but the decline is so gradual that over thirty years later you’re still capable of doing what you could at seventeen years old. This, of course, requires you to stay healthy and training.