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Old Runners Never Die - They Just Slow Down at a Faster and Faster Rate

After 50 years of running, going slower and slower at a faster and faster rate, certain truths have become evident. We do get slower as we age. We probably need more rest days. We still need to slow down at the longer distances. The competitive juices still flow in the elderly. We get points for showing up.

We get slower at a faster rate. After hours of applying math to the many age adjusted factors for runners which are available online, a simple rule of thumb emerged. The annual slowdown factor at any given age is proportional to the age. Divide your age by 60. That's the percent that you can expect to slow down in the next year. A 40 year old runner can expect to slow down 0.67% in the next year. A 60 year old runner will slow down 1.00 percent.

The problem is that this is a two edged sword. The 40 year old may be running seven minute miles. 420 x 1.0067 = 422.8. Three seconds per mile isn't much to worry about. The 60 year old guy is probably running eight and a half minute miles. 510 x 1.0 = 515.1. Even if he stays healthy, he's looking at a five second per mile slow down. Still not too bad, you say, but read on for the cumulative effect.
Our calculations show the following slow down factors and predicted 10K times for a recreational runner who was running 40 minutes for a 10K at age 30.

  • Age 40 1.0570 42:17
  • Age 50 1.1374 45:30
  • Age 60 1.2465 49:52
  • Age 70 1.3920 55:41
  • Age 80 1.5844 1:03:23

The above results assume a well trained healthy body that has still at the same weight as when it was a 30 year old athlete. The bad news is that you're probably put on a few extra pounds of fat and a few other not so good things have happened to your body.

Now for the good news. With more and more older people continuing to be active, masters runners are closing in on these standards. There are fewer and fewer participants in the older age groups. Just by being in the race, the statistical probably of getting a medal or trophy is higher for the older athlete. Believe it or not, there is a satisfaction to being on the winners' podium with a hard won second place trophy in a two man race.

A favorite saying of my mother who lived to 107 was, "I am an inspiration." On one of my recent training runs, a young runner pulled up by my side and said, "You are an inspiration. I hope I'm still running when I'm your age. " Keep running. You still feel fast even when you're slow.