Longitudinal Assessment of the Effect of Age and Experience on Performance in 161-km Ultramarathons

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose:

This work longitudinally assesses the influence of aging and experience on time to complete 161-km ultramarathons.

Methods:

From 29,331 finishes by 4066 runners who had completed 3 or more 161-km ultramarathons in North America from 1974 through 2010, independent cohorts of men (n = 3,092), women (n = 717), and top-performing men (n = 257) based on age-group finish place were identified. Linear mixed-effects regression was used to assess the effects of aging and previous 161-km finish number on finish time adjusted for the random effects of runner, event, and year.

Results:

Men and women up to 38 y of age slowed by 0.05–0.06 h/y with advancing age. Men slowed 0.17 h/y from 38 through 50 y and 0.23 h/y after 50 y. Women slowed 0.20–0.23 h/y with advancing age from 38 y. Top-performing men under 38 y did not slow with increasing age but slowed by 0.26 and 0.39 h/y from 38 through 50 y and after 50 y, respectively. Finish number was inversely associated with finish time for all 3 cohorts. A 10th or higher finish was 1.3, 1.7, and almost 3 h faster than a first finish for men, women, and top-performing men, respectively.

Conclusions:

High-level performances in 161-km ultramarathoners can be sustained late into the 4th decade of life, but subsequent aging is associated with declines in performance. Nevertheless, the adverse effects of aging on performance can be offset by greater experience in these events.

Hoffman is with the Dept of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Dept of Veterans Affairs, Northern California Health Care System, and University of California Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, CA. Parise is with the Sutter Inst for Medical Research, Sacramento, CA. Address author correspondence to Martin Hoffman at mdhoffman@ucdavis.edu.