Old racers never die – they just slow down at an ever faster pace

After 50 years of running, going slower and slower at an ever faster pace, certain truths have become apparent. We slow down as we get older. We probably need more rest days. We still have to slow down over the longer distances. The competitive juices are still flowing in the elderly. We get points for attending.

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

The problem is that this is a two-edged sword. The 40-year-old man may be running seven miles a minute. 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 minutes per mile. 510 x 1.0 = 515.1. Even if he stays healthy, he expects a slowdown of five seconds per mile. Still not too bad, you say, but read on for the cumulative effect.

Our calculations show the following deceleration factors and predicted 10K times for a recreational runner who ran 40 minutes for a 10K race 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 healthy, well-trained body that is still the same weight as when you were a 30-year-old athlete. The bad news is that he’s probably put on a few extra pounds and other not-so-good things have happened to his body.

Now the good news. With more and more seniors continuing to be active, master runners are getting closer to these standards. There are fewer and fewer participants in the older age groups. Just by being in the race, the statistical probability of winning a medal or trophy is higher for the older athlete. Believe it or not, it’s a satisfaction to be on the winners’ podium with a hard-earned second-place trophy in a two-man race.

A favorite saying of my mother, who lived to be 107, was: “I am an inspiration.” On one of my recent training runs, a young runner pulled up next to me and said, “You’re an inspiration. I hope to still be running when I’m your age.” You still feel fast even when you’re slow.

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