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3/10/2013

By The Numbers: Ages of Top 2012 Ultrarunners

UltraRunning Magainze, in their most recent issue (March), published an article summarizing ultrarunning results from 2012 (I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had the 53rd fastest 50 mile time and the 21st fastest 50 km time in the country). Looking through the results, I paid close attention to the ages of the top finishers. It has been claimed that one does not achieve peak performance in ultrarunning until one is older: perhaps in one's 30s or 40s. I've also heard it claimed that, in the case of ultrarunning, women typically peak later than men. Do these claims hold any weight?

Using the statistics from UltraRunning Magazine, I averaged, for both men and women, the ages of the runners who were credited with the Top 15 overall finish times, from the 50km distance to the 100 mile distance, in 2012. Additionally, I averaged the ages of male and females with the Top Graded Performances from each of the distances. Lastly, I averaged the ages for those that were credited with four or more wins in 2012. Before providing those results, consider the following information on 2012 ultrarunners:

36, 484 different individuals in North America accounted for 65, 530 ultra finishes; 717 races had at least 20 finishers; 252 races had at least 80 finishers; the median age of ultra finishers was 41.3 years; women constituted 29% of ultra finishers, men the remaining 71%; the further the distance raced, the more male dominated the race became, as female finishers constituted 31.4% of 50km finishers, 26.1% of 50 mile finishers, and 20.8% of 100 mile finishers; what about those 100km races? they were the least raced of any standard ultra distance, constituting just 3.1% of all ultra races (50km made up 53.9% of races, 50 mile made up 23.4%, 100 mile made up 8.4%, 7% were fixed time races, and 4.2% were other (here's to you Badwater 135 folks, and others!)).

Data Set 1: Consider the breakdown in the average ages of runners who were credited with the Top 15 overall finishing times in the respective distances below (M indicates the average Male age; W indicates the average Women's age):

1. 100 mile: M 37.33 years*; W 36.93 years
2. 100 km: M 34.47 years; W 36.67 years
3. 50 mile: M 32.67 years**; W 35.73 years***
4. 50 km: M 34.07; W 34.93****

*Jon Olsen had two of the Top 15 times; Mike Morton had three.
**Ian Sharman had two of the Top 15 times.
***Ellie Greenwood had two of the Top 15 times; Melanie Bos had two.
****Megan Hovis had two of the Top 15 times; Michelle Mitchell had two; Connie Gardner had two.

Over the four distances, for Top 15 overall times, the average male age was 34.64 years; the average female age was 36.07 years.

Note the following: at 100 miles, the average male age was .4 years more than the average women's age (+0.4); at 100km, the average male age was 2.2 years less (-2.2); at 50 miles, the average male age was 3.06 years less (-3.06); at 50km, the average male age was .86 years less (-0.86).

Data Set 2: Consider the breakdown in the average ages of runners who were credited with the Top 15 Graded Performances in the respective distances below (UltraRunning Magazine says that: "These rankings are determined by using the Comparative Difficulty Ratios developed by Gary Wang at RealEndurance.com." See UltraRunning Magazine for more information.):

1. 100 mile: M 34.53 years; W 36.6 years*
2. 100 km: M 31.73 years^; W 37.9 years^^
3. 50 mile: M 30.6 years**; W 32.67 years***
4. 50 km: M 30.53 years****; W 34.07 years

*Tina Lewis had two of the Top 15 Graded Performance times.
**Ian Sharman had two of the Top 15 Graded Performance times; Brian Rusiecki had two.
***Ellie Greenwood had three of the Top 15 Graded Performance times; Stephanie Howe had two.
****Max King had two of the Top 15 Graded Performance times.
^Only 11 Top Graded Performances provided.
^^Only 10 Top Graded Performances provided.

Over the four distances, for Top Graded Performances, the average male age was 31.85 years; the average female age was 35.31 years.

Note the following: at 100 miles, the average male age was 2.07 years less than the average women's age (-2.07); at 100km, the average male age was 6.17 years less (-6.17); at 50 miles, the average male age was 2.07 years less (-2.07); at 50km, the average male age was 3.54 years less (-3.54).

Now note that: the average age for male Top Grade Performances was 2.81 years less than the average age for male Top 15 times overall (-2.81); the average age for female Top Grade Performances was .76 years less than the average age for female Top 15 times overall (-0.76).

Note further that: at 100 miles, the average age for males with the Top 15 Graded Performances was 2.8 years less than the average age for males with the Top 15 times overall (-2.8); at 100km, the average male age with the Top 11 Graded Performances was 2.74 years less (-2.74); at 50 miles, the average male age with the Top 15 Graded Performances was 2.61 years less (-2.61); at 50km, the average male age with the Top 15 Graded Performances was 3.54 years less (-3.54).

Note finally that: at 100 miles, the average female age of runners with the Top 15 Graded Performances was .33 years less than the average female age of runners with the Top 15 times overall (-0.33); at 100km, the average female age with the Top 10 Graded Performances was 1.23 years more (+1.23); at 50 miles, the average female age of runners with the Top 15 Graded Performances was 3.06 years less (-3.06); at 50km, the average female age of runners with the Top 15 Graded Performances was .86 years less (-0.86).

Data Set 3: Consider the breakdown in the average age of runners who were credited with four or more wins in 2012:

1. Men (18 individuals): 32.28 years
2. Women (13 individuals): 36.23 years

Note here that: the average age for males credited with four or more wins in 2012 is 3.95 years less than the average age for females credited with four or more wins in 2012 (-3.95).

Conclusions: If we assume that (1) statistics from previous years are similar to those in 2012, (2) top finishers are at their peak, or close to their peak, in terms of their performance, and (3) the average age of top finishers  is relevant to their performance, then it seems correct to say that (a) one's performance at ultra running distances continues to improve at least into one's 30s, and that (b) women appear to peak later than men (by at least two years, on this data).

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