Archive for May, 2016

Age Factor in Sports

| May 10, 2016 12:36 pm
Age Factor in Sports

by Franz Kelsch
If you are new to cycling you may notice that regardless of  your age, you are improving each year. This seems counter to what one would expect because we know that as we age, we lose some ability each year. However for those new to the sport the aging factor is being more than offset by developing the muscles and skills of they new found sport. It seems that this may last as long as 6 years before they start to see the decline. Although I have run most of my adult life, I started cycling at age 53 and yet set some of my best times at age 59.

At some point, we will all experience the effect on our performance due to aging. It turns out much less than most people think.  Considerable research was done by Yale Economic Professor, Dr. Ray Fair.  As most economists do, he studied a lot of data.  In this case of world class running and swimming times for different ages.  Dr. Fair was also a marathon running and did several sub 4 hour marathons so not only did he bring is economic skills to the task, he related as an athlete.  His work was documented in this New York Times Article.

I took his data and plotted out the aging factor for running for men, although I believe it is similar for cycling. The effect due to aging is only about 1% a year, up to age 60, where the slope of the curve increases.


There is an online calculator . I plugged in my Boston Marathon qualifying marathon run time at age 58, which was 3 hours and 35 minutes. For my current age of 68, it shows a time of 3:52. It is interesting that on my Garmin 920XT multi-sports device, it has a Race time predictor that is rather close to that.  This race predictor is based on my past runs.


At the age of 68 I still do speed workouts. It seems may people as they move into their 50’s and 60’s start to use their age as an excuse and back off. My observation is that many of them turn more to endurance and neglect speed workouts. There has been some recent research that shows the benefits of short bursts on our health. This article by Dr. Mirkin explains the numerous health benefits of interval training for those of us in the golden years. If you always run, or bike, or swim, at the same pace, you are missing health benefits and you are also working out all the time at your maximum capacity, which makes things hard.

Yes we all age and there is no getting around the fact that our athletic performance will decline as we age, but that decline can be less than most people experience. Too many people I know back off on their training and intensity, or worse yet, give up the sport as they age.