I've often wondered just how much age slows down an athlete. Cycling and running may seem like "a young person's game" when aging world-class athletes and Olympians over 35 are written off as contenders for first place. However, competition for many age-group prizes (based on 5-year or 10-year age brackets) remains fierce as aging athletes compete against one another.
But how much do aging marathon and half-marathon runners really slow down? A group of German researchers quantified the "age effect" a few years ago in the International Journal of Sport Medicine. Their answer surprised me: age is not statistically significant at all for age groups in the 20-49 range, and in the 50-69 age range each passing decade correlated to only a 2-5% loss in speed. Just 30 seconds per mile or less for a 2-hr half-marathoner!
Such a small effect from age surprised me and reassured me that age isn't everything. In fact, it's very little. The ability to exercise and dedication to training is the key factor in the older athlete's success. As the researchers conclude their abstract: Lifestyle factors have considerably stronger influences on functional capacity than age is supported by these findings from physically active and fit elderly.