Jim Coors analyzed the Birkie 55km cross country ski race and produced this graph of finish times vs age for all competitors. He had around 85,000 results to do this. What was interesting to me was there is a transition point in the late sixties where performances drop goes from around a minute per year to 5 minutes per year.
Now this is just observations so there may be reasons beyond purely physical for this but it is still quite a dramatic change. Anyone any thoughs
Had a quick scan of masters world records in running (List of masters world records in road running - Wikipedia) and seems a similar trend there with relatively small drop offs in the records from one age group to the next until either the 65 or 70 AG at which point the drops get bigger.
Wonder if this might be a bit of a generational thing - people continuing to race competitively (as opposed to just staying fit) into their 40s and beyond in large numbers is a relatively recent development. Today’s 70 year old would have turned 40 back in 1993. I would guess the number of 40 year olds racing competitively in all endurance sports has risen dramatically since 1993, which should in turn mean the number of septuagenarians racing competitively with a lifetime of training behind them will also continue to rise dramatically in the coming years and the time gaps may narrow accordingly.
Agree, it seems strange for such a big change to happen that sudden, at a specific age. It could be that the change has more to do with a change in demographic. As you said, maybe the over-65s come from a different training/racing era.
There also seems to be a slight jump in the data at about 40 years of age. Maybe something to do with transitioning to master’s racing?
for the amateur competitors there was a drop off from mid 20s to early 40s in the graphs on the website which would say they were busy with family and careers finally coming back to training hard in their 40s. Elite racers didn’t see this pattern, they tended to keep their form well into masters level but then suffered an ever steeper decline - possibly because they started from a higher level? As you say it may be due to demographics and the man who compiled the data stressed that it is not a scientific study of athletes through their careers.
That seems to imply it is a feedback loop. Beyond a certain age factors mean you can train less hard and need more recovery which means you are less fit and can train less hard and need more recovery etc. I can see that would lead to a steep decline at somepoint.
@The_Cog I sat in bed this morning reading the abstract from the Paper you linked and had trouble following why exercise economy doesn’t change with age as stated below:
In contrast, exercise economy (i.e. metabolic cost of sustained submaximal exercise) does not change with age in endurance-trained adults. Decreases in maximal stroke volume, heart rate and arterio-venous O(2) difference all appear to contribute to the age-related reductions in in endurance-trained athletes. Declines in endurance exercise performance and its physiological determinants with ageing appear to be mediated in large part by a reduction in the intensity (velocity) and volume of the exercise that can be performed during training sessions.
Overall older folks do less work because stroke volume etc…decline with age but, the is it the ratio of O2 uptake to work that is being highlighted? Meaning Kj’s decline linearly with O2 uptake as we age?
I think I’m over analyzing but, curious just the same…
I’ve recently been reading and listening to Peter Attia talk about performance (and general ability) decline with aging. Lots of related research. Although, the pitch of that decline is very close to the average retirement age…
My non-scientific observation about this is through watching my Dad, who is now 80 years old, slow down quite a bit.
In his 50’s he was a beast on his bike, doing fast group rides, completing 3 or 4 challenging centuries every year, and riding tons of miles.
Once he hit his 70’s though - his whole bike social circle started to change. The old guys slowed down, or quit cycling altogether, or died. His riding buddies weren’t trying to be fast any more. As a result, he lost his “mojo”, so to speak. The bike technology and costs outstripped his desire to stay current with new bike tech, and he hates to ride indoors, so that limits his exercise as well.
There are so many mental and cultural factors affecting an older athlete’s ability (and more importantly), DESIRE to be fast, that I think a lot of the drop-off in fitness is self-induced. They just don’t care about being fast any more. A few decent rides a week in good weather, with a lunch stop included, is more than enough for the aging rider.
The graph looks a little bit tidy and it’d be interesting to see all 85,000 times plotted on the graph. Plus it’s cross sectional rather than longitudinal. Masters records are improving at a faster rate than that of the youngsters.
Something changes around the late 60s-early 70s that is much more fundamental than just decline in VO2max. It’s like at 12 y/o our biological clocks says itis time for puberty and at around 68 y/o we it tells our bodies time’s up
Fresh 63 year-old, and I have found it harder to get motivated, and have had things creep up, and happen too: Liver cancer scare and botched surgery, hip replacement, plantar fasciitis, PA’s that think I have high blood pressure and surgeons who say it’s too low, vision changes, not sleeping well, muscle aches, elevated PSA, resurgent allergies because of reduced mask usage, flu/Covid/RSV shots, and a wife that wonders why I workout so hard, etc. It’s just a myriad of things all seeming to congeal and make me want to just bag it, but I still workout fairly consistently. COVID did play a large part as I had it semi-officially last year, and potentially have had it at least once more, and could have some lingering issues as well. If none of those had happened, I’d probably be wining races all over the place.
YET, I usually feel better once I get a workout done, so it’s that large hump to get over before I get on the bike. (And the weather is changing for the worse too) I don’t feel depressed, but S.A.D. is common around here too, although today has been sunny, so that makes things better. Caffeine really helps too.
I think as others have alluded it looks like time is catching up with people (me)? But it was interesting that my cardiologist says I’ll live longer than he will. But I have to do the long version of the second stage of Zwift Academy. Ride on!! While you can?