Analysis of participation and performance in athletes by age group in ultramarathons of more than 200 km in length
Matthias Zingg,1 Beat Knechtle,1,2 Christoph A Rüst,1 Thomas Rosemann,1 Romuald Lepers3
1Institute of General Practice and Health Services Research, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; 2Gesundheitszentrum St Gallen, St Gallen, Switzerland; 3INSERM U1093, Faculty of Sport Sciences, University of Burgundy, Dijon, France
Background: Participation and performance trends for athletes by age group have been investigated for marathoners and ultramarathoners competing in races up to 161 km, but not for longer distances of more than 200 km.
Methods: Participation and performance trends in athletes by age group in the Badwater (217 km) and Spartathlon (246 km) races were compared from 2000 to 2012.
Results: The number of female and male finishers increased in both races across years (P < 0.05). The age of the annual five fastest men decreased in Badwater from 42.4 ± 4.2 years to 39.8 ± 5.7 years (r2 = 0.33, P = 0.04). For women, the age remained unchanged at 42.3 ± 3.8 years in Badwater (P > 0.05). In Spartathlon, the age of the annual five fastest finishers was unchanged at 39.7 ± 2.4 years for men and 44.6 ± 3.2 years for women (P > 0.05). In Badwater, running speed increased in men from 7.9 ± 0.7 km/hour to 8.7 ± 0.6 km/hour (r2 = 0.51, P < 0.01) and in women from 5.4 ± 1.1 km/hour to 6.6 ± 0.5 km/hour (r2 = 0.61, P < 0.01). In Spartathlon, running speed remained unchanged at 10.8 ± 0.7 km/hour in men and 8.7 ± 0.5 km/hour in women (P > 0.05). In Badwater, the number of men in age groups 30–34 years (r2 = 0.37, P = 0.03) and 40–44 years (r2 = 0.75, P < 0.01) increased. In Spartathlon, the number of men increased in the age group 40–44 years (r2 = 0.33, P = 0.04). Men in age groups 30–34 (r2 = 0.64, P < 0.01), 35–39 (r2 = 0.33, P = 0.04), 40–44 (r2 = 0.34, P = 0.04), and 55–59 years (r2 = 0.40, P = 0.02) improved running speed in Badwater. In Spartathlon, no change in running speed was observed.
Conclusion: The fastest finishers in ultramarathons more than 200 km in distance were 40–45 years old and have to be classified as “master runners” by definition. In contrast to reports of marathoners and ultramarathoners competing in races of 161 km in distance, the increase in participation and the improvement in performance by age group were less pronounced in ultramarathoners competing in races of more than 200 km.
Keywords: ultra-endurance, master runner, running speed, sex difference
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