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 Have marathoners gotten slower?
Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Sat Jan 15, 2005 6:06 pm 

There seems to be a general consensus that marathoners are slower than they used to be. Of course that's a pretty vague statement that sounds more like the complaining of old-timers than anything else, but there might be something behind it.

Given the expanding popularity of marathons, more newbies are taking up the sport, and so it's not surprising that average finish times are getting slower. A more meaningful test would be the finish time of whoever finished 100th (or some other number) in the same marathon over a number of years. For example, if you look at the finish time of the 100th place runner in the Chicago marathon over the past 20 years, I think it has been getting slower (need to double check).

Any ideas why this might be true? Is everyone simply wimpier than in the good old days? Have expectations changed? Is there some other hidden factor at work?


mfox

South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Posts: 367

Re: Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Sat Jan 15, 2005 8:52 pm 

Can you site the source of this information? I'd like to check into it. I can understand the overall average being slower for the reason you state. But with all the new technology, gear, and training techniques I find it hard to believe times of the elite athletes are slowing down.

Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Sat Jan 15, 2005 9:59 pm 

I thought I remembered seeing something that Hal Higdon wrote on this topic, but I can't find it now.

Maybe 100th place was a bad choice.-- it may depend on the size of the field. I'm not talking about the finish times of professional runners, whom I agree are likely faster than ever. I'm thinking of the second-tier runners who are still mighty speedy, but for whom running is not the main pursuit in their life. I'll have to search further, but I think I've read several articles in the past discussing how times are deteriorating there. Put another way, there is a widening gap between the performances of the professional athlete elites, and the best of the "every day runners", and it's more caused by a fall-off in the latter group than improvements in the former.

Anecdotally, I could point to examples where 19:00 has been good enough to win a 5K and that sort of thing. I'm just wondering if other people have the same feeling at all, or can recall any of the articles I seem to remember reading, and if so what factors they think might be behind this.


mfox

South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Posts: 367

Re: Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 9:22 am 

it's hard for me to tell if this is true in this part of the country. Since most of my races are sponsored by NYRRC there is always a big turn out. My best half marathon last year was a 1:40 and I was still beaten by guys 20 and 30 years older than me (60+ year olds). This tends to be a very competative area. When I once ran a 5K back in my hometown in Ohio I finishd 4th in my age group (40-44). Around here I'm lucky if I finish better better than 50th in my age group.

If you're just looking at the overall average (non-elite) finish times/paces you have to account for the fact that a lot of beginner runners are running in races sooner than they would have in years past. It used to be that a lot of runners didn't race because it's a "competative thing" but more and more races are catoring to the non-competative runners and enticing them to enter. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that but their slower times bring the averages down. I think any study of this needs to take into account some standard of fitness. That is, times should be compared based on years of previous running experience. This would help show if runners with, say 5 years of running experience, are getting faster or not.

My goal over the long term is not necessarily to decrease my race times as much as I want to keep them from increasing too much; so I can be more competative as I get older.


Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 2:04 pm 

mfox wrote:
My goal over the long term is not necessarily to decrease my race times as much as I want to keep them from increasing too much; so I can be more competative as I get older.

Yeah. In a way, I'm looking forward to my next birthday when I turn 35. There are too many speed demons in the 30-34 age group. Of course I also routinely get beaten by runners decades older than me, so an extra year probably won't matter much!


sfird
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
Long Island, NY
Joined: 10 Dec 2004
Posts: 80

Re: Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Wed Jan 19, 2005 11:48 am 

Given the improvement in equipment, training techniques and replenishment fluids/gels, for the larger, older marathons like Bosten and NY, I would expect that the finishing times of the top 100 runners would have improved over the years.

Given the increase in the number of runners and marathons, that the overall average time has slowed is no surprise. I must admit though, that finishing in the top 30% of all runners and males in my age group at MCM this year was an ego boost since I am normally no better than in the 50th percentile. Of course, I didn't get much faster, the race simply included alot of first time marathoners, walkers and charity runners.


Rickshaw
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
Posts: 1157

Re: Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Wed Jan 19, 2005 3:05 pm 

I couldn't find any numbers to back up my theory about the top runners getting slower. I couldn't find any numbers to disprove it, either. Marathon results for any race more than 3-4 years old are hard to come by on the internet.

mfox

South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Posts: 367

Re: Have marathoners gotten slower? Posted: Wed Jan 19, 2005 3:58 pm 

There's a site called CompuScore.com that times and records a lot of local races around here. Their records go back to '98. That may not be far enough back to say anything conclusive...but then again maybe it is. You'd have find the times for the same race over a period of years and take into account weather conditions (which may not be recorded with the finishing times). Hmmm...sounds like a research project.

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