Q Is there an optimum age to set a marathon personal best? I ran my fastest time of 3:10 two years ago when I was 40. I’ve been running for seven years now, and while I know I’m not getting any younger I wonder if I might become faster?
A Yes, you might be able to run faster because it’s not your chronological age but the miles you have “on the clock” that are the key here. Runners of all standards have historically become faster due to improvements in training, consistency, setting realistic targets and enjoying their running, often despite their age.
It is generally accepted that speed deteriorates more rapidly than endurance as a result of growing older, which is part of the reason why so many athletes move up in distance as their career moves on in time. Traditionally many marathon runners start their careers as track or cross-country runners before eventually moving onto the longer distance road races.
Seven years is not a long time to have been running and 42 is young. Endurance takes years to build to its full potential, and although you might eventually find it harder to become quicker over the shorter distances, you should find that you can run hard for longer, if you train sensibly.
For many runners though, with age comes greater muscle soreness, stiffness and reduced flexibility. Regular stretching, massage and clever choices in training can help, as can the introduction of non-weight bearing cross training, such as swimming or cycling, to either help you recover or keep the volume of your aerobic activity high. Many athletes in their 40s, 50s and beyond train just as regularly as they did when younger but use cross training to remain injury free and replace some of their runs.
Review your training, consider what went well when you set your marathon PB, and set realistic goals for the next few years. These should include marathons that you target for a personal best, as well as races that excite you. Train with positive athletes, forget your age, just look forward and enjoy every minute of it.
— Nick Anderson, British National Cross-Country Coach