Skip to content

Peak Performance in Women Runners

My cousin is in town for a wedding and we have been having a lot of good running conversations today.  One that I found particularly interesting was about a recent article she had read discussing peak performance in women marathoners.  She had read that women runners peak later in life because over the years, they build more confidence.  After quite a few Google searches, I was unable to find the article, but I did find some other interesting facts.

The average age of the 2008 elite women’s field for the New York City Marathon was 33.

The winner of the 2008 Women’s Olympic Marathon was 38 years old. Sammy Wanjiru was 21 when he won the 2008 Men’s Olympic marathon.

Kara Goucher is 34 and Shalane Flanagan is 31.  Desiree Davila is 29.

Paula Radcliffe who was planning to run the London Olympic Marathon until she had to drop out, is 38 years old.

“The physical peak for most humans, in most sports, is between 25 and 35 years of age; during this peak period, the well-conditioned athlete can create a confluence of muscular strength, peak cardiovascular and oxygen transport, speed and reaction time, and mental capabilities (including the ability to deal with competitive pressures), all bound together by a desire to succeed.”

“For sports  in which strength (both muscular strength and bone density), oxygen uptake, and cardiovascular efficiency are vital to success, the aging process may be slowed, though never halted or reversed. Since 1950, the average age of world champion distance runners in the 3-mi (5,000 m) races through to the 26-mi marathons (42.2 km) ranges between 28 and 32 years of age. From this peak of ability, runners will continue to perform at levels close to their personal best into their late 30s and early 40s; performance then declines at a rate of approximately 2% per year through age 80.”

There is a lot of information out there regarding when runners peak, and in particular when women runners peak.  I am 29 years old and after 11 years of attempting this running thing, I finally feel like I am becoming a smarter and better runner.  Although I will never be where Kara Goucher is at the age of 34, I am hoping that I will continue to get better and faster. Whether it be because of more confidence or better physical abilities, I hope my best running years are yet to come.

Happy Trails and Happy Running,


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. There is a clear difference between peaking in elites and peaking in the rest of us, I think. First, elites tend to push themselves from college on, so they find their peak more in line with when the body dictates it, unless they jump from one distance to another (and thus get on a different development curve). Most of us can actually improve our performance into the late 30’s and 40’s by increasing our training as we age, as we have untapped potential. Obviously our lifetime best would be better if we started earlier, but we don’t know what that “best” is, so it doesn’t much matter as a source of motivation. Second, we get smarter about training and racing as we age, as we often don’t have the same rapid experience gain and coaching expertise that the elites have. They don’t call it “Masters” for nothin’.
    As a 39-year-old, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

    August 3, 2012
    • I like the “Masters” comment 🙂 I agree that there is a clear difference between elites and the rest of us. What I am learning is that I am finally starting to understand my body, how I best train, how to recover, and what I need to do to improve. I don’t do that many races a year, but for the ones that I have done, I have always improved over the years. Clearly this won’t always be the case but it does give me reason to think that I still have room to improve. I guess only time will tell…

      August 4, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: