When following the Norseman Xtreme triathlon online last month, I googled Graeme Stewart, who lead the race for quite some time, and came across his blog. A post of his pointed me to an interesting article about the age and performance of the top ten finishers in the yearly Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The authors (Gallmann, Knechtle, Rüst, Rosemann, Lepers ) first show that as in many other sports, the finishing times (of the top 10) have improved considerably the last 30 years (1982-2012):
This can be due to many factors. The surprising finding is that concurrently with going faster, the top finishers have become older. The average age of the top 10 men increased by 7 years, from 27 in 1983 to 34 in 2012!
The authors speculate that experience may have become more important with time or that the race may have become more attractive to former professional athletes, but do not know the answer. The point Stewart makes is that the results suggest that it takes time to build endurance and that for most people there is room for improvement regardless of age.
Surprisingly, if you start the sample in 1989, you can see hardly any improvement, both in the case of men and women. Although the variance might have decreased.
Indeed. I contacted the authors to look into it a little more closely, but unfortuntately they were not willing to share the data. They said that they had collected it from the Ironman website, but there I only found results from 2002, and information about age even later.
I’m afraid that transparency is much more neglected in the medical journals