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Ultramarathoners Get Better With Age

Unlike sprinters or gymnasts, ultramarathoners are like a fine wine, getting better—or at least more durable—with age

smithsonian.com

In most sports, getting older doesn’t mean getting better. The oldest football player to ever play was 48 when he retired. And that’s ancient compared to inline skating—Jon Julio, the oldest skater to skate, retired at 34. If athletes do stick around into their late forties and fifties, they're usually seen as past their prime. But for ultramarathoners, age actually seems to make them better. Or at least less likely to get hurt.

In a recent study looking at runners who go for longer than the 26.2 mile marathon, scientists found that it’s younger athletes who have a harder time. The researchers suggest that this might be because it takes experience to train for such long distances properly:

Compared with the uninjured group, those who had suffered an injury during this time period were younger, less experienced runners, who had relatively less focus on running, spent a greater proportion of their exercise time at a high intensity and were more likely to have performed regular resistance training.

Arthur Webb, the 70-year-old who just completed a 135-mile course starting in Death Valley, could probably corroborate the findings. Webb ran 10 to 15 miles a day training for the race, and ran the whole thing in 33 hours, 45 minutes and 40 seconds. 

The study also uncovered some other interesting facts about the aches and pains of ultramarathoners. Like the fact that a full quarter of them suffer from allergies and hay fever, and 13 percent have asthma. And they get injured a lot. Over the course of the study, 64 percent of participants reported an exercise-related injury that kept them from training.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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