Endurance Sports: Changing Demographics

December 15th, 2009 | Sources: LA Times

In the last decade, ultra endurance sports like triathlons and cycling marathons have grown in popularity. The granddaddy of these extreme sports is the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, which courses through the Western States Trail in Northern California. The first running was held way back in 1976.

WesternStatesRecently, scientists from the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Department of Veterans Affairs Northern California decided to have a look at the 3,500 people who have entered this event over the years.

They found dramatic trends in the demographics and results of the participants.

For example, the average age of race starters was 41 back in 1986, but between 2000 and 2007 the average age had risen to 45-47.

In addition, many more women now compete in the race. From 1986 to 1988, between 10-12% of the competitors were female. Since 2001 however, that percentage has nearly doubled to 20-22% of the competitors.

The scientists attribute this to the fact that more women in their 40s and up, and more men in their 50s and up have signed up for the race, while fewer men who were less than 50 have entered.

And these older runners have delivered. Every year since the inception of the event, the average age of the top 5 finishers has gone up. Initially this number was in the early 30s, but now it is in the late 30s. This phenomenon is mostly attributable to changes in finish times for women, which the scientists say have improved by 37 minutes per decade since 1980.

This means that the finish time difference between the top men and women has been cut by 4% per decade, to a margin of 14% in 2007.

The study appears in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.



  1. Jazzy | 17/12/09

    Makes good sense to me. I’m a 30yo female marathoner, and my ultimate goal is to break 3:00:00 in the marathon by the age of 37ish… and then I want to start doing ultras. My reasoning is that I know I’ll slow down when I get into the super long stuff (ultras), and thus want to retain as much of my speed as I’m able, until I break the 3hr mark. Then I can not worry about pace anymore and get accustomed to going LONG.

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