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Is There a Sex Difference in the Age of Elite Marathon Runners?


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 4 - p 656-664
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181fb4e00
Applied Sciences

Purpose: The purposes of this study were to determine i) if there is a sex difference in the age of the elite marathon runners and ii) if the sex difference in performance altered across the years that women have participated in the marathon.

Methods: Age at time of competition and running times of the first five placed male and female runners who competed in the seven marathons of the World Marathon Majors Series were analyzed. Data from as many years as was available online were retrieved so that 410 men and 410 women were included in the analysis. The marathons and years included the Berlin (1999-2009), Boston (2000-2009), Chicago (1997-2009), London (2001-2009), New York City (1990-2009), International Athletic Association Federation World Championship (1983, 1987, and every 2 yr from 1991), and Olympic (every 4 yr since 1984) marathons.

Results: Women were older than men (mean ± SD = 29.8 ± 4.2 vs 28.9 ± 3.8 yr), but for only two of the seven marathons, the Chicago and the London marathons (P < 0.05): the sex difference in age was not consistent across the years. There was no sex difference in age for the Berlin, Boston, New York City, World Championship, and Olympic marathons. Men were faster than women (11.6% ± 1.8%). The sex difference in running velocity varied across marathons (least for the World Championships, 10.2%) and also across years, but not systematically. This sex difference in running velocity increased from first to fifth place across all marathons.

Conclusions: These data indicate that men and women physiologically peak at a similar age in marathon running performance. The sex difference in performance of elite marathon runners varied across years but has not systemically decreased or varied since the 1980s.

Exercise Science Program, Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

Address for correspondence: Sandra K. Hunter, Ph.D., Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201; E-mail:

Submitted for publication July 2010.

Accepted for publication September 2010.

©2011The American College of Sports Medicine