Super Athletes

Older competitors are defying the laws of science and aging. Heed their secrets and you can, too.

  1. The 26.2-mile marathon, one of the most grueling events in sports, was once a young person's game. In the early 1980s, as the running boom of the 1970s was maturing, marathoners were not. “Few 60-year-old men, much less women—or their doctors—would have considered it possible for someone of that age to run 26-plus miles,” say the authors of a study on older runners.

    Three decades later, older athletes are not simply competing in endurance races—they're excelling. A study of masters athletes (the name given to older competitors, usually over age 35) at the Hawaii Ironman triathlon—an event consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a full marathon—revealed that the top male finishers ages 60 through 64 were only a few minutes slower than the top 30- through 34-year-olds. These older triathletes represent “a fascinating model of exceptionally successful aging,” the study authors report in the journal Medicine it Science in Sports it Exercise. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 41-year-old Dara Torres, the oldest member of the U.S. swim team, earned three silver medals. French cyclist Jeannie Longo, then 49 and a professional racer for more than 30 years, lost a medal by inches. At 38, Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania became the oldest women's Olympic marathon champion in modern history. More recently, 53-year-old Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the inaugural women's Olympic marathon race 27 years ago, set a new national record for 50-plus women at the 2010 Chicago m...

Originally published in AARP, March 2011