planning to enter a race, allow a little extra time to reach
the finish line. You’re not as fast as you used to be.
not just you. Americans on the whole are not running as fast
as we used to, and we’re getting even slower every year. The
only thing we’re quick at is coming up with excuses to
rationalize the slower times we’re posting.
news comes from Jens Jakob Andersen, a statistician at the
Copenhagen Business School. He’s a former competitive runner
who uses his spare time to amass and analyze data about
running. He crunched the times recorded by 34.7 million
American runners in nearly 29,000 races — marathons,
half-marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks — from 1996 to 2016.
conclusion: "The average American runner has never been
offer one caveat: This doesn’t apply to elite runners.
Competitive runners continue to improve year-over-year
the rest of us, plop down on the nearest couch and listen to
what Andersen has to say. By breaking down the data into
subgroups, he has put the kibosh on every excuse we’ve come
up with for slowing down.
The number of casual participants, including people who
walk-run or even walk an entire course, is rising. Because
they don’t train as much as the more enthusiastic runners,
their times are slower.
"This is a sensible argument," Andersen concedes.
But it’s also invalid. Casual runners and walkers also are
needing longer to finish races. "We can clearly see that
the slowing down is on every level," the study says.
The number of women participating in races is rising. While
there are some very fast female runners, on average women tend
to be slower than men.
Women’s times in isolation are slower, too. The average
marathon time for women has increased nearly 10 minutes since
the baby boomers’ fault. They made running a mass sport, and
now they’re getting older and slower.
course, individual runners are going to see changes in their
athleticism as they age, but these findings cut across age
groups. The argument doesn’t explain why today’s
30-somethings are posting higher times than their counterparts
a decade ago.
does Andersen think is causing all this? While pointing out
that the study was not set up to draw causative suppositions,
he does have some ideas:
Higher obesity rates in adults and teens.
jump in diabetes and hypertension.
decrease in overall health (as measured in health care
one last myth that has drawn Andersen’s attention: the
theory that distance running is losing some of its appeal to
activities such as biking and that, as it does, participants
for whom running is a struggle — i.e., the slowpokes —
will drop out of the statistical pool and our collective times
will improve as a result. So far, it’s not happening.
the last two years (2015 and 2016), numbers of participants
are declining," the study says. But "the finish time
in all the four major race distances is still growing."