Is there a right age to run well at UTMB?

Is there a right age to run well at UTMB?

The nineteenth edition of the UTMB ended last Sunday, an event that has now become a must for all trail-runners.

In the queen race of 170 km, the Spanish phenomenon Killian Jornet Burgada (34 years old) and the American Katie Schide (30 years old) prevailed (UTMB® (utmbmontblanc.com)).

In the hours following the race and in the following days, both on social media and on the media, the great performances (many records broken) on the different races were emphasized and a special focus was given on the longevity of the performances of Killian, who won his first UTMB when he was only 20 years old, way back in 2008 (UTMB® (utmbmontblanc.com)).

Among the various discussions and exchanges of views, I found the one relating to the age of those who win the UTMB interesting.

And the interesting thing is always the perspective of how you want to look at an event. Some argue that Killian at 35 won “when he was old”, others that he won because he was “still young”, still others because “he is the right age”. Obviously, I omit the fact that everyone (or almost everyone) claims that he won because he is a unique phenomenon in this sport.

Statistical analysis: age of the winners at UTMB

I wondered if the statistical data could support one of the various theories or not.

Specifically, I analyzed the last ten editions of the UTMB (from 2011 to 2021), excluding the last edition (2022). The results are summarized in the following chart.

Age of the winners at UTMB editions (2011 - 2021)
Chart 1 – Age of the winners at UTMB editions (2011 – 2021)

If we look at the age of the winners, we can see that for the male category there is a fairly gradual growing trend. This is not surprising given that in the last 10 editions they have almost always won the same: D’Haene (4 times), Thevenard (3 times), Killian (1 time). And they are athletes born respectively in 1985, 1988 and 1987. The only exceptions were Pommeret (born in 1975 who won at 41 in 2016) and Capell (born in 1991, who won at 28 in 2019).

In short, for the male category, to date, to win, the right age does not matter (averaging would be 30 years). It matters if you have the similar engine to these three phenomenal athletes.

For the female category, the situation is slightly different as over the years the winners have alternated with a fair variation in terms of age. Just think of the American Rory Bosio who won in 2013 at the age of 29 or the Italian Francesca Canepa who won in 2018 at the age of 47. Taking the average age of the last ten winners would have an ideal value of 37 years. Compared to this figure, Katie Schide this year is an exception. But it would be enough for the American Courtney Dauwalter (37 years old this year and winner of 2019 and 2021) to return (and win) in 2023 to put things right.

Statistical analysis: age of Top 3 at UTMB

Personally, I think that looking “only” who wins is not the most correct photograph to understand how much the age factor counts in races of these distances.

Therefore, I also added to the analysis the averages of the ages of the Top 3 of the ten editions from 2011 to 2021.

Average age of the Top 3 at UTMB editions (2011 - 2021)
Chart 2 – Average age of the Top 3 at UTMB editions (2011 – 2021)

It is interesting to note that, for the male category, the ideal age for the Top 3 is contained in a narrow window between 30 and 35 years. There are a couple of years with an average of just over 35, but what seems clear is that, to date, an over 40 would struggle to make it to the podium at the UTMB. This year (2022) the good Tom Owens (41 years old) succeeded, and in the past very few athletes: Pommeret (41 years old), Karrera (40 years old) and Castaner (42 years old).

A podium with everyone over 40 (in these last 10 editions) has never occurred.

For the female category, the ideal window is wider, between the ages of 35 and 45. Unlike the boys, in the last 10 editions, a podium with all over 40 occurred three times: 2014, 2015 and 2018. On the contrary, a podium with all under 35 had never occurred, until the last edition, just ended (2022): Katie Schide (30 years old), Hogan Marianne (31 years old) and Gerbin Kaytlyn (33 years old).

We’ll see if this year’s exception represents normalcy in the future.

Statistical analysis: age of Top 10 at UTMB

For greater completeness, I then extended the analysis by adding the average age of the top 10 of the ten editions from 2011 to 2021.

Average age of the Top 10 at UTMB editions (2011 - 2021)
Chart 3 – Average age of the Top 10 at UTMB editions (2011 – 2021)

What changes compared to the top 3?

The interesting thing is that somehow the differences between men and women are drastically reduced. Both categories are enclosed between 30 and 40 years.

And this was also respected in 2022: 34.8 years was the average age of the top 10 men; 37.5 years was the average age of the top ten women.

Conclusions

These are obviously statistical and numerical analyzes. They are absolutely not to be taken as a necessary condition. As an example, just think of the Hungarian athlete Wermescher Ildiko (ninth in 2019 at 54, seventh in 2018 at 53, seventh in 2016 at 51, sixth in 2014 at 49) or the Italian Marco Olmo who wins the UTMB in 2006 at 58 and in 2007 at 59!

In short, age counts. But up to a certain point (I expect Killian to still be competitive when he’s over 50).

And over even longer distances? Does the same considerations apply? More details at this link: The age to perform well at Tor Des Geants | EmigranTrailer

Enjoy trail-running!

Andrea De Filippo

Original post in english language. For other languages, please open with a web browser (i.e. Chrome) and apply the automatic translation.

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ANDREA DE FILIPPO

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