At the Frankfurt Marathon in October 2019, Irishman Tommy Hughes set an impressive age group record of 2:27 for the marathon, at 59. He also set a combined father-son time record of 4:59 when his son Eoin finished in 2:31. The combined time might have been a little better if Eoin had trained as hard as his Dad! (Not that I am one to talk, the fastest marathon I every ran was 4:13 when I was 40).
Tommy was an elite marathoner in his younger days as well, representing Ireland in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He then took a long hiatus from running, which he did not take up again until he was 48.
Tommy’s impressive result caused him to be studied in the lab, with the results published in the Journal of Applied Physiology , Tommy’s maximal oxygen update (V̇o2max,) was found to be 65.4 mL·kg−1·min−1, world class for Tommy’s age. In fact, when this value is plotted on a curve it is a bit above the average for elite athletes his age:
What was astonishing was not just Tommy’s maximum oxygen update, but how high a percentage of it he can sustain. Usually we are told we can run for a few minutes at this level, but he ran for close to 2 1/2 hours at 91% of his maximum oxygen update.
The article in sports Medicine  where the V02Max chart appears has a statement which should inspire us to keep fit: “Maximum oxygen consumption (V˙O2max) is not only an indicator of endurance performance, but also a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease and mortality. This physiological parameter is known to decrease with aging. In turn, physical exercise might attenuate the rate of aging-related decline in V˙O2max” .
Staying fit keeps is healthy. We already knew that but this is further confirmation. I’m sure my value would show up closer to the black solid line for mere mortals (I’d love to get it tested but never have), but I’m still motivated to try to stave off the decline with age.
- Louis, J, BonTemps, B, and Lepers, R, “Analysis of the world record time for combined father and son marathon”, Journal of Applied Physiology, 2020.
- Valenzuela, P, et al, “Lifelong Endurance Exercise as a Countermeasure Against Age-Related V˙O2maxV˙O2max Decline: Physiological Overview and Insights from Masters Athletes”. Sports Medicine, 2019