Q: Is there too high a likelihood of injury to someone who really ramps up training later in life?
A: At age 50, yes. Your biggest challenge is staying injury-free and experiencing ever slower recovery time from long runs & speed workouts.
Q: Is the lung capacity developed over the course of years when these athletes are younger?
A: Yes. You would need about 6 years to develop optimal marathon fitness. By then you'll be closer to 60.
Q: Is the ability to do that a gift that most people would be incapable of no matter how hard (and smart) they train?
A: For a sub-3... in nearly all cases, yes.
Summary: I do not mean to be a buzz kill. But guys who break 3 hours in the marathon at age 50+ are gifted, injury-free, and have years of dedicated training under their belts. They are a very select group of runners.
Please know that there is a world of difference between a sub-4 and a sub-3 marathon. And there is no chance a 50+ runner can drop 5k times from 22-23 minutes to sub-18:30 within a year. I used to run 5ks in 17 min, now at 50+ only able to clock 20-21. I'm never going to see sub-18 again.
The Boston Marathon grades men's and women's qualification times by age group for a reason — we ALL slow down as we grow older.
Dream high my friend, but please understand what a middle-aged guy can and cannot achieve. Run a 3:30 and qualify for Boston. That will be a great accomplishment unto itself.
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