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Int J Gen Med. 2013 Jun 5;6:427-38. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S45265. Print 2013.

Increase in finishers and improvement of performance of masters runners in the Marathon des Sables.

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Institute of General Practice and for Health Services Research, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.



The aim of the study was to examine finisher and performance trends of ultrarunners in the Marathon des Sables, the world's largest multistage ultramarathon.


The age and running speed was analyzed for 6945 finishes of 909 women and 6036 men between 2003 and 2012 at the Marathon des Sables covering about 240 km in the Moroccan desert.


The number of finishes increased significantly for both women and men from 2003-2012. The annual number of finishes increased in age groups: 30-34 years (r(2) = 0.50; P = 0.021), 45-49 years (r(2) = 0.81; P = 0.0004), and 50-54 years (r(2) = 0.46; P = 0.029) for women and in all age groups older than 35 years for men (35-39 years: r(2) = 0.64, P = 0.0054; 40-44 years: r(2) = 0.67, P = 0.0036; 45-49 years: r(2) = 0.77, P = 0.0007; 50-54 years: r(2) = 0.72, P = 0.0018; 55-59 years: r(2) = 0.42, P = 0.041; and 60-64 years: r(2) = 0.67, P = 0.0038). The fastest running speed was achieved by runners in the age group of 35-39 years for both sexes. The mean age of overall finishers was 41.0 ± 9.1 years for women and 41.3 ± 9.5 years for men. For men, running speed improved for athletes in the age group of 35-39 years (r(2) = 0.44; P = 0.036) and of 40-44 years (r(2) = 0.51; P = 0.019), while it decreased for athletes in the age group of 30-34 years (r(2) = 0.66, P = 0.0039). For women, running speed remained stable during the study period for athletes in all age groups.


These data suggest that the number of finishers of masters runners older than 40 years increased for both sexes at the Marathon des Sables, as has been previously observed for single-stage ultramarathons. In contrast to women, men aged 35 to 44 years improved running speed during the study period. Future studies are needed to investigate the reasons for the growing numbers of masters athletes in endurance sports and their improvement in performance.


age group; athlete; running speed; ultraendurance

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