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Age, experience and running with others is key to success, study finds

Dr Akira O'Connor from the University of St Andrews studied data over six years from Alloa Half Marathon

AGE and experience are the key factors in predicting running success, new research at has found.

Membership of a running club, as well as having run the same race several times, were also strong indicators of whether someone would be able to accurately predict their finishing time - giving older runners the advantage over their youthful counterparts.

Dr Akira O'Connor of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews studied data over six years from Alloa Half Marathon, run annually in Spring in Clackmannanshire, Scotland.

He found when comparing the predicted times, given when entrants signed up for the race, to their actual finish times, the older the runner, the more accurate their prediction was likely to be.

The most accurate age group was 46-years-old and above with 65 per cent accurately predicting their finishing time, followed by the 31 to 45-year-old age group at 61 per cent, with the 16 to 30-year-old age group being the worst with just 56 per cent correctly guessing their finishing time.

The research published in the journal PLOS ONE also found that those who declared membership of a running club were significantly better at gauging their performance beforehand with 68 per cent accuracy compared to 56 per cent.

In addition, those who had run the race several times before became more accurate each time - with 66 per cent accuracy in their first race, rising to 72 per cent by their third attempt at the event.

Another key finding was that women were slightly less likely to accurately predict their running times than men - 58 per cent v 63 per cent.

"The clearest findings are that taking a leap and training with other people, to the point that you are prepared to list them as your club or running group, is associated with having a better idea of what your half marathon finish time will be," Dr O'Connor said.

"Practice improves both athletic performance and a runner's awareness of their likely performance."

However, the disparity between predictions made by male and female runners was less clear.

"Perhaps women are answering the question differently to men. They might be setting goals compared to giving realistic estimates, or perhaps they experience more problems during the race," Dr O'Connor added.

Ultimately, the research concluded that setting unrealistic goals and failing to achieve them could be discouraging. It could distort a runner's view of the achievement of finishing a half marathon to the disappointment of not completing the race within a particular time.

"We can overcome this potential for disappointment by setting more realistic goals with practice or, potentially, by interacting with people who have more experience," Dr O'Connor said.

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