It is commonly accepted as an indisputable fact that the human body deteriorates significantly between the ages of 20 and 40 due to the natural aging process, and one cannot expect to have the energy, stamina and durability of a twenty-year-old when in his forties. Just look at how few professional baseball, basketball and football players are still playing when they reach their forties; and of those few who make it that far, how many are in their athletic prime when they reach that advanced age for an elite athlete. Case closed. Right? Not so fast.

In order to test the truth or fallacy of this belief that aging means our endurance,stamina and ruggedness take a steady inevitable downhill slide, we need a sport that tests these physical attributes better than our major team sports do. A good candidate for this job would be long-distance running. What would be better for checking the endurance and durability of folks of differing ages than comparing their times in a 10K (6.2 miles), 10-miler or 26.2-mile marathon? Why stop there? How about a 100-mile race? That would be even better.

Just any 100-mile footrace, however, wouldn't do. To be a true test, it needed to be a race that attracted the best young ultra-distance runners. We settled on the 100 Mile Trail National Championships, a USA Track & Field-sanctioned race, run July 31 - August 1, 2010 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio on the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run course. Since it was a national championship race, it attracted many, if not most, of the top 20- and 30-year-old runners, making it perfect for seeing how the 40-something runners held up in head-to-head competition with the youngsters.

The course was challenging, with virtually no long stretches of level ground on which to cruise; it was, rather, up and down the whole 100 MILES! Keep in mind, uphill taxes the cardiovascular system, while downhills pound the leg muscles into submission. On top of this, think Cleveland/Akron, Ohio in the middle of summer -- that's right -- hot and muggy. This would be a real challenge for the top 40-and-older runners to try to keep pace with the best of the 20- and 30-year-old runners.

Were the older runners able to hold their own in this ultimate challenge of endurance and toughness? Let's see. This championship race along the banks of the Cuyahoga River and through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park started with 249 runners, but due to the tough terrain and difficult running weather, only 166 made it to the finish. Although the race was won by a 34-year-old, Todd Braje, in 15 hours 29 minutes, right behind him in second place was Mark Godale, 40. Even more impressive from an aging point of view was that third place went to Jack Pilla of Charlotte, Vermont -- a 52-YEAR-OLD! As a matter of fact, 13 of the top 20 men were 40 and older, with 20th place going to a 60-YEAR-OLD!

The masters women didn't do too shabbily, either. Actually, they did better than the men in competing against their own sex, because the top three spots went to women in their forties. Annette Bedrosky, 43, took first for the women (and sixth overall) with a course-record 16:44. That means that of the dozens and dozens of elite women ultra-distance runners in their twenties and thirties who have raced this course over the years, none was able to come close to Annette's time because she beat the record by about two hours.

Also beating the former course record (her own record) was 46-year-old Connie Gardner, who came in second (Connie may have had an excuse for not doing better, because just two and a half weeks earlier, she had run the Badwater 135-mile race across Death Valley, said to be the world's toughest foot race, a race in which -- despite nearly unbearable desert heat and three mountain crossings --she finished second among the women with an endurance-demanding time of 30 hours 35 minutes). Larissa Abramiuk, 41, of Wayland, Massachusetts, was third and 19th overall.

There you have it. In a national championship race that attracted some of the best ultra-distance runners in the country, those in their forties, and older, took two of the top three spots for the men and a clean sweep for the women.

What better test of one's endurance, stamina and durability than to race on foot 100 miles across rugged terrain in the heat and humidity of summer in Ohio? The results of this race -- these masters runners -- show that aging doesn't have to mean a steady decline of the physical body. If 40-and-better runners can successfully compete with those in their twenties and thirties at the highest level of competition, then much of the physical decline most folks experience between ages 20 and 40 is not the result of inevitable aging, but rather is self-imposed.

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From Ed Mayhew -- the author of Fitter After 50, Fitter For Life and other books, CDs, videos and articles on how you, too, can make falling apart as you age merely an option -- NOT a mandate. Why not make the rest of your life the BEST of your life? and (click here for paperback or Kindle editions of AGE BLASTERS)