Many well-trained elite older runners have performances comparable to those of much younger nonelite runners. We sought to determine whether the physiological determinants of endurance performance in two groups of such athletes were the same. Eight master athletes (age 56 +/- 5 yr) were matched on the basis of 10-km performance and training to younger runners (age 25 +/- 3 yr). The master athletes had a 9% lower maximum O2 uptake (VO2max) (P less than 0.05) than the matched young runners, despite the similarity in their performance. Running economy was not different between these groups. However, the master athletes attained a 2.5-mM blood lactate level during steady-state exercise at a higher percentage of their VO2max (P less than 0.05), although both groups attained this lactate level at the same running speed and VO2. Thus, despite having significantly lower VO2max values, the older athletes were able to perform as well as the younger runners because they were able to work closer to their VO2max for the duration of the race.