The Runners Guide To Age Grading – What Is it & Why It Matters

age grading in runners

Have you ever wondered what age grading is all about? Then you have come to the right place.

What I love the most about running is that it’s a sport open to people of all ages and abilities. Head to the nearest race venue, and you’ll meet everyone from kids to octogenarians, each pushing themselves to be the best runner they can be.

This makes every runner unique.

How you perform is unlike how anyone else runs, which is especially relevant if you’re a different age or gender.

Sure, we can all participate in the same race and run the same distance, but at the end of the day, performance and level of exertion will vary drastically across age and gender.

Overall, men tend to be faster than women (why we have the classes), and older runners tend to be slightly slower than their younger counterparts.

That’s a biological fact.

So how do you tell how is the faster, fitter runner? How do we compare your performance to theirs?

Enter age grading.

This tool considers your age as a handicap and reveals how strong your performance is compared to others—even those of different ages. Think of it as a simple measuring stick to assess your abilities.

In this article, I’ll explain all you need to know about age grading, including its benefits and accuracy, and help you figure out what your age-graded times would be.

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What is Age Grading?

Age grading allows runners of different ages and genders to be scored against each other by producing a percentage score for each run based on age.

More specifically, it’s a method of scoring and judging race performances so that the youngest and oldest runners compete for head to head. It’s a way of measuring (and comparing) racing performance, adjusted for age, sex, and race distance.

This is performed by first comparing the runner’s finish time at that specific distance to the “ideal”  achievable time for that runner’s age and gender. Keep in mind that ideal time doesn’t inherently mean the world record.

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If this is still confusing, consider age grading like a golf handicap. It provides us a guide to making allowances dependent on set criteria.

Age grading can also be compared to a running track. The athletes do not line up at one even starting mark. Instead, they start in their lane at various positions on the track.

The staggered starts aim to ensure that all races cover the same distance, giving each runner an equal shot at performance.

Age grading works the same way.  It lets the athletes have a reference point of comparison, regardless of age or gender.

For older runners, age grading is a big plus. It analyzes race performance and spits out a time based on the formula, which is much faster for most older runners.

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The Math Behind The Tables

Age grade tables are calculated by analyzing runners’ race times across various age groups and genders, covering every distance from 5K to the marathon.

This allows the statistician to better identify the best time for each age and gender.

These values can be used to compare performances between different age groups and genders competing in different events. Therefore, it’s possible to effectively grade your performance.

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Where Did Age-Graded Scores Come From?

The statistical analysis that helps determine age grade percentages were developed by the World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA), which is the organization that governs master long-distance running, racewalking, and track & field.

The first age-graded tables were published in 1989 and the last updated in 2015 (at the time of writing this).

The calculation is carried out by taking word record performances for each age, gender, and distance and using them as benchmarks.

The organization gathered approximate world record level stands for each age between 5 and 100 and genders. Then established different sets of stands for each class road race distance, such as the 5K, 8K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon.

So, for example, if the world record for a 50-year-old man running a 5K is 15:00 and another 50-year-old man runs a 5K in 31:00, he has an age-graded performance of 48 percent (15:00 divided by 31:00)

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The Practicalities of Age Grading

There are two primary benefits of age grading.

The most practical application of age grading allows for a simple comparison between athletes that could not otherwise be competitive.

In other words, age grading makes it possible to compare older runners with younger runners regardless of the event.

For example, a 61-year-old man running a 21:30 5K is a more impressive time than a 23-year-old running 18:30, even though the younger runner’s performance is faster in an absolute sense.

Another useful application of age grading is that it allows you to compare your performance from previous years or to guess what you might have run when you were younger.

By adjusting your performance, regardless of your age and gender, to what it would have been in your prime years, age grading allows you to compare back to past performances.

So, for example, if you’re 51 and have been around the competitive running block for a while, you’ll be able to tell if your running performance is improving over time despite slowing down in absolute terms. Or you could also calculate what your running performance may be in your 20s.

What’s more?

Age grading also allows you to target your ideal personal bests throughout your running career, despite getting older. It helps you go for the right target at the right times.

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Life Is Fair…Sometimes

Age grading allows athletes to make an impartial comparison of their performance and is a much better benchmark on why to set objectives and push yourself.

But here’s the downside. Age scaling doesn’t consider the weather, temperature, terrain, and other variables that might impact running performance.

Other than that, this tool can come in handy when it comes to comparing the performances of runners of different ages and genders.

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Calculating Your Score

You can also use an online calculator to input your age, gender, event distance, and finish time to calculate your percentage score. You got many options.

Overall, the higher the percentage, the better.

These age-grade calculators are based on the tables published by the World Master Athletics.

WAVA has also come up with the following broad achievement levels to be used with age-graded scoring. Each score within the range indicates the performance level achieved by the runner.

The scores usually correspond to the following categories.

  • 100 percent – Approximate world record level
  • 90 + percent – World class level
  • 80+ percent – National class live
  • 70+ percent – Regional class level
  • 60+ percent – Local class level

Here’s the truth.

Don’t feel discouraged if your score for a certain distance is far from the world record time.

Overall, if you score around 90 percent or above, then you should count yourself as world-class (or check if your watch is still working).

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