Fitness and ability can vary across both gender and age, which is why we need a way of levelling the playing field. Understanding the age grading system does just that. Here’s how:
We can all enter the same race, and run the same distance, but the fitness and level of exertion to complete it will vary significantly across age and gender. For example, a super fit 60 year old might run a 10k in 1:10, while the same time for an average 30 year old doesn't require the same effort. So how do we tell who is the fitter, faster runner?
The age grading system works much like a golf handicap, essentially giving us a guide to make allowances from, dependent on set criteria. A team of statisticians who review global race records every few years work out the age grade table. This is done by looking at the race times of athletes across a range of different age groups and genders, covering every distance from 5k through to a marathon. By doing this, they identify the best possible time of each age and sex of an athlete.
How fast YOU run
Age grading is worked out on how fast you run against the record times for your gender and age group. For example, imagine a 50 year old man finishes a half marathon in 12th place, while his son, who is 35, finishes in 8th place. Numerically you would say that the 35 year old beat the other runner. However, when we look at the age grading, it may very well reveal that the 50 year old outperformed the younger athlete, scoring higher for his age grade and effectively beating his son.
A fair comparison
The age grade allows runners to make a fair comparison of their performance and is a much better scale on which to set goals and push yourself. However, this system doesn't allow for terrain, weather, wind and other factors that might inhibit your performance. You’ll notice many events will also work out your age grade alongside your position doing the hard work for you. You can also find online calculators where you can input your age, sex, distance and time to work out your percentage score – the higher the percentage, the better.
Most age grade calculators are based on the tables produced by the World Masters Athletics (WMA). The scores can be matched to the following categories:
60+% – Local Class Level
70+% – Regional Class Level
80+% – National Class Level
90+% – World Class Level
100% – Approximate world record level