Monday, November 30, 2015

Don Lein's Age-Grading Articles

November 30 2015. The following two articles, "Age Grading Made Simple" and "Exploiting Age Grading", were written a while back by Don Lein, the USATF Masters Long Distance Running Chair. They are still some of the best pieces around on age-grading but are sometimes hard to find. Don has graciously agreed to let me post them here.

Age Grading Made Simple
In the deep dark days beyond recall, when Phidippides was running in the 5th century BC, the laurels were always to the swiftest.  It remained that way for centuries.  Indeed there was only one category of runners and that was runners (athletes, to purists), irrespective of age.  There was no masters category.  Indeed just living to age 40 was an achievement in those days.  Phidippides was therefore doubly remarkable because he was a Master in age when he did the 280 mile round trip from Marathon to Sparta and the 40 KM run from Marathon to Athens. 
It was not until 15 centuries later in 1025 that Avicenna (Abu Ali Sina), Persian physicist recommended exercise to keep older patients healthy and broke a person’s lifespan into 4 categories – growth, prime, elderly and decrepit.  Approximately 600 years later Shakespeare in his play “As You Like It”, had Jacques soliloquizing about the seven ages of man.  One wonders why it took life so long to imitate art.  The leaders in our sport can take solace in the fact that the study of effects of aging across a broad spectrum of activities did even not have a name until 1904 when Mechnikov coined the term gerontology.
As the twentieth century wore on, age spans were expanding and more older runners were entering our sport.  It became obvious that these older runners could not compete on the basis of raw times with their younger brethren, which led to the first breakthrough which was an official Masters category beginning with athletes, typically, age 40 and older.  Alas, this was only a temporary solution because our leaders found that 60 and 70 year olds could not compete for prizes with the 40 and 50 year olds.  Thus they formed 10 year age groups, but we had a similar problem with 59 year olds having to compete with 50 year olds.  Five year age groups were established, but with the same problem persisting.  What was needed was a measuring technique that would level the playing field amongst all runners – old and young alike.
     In 1989, World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA) developed a set of tables in one year age increments for all standard events under their purview.   These tables allow a runner to have her/his raw time  be converted to an equivalent open time through using what is known as age factors.  If races, indeed, awarded all/most of their awards on the basis of age graded times it would be the most level playing field of all, irrespective of whether the athlete is 16 or 26 or 60.  The more common use of these tables involves what are called age standards and that allows the athlete to determine her/his performance level based upon a percentile derived.
     The percentile classifications are:
100% - Approximate World Record Level
Over 90% - World Class Level
Over 80% - National Class Level
Over 70% - Regional Class Level
The most current set of these tables is located at the USATF website at .  If the timing company for your race does not calculate your age grades, you can do your own calculations or there are age grade calculators available.  Use of these percentiles allows every runner to compare their performances with every other runner, irrespective of age and with themselves as they go through their own journey of aging.

                                                  EXPLOITING AGE GRADING
     Three years ago this month the article I wrote was called “Age Grading Made Simple” in order to convince people in the industry to more widely use it.  That has happened with those responsible for that wider use crediting age grading with attracting more and new people to the sport.  Credit for that happening should not be given to the article, but, simply giving innovative race administration better tools has proven efficacious since the beginning of our industry.  Let’s recap and look at some of the examples  of innovative use of age grading.
     The WMA (nee WAVA) age grading standards are 25 years old this year.  They have gone through several “ fine tunings” regarding modifying  the standards slightly, but, at least in Road Running, the fine tunings are done and we have a finished product.  What is the product??  At its simplest, it is a way of handicapping athletes to compensate for the aging process and at its most complex it is a model containing world-wide empiric data.  It can translate your result either into its equivalent time for an Open athlete or it can translate it into a percentile.  It is most often used as a percentile, since most people can relate excellence to a percentile.  Typically the percentiles are stated thusly:
                                        100% - Approximate World Record Level
                                        Over 90% - World Class Level
                                        Over 80% - National Class Level
                                        Over 70% - Regional Class Level
     One of the leaders in innovative use of these standards is the Masters Long Distance Running Committee of USATF.  In our championship guidelines we require more award money be awarded for age grading than for overall winners.  Why??  Simply because the overall prize winners are almost always going to be 40 year olds and we want to encourage runners over 40 of all ages to participate and we want to give them as level a playing field as possible and the age grading tables allow us to do that.  As a case in point at our 2012 10K Championship held in Ann Arbor, MI, Chris Kennedy, 57, who finished 42nd overall was first in age grade; second in age grade was Kevin Miller, 50, who was 4th overall; third went to Malcolm Campbell, 41, who was first overall; fourth was Edie Stevenson , 62, who was 67th overall and fifth was Doug Goodhue, 70,  who was 50th overall.  It has been recommended that all Association Championships and Grand Prixs follow a similar pattern and award the most prestigious awards to age grade winners since that approach reaches a more diverse set of age groups, which the Michigan results illustrate.
     Another  innovative approach that highlights age grading is done in the Pacific Association.  They keep a current list of the top 50 age graded performers and performances on their website and update it weekly.  It can be seen at .  It both highlights the performers and performances, on a dynamic basis, and represents a challenge to be listed.  Does your Association even know who your top age graded performers are?  Do your athletes even know their age grade performance level?  It has been suggested that Associations hold a dedicated Age Graded Championship to determine, annually, who are the best age grade performers, with appropriate awards.
     Still another approach which illustrates the versatility of age grading, has one club competing in several championship races with other clubs, with the winner being determined by the top 10 age graded performances for each team.  Something that is frequently overlooked is that age grading, although used extensively by Masters, also contains standards for all ages, including Open.  Thus in competitions of these types, the top 10 may consist of a mix of gender and ages, to include Youth, Open and Masters.  If you are looking to expand your base of athletes who can score in events such as these, age grading is an unrivalled vehicle for that purpose.
     If your club or Association is doing something innovative, please let me know at  so that we can inform others as to how this very versatile tool can be used to reach a broader audience and bring in more members.

No comments:

Post a Comment