Providing Age-Graded Awards

05/18/2018 - 16:51

By: Haskell Murray

Haskell Murray Headshot.jpgAs we age, most of us slow down. To keep older runners in the mix for awards, many races have added a masters category for 40+ year-old runners. Some races have added a grandmasters category for 50+ year-old runners. Races also tend to give a plethora of age-group awards. I propose that race directors consider moving away from these categories—which favor those in the early years of the grouping and disfavor those in competitive age groups—and instead provide age-graded awards.

For those who are unaware, age-graded calculators, such as the free online Runner’s World calculator, provide a percentage-based grade, using your time and the world record time at your age and gender. For example, according to the Runner’s World calculator a 3:00 marathon by a 25-year old male is approximately equivalent to a 4:00 marathon by a 69-year old male or a 3:30 marathon by a 44 year-old female (68-69%).

Switching to age-graded awards could have the following benefits:

Broaden competition. In many local road races, some age groups do not have even three participants. In those races, you podium just by finishing. Age-graded awards would include runners in these typically weak age-groups in the main competition, on a level playing field.

Improve fairness. Age-graded awards more equitably distribute prizes than age-group awards. With the typical age group awards, a 31-year old who runs a 19:00 5K could place higher in his age group than a 41-year old who runs an 18:30. With the proposed age-graded awards, the 41-year old would always, properly, finish much higher than the 31-year old.

Encourage full effort. At too many local races you know the usual suspects in your age group and you are tempted to coast if you are ahead of them. With age-graded awards, full effort would be encouraged because you would not know, until after the race, if someone was running a better age/gender adjusted pace.

Lessen need for so many awards. Even small, local races often give age-group awards three-deep, in 15 or so different age categories, for both men and women. Costs for these ~90 awards must add up, but races do this to engage runners at ever age group. Age-graded awards would still give runners of every age a reasonable shot to win, but could do so with a much smaller number of awards.

Provide opportunity for better awards. With fewer awards, perhaps race directors could afford better, more useful awards. For example, maybe include a small gift card to a local running store.

Here is the way age/gender graded adjustments would have changed the top performances from major 5Ks in my hometown of Nashville last year (2017). Races include the East Nashville Tomato 5K, Franklin Classic 5K, GraceWorks Turkey Trot 5K, Mid-TN Shootout 5K, Oktoberfest Bier Run 5K, Purity Dairy Dash 5K, and Tom King Classic 5K.

Unadjusted Results
(1) 21M - 15:38
(2) 28M - 15:46
(3) 26M – 15:48
(4) 21M - 15:49
(5) 22M - 15:49
(6) 25M - 16:03
(7) 23M- 16:05
(8) 24M - 16:05
(9) 30M - 16:14
(10) 29M - 16:15

Age/Gender Adjusted Results
(1) 57M – 86.41% (18:02)
(2) 57F – 85.91% (20:49)
(3) 24F – 83.58% (17:40)
(4) 26F – 83.51% (17;41)
(5) 21M – 83.03% (15:38)
(6) 60M – 82.52% (19:21)
(7) 28M – 82.35% (15:46)
(8) 37M – 82.23% (16:19)
(9) 40M – 82.22% (16:41)
(10) 26M – 82.17% (15:48)

In the unadjusted results, all 10 of the top-10 were male runners, and all 10 were age 21 to 30. In the adjusted results, 60% of the top-5 and 30% of the top-10 were female, and the age of the runners ranged from 21 to 60.

Two, hopefully minor, implementation hurdles exist. First, race directors would have to convince timing companies to include age-graded percentages in their results. Adding the age-graded calculation to the results does not seem like it would be very difficult, but it would require some programming updates. If the programing fix is too difficult, race directors could give head starts to runners based on age and gender like the famous Dipsea Trail Race does. Second, age-graded awards would increase the temptation for runners to lie about their ages. However, given how small most road race awards are, and the fact that most results (with ages) would be posted online for all to see and check, I don’t see age falsification being a widespread problem.

If you like the idea of age-graded awards, ask some of your local race directors and timing companies to consider it. Age-graded awards could create a more inclusive and competitive race experience for all runners.

(Haskell Murray is an associate professor of business law at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, and runs with the Nashville Harriers Running Club.)

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