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Veteran Grandmasters are the New Masters Runners

Date: 
09/07/2017 - 05:12

By Lena Hollmann
When I asked my running friends whether they would like to have a Veteran Grandmasters Division at the races, the answer was an overwhelming ‘Yes’!

Some of you might wonder, what‘s a Veteran Grandmaster? And rightfully so, since the concept does not yet exist. Right now it’s just a name that I created, for a runner over 70 years of age. Since a runner over 60 is referred to as a Senior Grandmaster, I found it logical to call a runner over 70 a Veteran Grandmaster. As the running population is growing older we see more Veteran Grandmasters at our races, several of them producing stellar results.

Many races are already giving separate awards for Masters runners (age 40+), and some also for Grandmasters (age 50+). Here in Florida you will also often find a Senior Grandmasters division for runners age 60 and older. Awards in these categories are in addition to the overall and five year age group awards, and it is common practice to not let runners “double dip.” In other words, if you win an award in an overall category, you are usually excluded from the age group awards.

The practice to give separate division awards in addition to overall and age group awards evolved over the years, as the running population grew older. Competitive road racing has primarily been a sport for baby boomers, and this may still be the case. There are youngsters at the races, including some who will leave us “old folks” in the dust, but the median age among runners keeps going up.

The creation of new but “older” divisions started with a separate Masters division for runners age 40 and above, around the time we baby boomers began to reach that age. At age 40 we weren’t always able to place among the top three overall, so a separate Masters category seemed justified. And as we continued to age up –and continued to run and race – the time became ripe to introduce a Grandmasters division, for runners age 50 and older.

In 2011, Road Runners Club of America, a.k.a. RRCA, introduced a Senior Grandmasters (age 60+) division at their championship races. It was soon catching on elsewhere, and at least here in Florida we now have a Senior Grandmasters division at many races. And it is often quite competitive!

Now back to the original question: Are we ready for yet another division, for runners age 70 and above? We baby boomers are rapidly approaching that age, and some are already there. And we want to keep on running and racing for as long as we can! So, small wonder that the friends that I asked (ranging in age from 50 to 91, and all runners) want competitive age groups and divisions beyond age 60.

But would race directors be as happy as the runners about introducing a new division, and maybe also a few more age groups? (Currently in races outside of Florida, age groups sometimes end at 60 or 65.) The new division and age groups would have to be programmed into the race results, and more awards would need to be purchased. And a new Veteran Grandmaster division would increase the potential for errors and confusion at awards ceremonies, especially when older runners excel so much that they take home awards in a younger category. Here in Naples, FL, this happens all the time, because we have runners in their 60’s who are fast enough to place in the in the Masters and Grandmasters divisions. This excludes them from collecting awards in the Senior Grandmasters category and bumps everyone else here (including myself!) up one notch.

It should also be noted that in some races, especially smaller races outside of Florida, there may not be enough runners to “justify” having separate Grandmasters and Senior Grandmasters categories, and even less so for Veteran Grandmasters. And with a Veteran Grandmasters division in a smaller race, the winner could be in the back of the pack, delaying the time frame until complete results would be available.

However, the above is about to drastically change as we baby boomer runners move up in the age groups. Since many of us refuse to “get old” and will keep on racing, the older age groups will be more competitive, both when it comes to the number of runners and the quality of our performances. Not only here in Florida, but probably in the rest of the country as well. Ten years from now runners who are currently in their 50s will be in their 60s. And those of us in our 60s will be in our 70s, and often left out of the awards. Unless we have a Veteran Grandmasters Division!

So yes, we runners are definitely ready. If not yet, then very soon. My running friends are all for it, at least the ones that I asked. And when I peruse race results, and read articles about talented runners in their 60s, 70s and beyond, I must say “why not”? We need another division for these runners!

And I guess, eventually we will have it. Probably here in Florida before anywhere else. Because only in Florida can you be a 65 year old female and “only” place fourth in your age group with a 26:28 in a local 5K, or by running two hours flat in a half marathon.

The latter example was my performance at the Naples Half Marathon this January, where age group awards went five deep, and a 2:00:34 gave me the fourth place award in the 65-59 age group. This does not count 68 year old Jeannie Rice, who ran 1:42:53, placing second in the Senior Grandmasters and therefore excluded from the age group awards. And had I been one year younger and in the 60-64 age group, I would not have gotten any age group award at all!

For comparison, I was able to dig up results from the Naples Half Marathon ten years ago, in 2007. I discovered that back then the female 65-69 age group was won by Esther van Duzee of Bradenton, FL, in 2:28:51. Also, there appears to have been only six women in the age group, compared to 19 this year. So, at least based on this sample of one single age group in one single race, running among us “older folks” has evolved quite a bit in the past ten years.

Another interesting tidbit from the 2007 Naples Half Marathon was that they had a Senior Grandmasters division already back then. Again, the RRCA did not introduce it until 2011, and many races not until after that. So here’s another testament that Florida is a “trendsetter” state for older generations, at least when it comes to running. Since we (presumably) were the first state to have a Senior Grandmaster division at the races, I hope that we can also be the first to introduce a Veteran Grandmaster division.

And once it happens in Florida, I’m sure the rest of the country will follow suit!

Lena Hollmann is a certified personal trainer with American Council on Exercise (ACE). She lives and runs in Naples, FL, and can be reached at lenahollmann@gmail.com.

This column appeared in the September issue of Running Journal

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