A few years ago, I ran a race wherein the winners were not the ones who got to the finish the fastest but rather the ones who got to the finish fastest when you also subtracted age-grading variables. For those who do not know, age grading stems from the undeniable fact that both men and women lose strength and slow down with age. About a decade ago, with more runners entering the Master’s category, a way was apparently needed so all masters runners could be compared to each other in one category. By making all masters equal regardless of whether they were 40, 50, or 60 years old, awards could then be given to the athlete with the best performance.
I have two thoughts on this subject:
1. This was the product of the Baby Boom Generation getting older and once again thinking that the world had to revolve around them.
2. The whole idea of age grading has always seemed somewhat ridiculous to me.
Absolutely, age is a factor in runners slowing down as time goes on. However, I can think of fewer better occasions to say, “Well, that’s life!” In addition, while indeed a factor, age is far less a decider of someone’s overall race time as are natural ability or training. Some people are simply born with “it” and some are not. Some can work very hard and get to the maximum level that the skills they were born with will allow, but there comes a point when that ceiling is reached for those of us who are not elite.
Given that, I think age grading is insulting to those who have maintained physical fitness over the years. They do not need to receive help in order to lower their times. Likewise, I think, for the most part, those who get a higher ranking because of the age-grading know that they did not actually beat the people who finished in front of them.
This all came to my mind as I recently read an issue of Running Times which had an article about the greatest age-graded times ever run. Some of the times were just mind-boggling.
There is no age-grading calculator out there that would allow me to run times like Dennis Simonatis, a Master’s runner in Draper, Utah, who at age 45 ran a 30:08 for a 10K. Holy mackerel. If anything, I need to handicap him. How about the timeless Colleen de Reuck, who at the chipper age of 45 ran a 2:32:37 marathon? Just for math’s sake it is neat to see that those times are a 98% and 98.4% respectively in terms of being close to the absolute fastest anyone could ever run at that age, but I do not need age grading to tell me those are ridiculously fast. These runners are still excelling well past their so-called primes.