Why you should embrace age-graded times

When I turned 40 I started noticing something new on some of my race results: age-graded percents. Interesting. I further investigated and learned that this number represented a percentage of the world-best time for the distance for a specific age and gender. I further learned that using an age-grade calculator (like this one), we can also calculate our own age-graded time for any given race.

Age-graded times can help level the playing field when trying to compare ourselves to other athletes of varying ages and genders. Mostly though, I think these stats are just a better way for us to compete against ourselves as we age. While late into my 40s I was still setting actual personal records, I didn’t pay much attention to the handicaps I was being given. Now at 54, I’ve added a column for age-graded time to the Excel Spreadsheet on which I keep my race results. 

Let’s look at some examples. My personal record set in the 10k (in 1998!), was 46:52. I was 33. The age-graded score was 65%. In 2015 when I was making a real concerted effort to chase it down, the closest I managed to come was 48:47. But now I was 50 and the age-graded score was 70% with an age-graded time of 43:10. So it can be argued that I was essentially fitter at 50, then 33.

I wrote in my wrap-up about the Chicago Marathon two weeks ago that my time for this marathon made it my fastest “age-graded” marathon (3:33:40 vs. 3:34:26 for my actual marathon PR set in New Jersey at age 48). That’s not to say I don’t think I still have an actual marathon personal record in me. I’m still shooting for that, but at some point I am resolved to the fact that I will be slowing down. Keeping track of age-graded times in addition to real times will help keep things interesting.

I have never been a runner that was going to win a race. Although I have managed to pick-up age group awards. Competition is a lot more fun when you don’t care about the men or the twenty-somethings passing you. And it feels damn good when I know placed well among women 50-54. I’m on the high-end of the age group at the moment, so I am looking forward to turning 55 this spring and being a “youngster” again. 

Which brings me to Boston. Well not exactly, to Boston, but perhaps why Boston still eludes me. When I ran the New Jersey Marathon is 2014, I surprised myself by not only finishing in under 4 hours (my stretch goal), but realized I had come within 2 minutes and 51 seconds of a Boston qualifying time. I was 48. Age-graded, that time was 3:34:26 as I stated above. I needed a time (then*) of 3:55:00 (which age-graded for a 48 year old was 3:31:52. 

Now, I am attempting to qualify for Boston 2021 in the women’s 55-59 age group and need a time better than 4:05:00. Age-graded, that translates to 3:22:01 for a 55 year old. And it only gets worse. The qualifying time for women 60-64 is 4:20:00 or an age-graded time of 3:20:06 for a 60 year old. Compare that to the qualifying standard of 3:30:00 for women 18-34. The lesson about age-graded scoring here is that it actually gets more difficult to qualify for Boston, not easier, as the actual qualifying times would have you believe. If you’re still young, work on qualifying now.

If you’re over 40, embrace age-graded times. It’s a great way to stay motivated, competitive and confident, especially when your age-graded times in your 50s or 60s are just blowing away what you were doing in your 20s or 30s.  And keep running no matter what!

Back at it. Deerpath Park. Vernon Hills, Illinois. October 2019.

*The Boston Athletic Association Changed the Qualifying Standards for the 2020 Boston Marathon.

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