Masters Age Grading

Masters runners are beginning to understand why age grading is helping to make competition fairer and more equitable than in the past. Still, many runners don't know how it is determined and how the system was developed.

In New Jersey, road racers who receive their race results post card from Dave Siconolfi of CompuScore are given an age adjusted time. In 1996 they will also see their Performance Level Percentage and how they placed in the age adjusted scoring.

Readers of newspapers which carry race results from Runners News Service see the top overall finishers in a race and often, the top age adjusted masters performers.


When road racing blossomed into a national pastime about 20 years ago, the concept of special age divisions for older runners was developed. Because it is a biological fact of nature that men and women slow down and lose strength with age, separating the older, or masters runner to be judged separate from the open runners made sense.

Sometimes a race would have ten year age divisions and more progressive races further divided those divisions into five-year groups. This made things much fairer for the older competitors. They only had to compete against those about their own age.

But could there be a way to evaluate all of the older competitors' performances by developing a sliding scale that would even things up and place all of them into one category? Wouldn't this make it more equitable when purse money was being paid to the masters runners?

When purse money is paid to masters runners, separate from the open runners, we are recognizing the effects of aging, but then invalidating the concept by giving the purse to the younger masters athletes who are naturally going to have faster times than the older runners.

With an age grading system, the 60 year old runner would then have as even a shot at the purse as they 40 year old. With the advancement of computers, such a concept could be implemented. All that was needed was an accurate method to appraise the performances by the top athletes in each one-year age division to be factored against the top open athlete's performances.

Through many hours of work, researching and compiling data, the first age grading tables were developed by the World Association of Veteran Athletes, the world governing body for masters track and field, long distance running and race walking. Those first tables were published in 1989. In 1994, the tables were updated with new data, and they will continue to be updated, probably on a five-year basis.

Two ways to Age Grade

The tables can be used in two ways - first by using an age grading standard to determine an athletes' PLP (performance level percentage). The second way would be to re-adjust an athlete's time to that of an open athlete by using an age factor. It is the latter that runners in New Jersey have been seeing on their race results post card from CompuScore.

Using an example in the Age Grading Table, a 53 year old woman runner has finished a 10K in 45:18. The 10K factor for her is .8545. By multiplying 45:18 (or 2718 seconds) by .8545 we reach 38:43 as her age graded time.

To determine her performance level percentage you would take her standard which is 35:01 and divide 35:01 (2101 seconds) by 45:18 to get her PLP of 77.3%.

The performance level percentage is used for track and field performances because they encompass a wide range of events. Using the standard we can determine that a 40 year old man who runs 100 meters in 12:07 has a PLP of 85.6. A 62 year old man high jumps 4'6" for a 79.7 PLP.

A 42 year old woman runs 80 meter hurdles in 12:33 for a 89.4 PLP. An 80 year old man runs 1500 meters in 7:25 for a 74 PLP and a 46 year old woman puts the shot 34'1/2" for a 61 PLP.

Without the age standards we would be hard pressed to see which of these athletes had the superior performance. With them we can see that the 42 year old woman hurdler comes out on top.

Some road races are using age adjusted scoring for determining their masters purse money winners. The National USATF Masters LDR Committee is in full support of age adjustment and is working hard to encourage it's adoption throughout the country.

Not fully understood or appreciated

The transition to age grading is not taking place without some confusion and protest. Some masters runners feel they don't know who they are running against until the computer spits out the results. However, this is true in any race unless we recognize and know the ages of all of the other runners. Some national championships require we wear age division numbers on our backs but this isn't always enforced and is almost never done in state level races.

It can be discomfiting to find that a runner who finished behind you in a race is moved ahead in the age graded scoring. The younger masters runners can't be sure they won't be surpassed by a 50 or 60 year-old. However, if the older runner's performance was an 85 performance level percentage, and the youthful master's was but an 81, it makes sense to move the other runner up.

As a competitor who is more than 15 years older than my youngest masters rival, I immediately saw the fairness of age grading. But it doesn't give me a free ride into the winners circle. In competitive races where I have had a poor performance and younger women had better, I was rightly relegated below them in the scoring. Age grading is paradoxically quite blind to age - only performance counts.

Those standards are tough!

A viewpoint often expressed regarding age grading is that the tables are too lenient towards the older masters. No one who has ever studied the tables will say this. The standards are very tough. For a 55 year old woman, a 100 percent performance level in a 5K is a 17:17, for a 10K it's 37:36. In 1995 the USATF Road Running Information Center lists the fastest 5K time for the 55 to 59 age division as 19:37, the fastest 10K was 40:37

A 65 year old woman would have to run a 5K in 19:19 to score at 100 PLP and a 39:51 at 10K. In 1995 the fastest times listed are 22:52 and 46:55.

Men are coming closer to their standards than are the women, yet they remain out of reach as well. For a man of 55, the standards are 15:08 for 5K and 31:18 for 10K. The RRIC lists 16:35 as the fastest 5K in 1995 and 33:16 as the fastest 10K. For Men 65 the standards are 16:38 and 34:25, yet the fastest time run in that division in 1995 were 18:36 and 40:01.

Track your performances

In addition to determining best performances in a race, age adjusting has a relevance on a more personal level. Individual masters athletes can use the tables to track their own performances. With age adjusting they can compare their best effort at age 45 to their best at 50 and 55, and on and on until they run off into the sunset forever.

While their actual time may be slower, their adjusted time could show that their performance has improved. This has particular significance for athletes who only took up the sport in their later years.

For example, as a 43 year old novice, I ran a 43:15 in a 10K, which age grades to a 40:26 for 74 PLP. Ten years later, I improved slightly by running a 42:37. However, with age adjustment, that 42:37 becomes a 36:25 for an 82 PLP, a marked improvement that would not otherwise be apparent. In order to set my goals in the years to come, I need only check the charts to see what times I need to run to stay at the same level that I was at age 53.

If you would like to be able to chart your own performances, the Age Graded Tables - in reality a 60 page magazine size paperback- is available from the National Masters News for only $ 6.00, plus $ 1.25 shipping. Send a check to NMN at P O Box 50098, Eugene, OR 97405.

Copyright © 1995
Author is Madeline Bost
Last Update: 22 February 96