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Use age grading to measure your running performance and progress

Use age grading to measure your running performance and progress

If your childhood was anything like mine, you grew up with distaste for red ink. You cringed when you saw red notes, symbols, and numbers etched into your finely crafted work. Thanks to our school teachers and their red pens—precariously dangled above the page like a surgeon’s scalpel—many of us shy away from advice.

What we often learn, once we move beyond our repulsion for red ink, is that our papers are bursting with feedback and constructive criticism. And over time, if we work hard, study, and heed our teachers’ lessons, we grow.

Our assessments need not end when we exit the classroom; as runners, we can measure our performance and progress via age grading.

Developed in 1989 by World Association of Veteran Athletes, age grading is a tool that measures a runner’s performance in a distance against a world record performance in the same distance by a person of the same age.

It has three primary functions in a runner’s life.

1. Measure your performance 
Let’s say your name is Jack Rabbit. You are a 32-year-old male who just ran a 5K PR—23:15. The approximate world record in the 5K by a 32 year old is 13:00 based on the age grading table.

13:00/23:15 = 55.9%

Yes, 55.9% is a failing grade in the classroom, but calculating a runner’s performance differs from that of reading, writing, and arithmetic. While most of us do not run to flirt with national or world records, we toe the line to compete, mostly against ourselves. If you think about it, Jack Rabbit performed better than 55.9% of runners his age. And next season, if he works at it, he can improve his grade.

2. Level the playing field 
Age grading provides a level playing field for athletes of any age, sex, and division.

Remember Jack, the 32 year-old who ran that 23:15 5K?

In that same race, Jack’s dad, Peter, 55, broke 25 minutes in the 5K, 24:57. His age grade is 61.63%. Jack’s younger sister, 23 year-old Bunny, ran 24:36, which translates to a grade of 60.16%. In this race, Jack crossed the finish line first, followed closely by Bunny and Peter. But on paper, Peter has the best age grade, followed by Bunny and Jack.

1 Jack 32 23:15 55.9%
2 Bunny 23 24:36 60.16%
3 Peter 55 24:57 61.63%


3. Identify your strengths and weaknesses 
If you take Jack Rabbit’s initial 5K age grade of 55.9% and plug it in to a race projection calculator, you can see Jack’s equivalent/potential performances in other distances. Running for Fitness provides a useful calculator that allows you to predict and compare race performances through a variety of accepted formulas.

To achieve the same 55.9% grade in the 10K, Jack would have to run a 48:24. If he puts in his best efforts and runs a 51:03, it shows that Jack needs to reassess his training and make adjustments to improve his fitness. Adding longer tempo sessions, and hill training to his diet could help Jack close the gap and make the grade.

Do you make the grade? 

The USA Track and Field has developed the following categories to define performance levels.

  • 100% = Approximate World Record Level
  • Over 90% = World Class
  • Over 80% = National Class
  • Over 70% = Regional Class
  • Over 60% = Local Class

To find out, all you have to do is run a race (or a hard effort workout in your own time). Then plug in your most recent performances and measure your progress. The red pen is now in your hands.

Written by Stephen Marcin.