In speaking this week with Jon Waldron, longtime running coach at Concord Academy and accomplished masters runner, we kicked around ideas for a tagline for Run Strategies – something that might draw attention and readership to both the site and the blog. I’m also toying with the idea of starting a podcast of interviews with top regional masters runners and was looking for a name for that podcast. He suggested: “Hidden In Plain Sight.” Jon noted the many examples of incredible masters runners who are buried behind the pack of open division frontrunners.
I looked at two of the 2019 USATF-New England Grand Prix races, the 5K in Westfield and the 10 Miler in New Hampshire. As expected, Jon’s instincts were confirmed. In the 5K, 49 out of the 1,506 runners (a mere 3.3%) accomplished at least an 85% age grading and of those, 26 were over 40 with 17 of those over 50. In the 10 Miler, only 14 of 1,128 runners (1.2%) achieved 85% AG status, with 8 of those 14 over 50. Another 57 runners earned at least an 80% AG with 34 (48%) of the 71 80%+ age graders being masters runners. Thus, 4.7% of the runners in that race ran national caliber age-graded times. This reflects the depth of the New England running community and the draw of the Grand Prix.
To recap, age grading is the system endorsed by World Masters Athletics (WMA) maintained and updated every five years by Howard Grubb. It aims to level the playing field. Essentially, the percentage attained, gathered by putting age, gender, distance, and time into the provided AG calculator, produces a % representing the time achieved compared to the world best for that age, gender, distance, and time. A 60% AG suggests the runner is “local class,” meaning they would be expected to place in their age division in a lower key local race. 70% is regional class, 80% national class, and 90%+ world class. An illustration of how this plays out is a 30 year-old man running a 16:16 5K would have an 80% AG, while a 70 year-old would attain 80% with a 21:50 time. Each time the tables have been updated, the standard gets higher, because actual times have been getting faster. Of course, not everyone embraces this system, saying “that’s why we run the races.” Well enough, but I’m long past hope of sticking with the leaders of a major race and age grading helps me see how I’m performing year over year.
Back to the data, at the 10 Miler the top 40 year-old runner placed 41st and ran 56:33, an excellent time on a hilly course on a warm day. The top 50 year old was 46th, top 60s was 127th and the top 70s 252nd. All of these exceeded an 80% age grading. To be sure, there was a huge throng of national level runners in the masters divisions!
Many of these top masters have tasted victory in younger years, or at least know what it feels like to run in or near the lead pack. It’s exhilarating! But to greater and lesser degrees, these runners have come to terms with being hidden in plain sight. It is not easier to train or race at a slower pace as we age. In fact, it’s harder! Nevertheless, this group of accomplished masters opt to push themselves through the rigors of hard training rather than settle for the couch. That time may come, sometimes not chosen, but it’s not now! Meanwhile, there is much to celebrate in this level of continued effort and achievement.