Running is a great sport for you as you age. You can do it at your own pace. There is not as much risk of injury as there is in other sports such as rugby, soccer, netball, basketball and hockey (think knees, hips and ankles), and you can compare your performance as you age to that of your glory years, by using age-graded percentages.
Effects of ageing
For the average person, sometime in their late 30’s to early 40’s, a number of physical changes start to take place. Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, lung elasticity declines, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
These changes will have an adverse impact on performance, but that doesn’t mean they need to have an adverse impact on the enjoyment of running. Many people actually take up running in their 40’s, and continue to enjoy it into their 60’s, 70’s and (beyond).
It is generally thought that running speeds over any distance decline by about 1% per year from a peak at some time in a person’s 30’s, and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% per decade. Hence, the use of age categories makes sense, as it helps to encourage men and women from all ages to keep running.
Our declining physical prowess is not a particularly cheery thought, I know, but there are heaps of exceptions to this general theory of deterioration. Ed Whitlock, a Canadian athlete ran a marathon in 2:54:48 at the age of 73. Admittedly he is the only person over the age of 70 to run a marathon in under 3hrs, but it does prove it can be done. Whitlock ran in his teens and early 20’s and then took it up again in his 40s.
NSW 10k Road Championships 2013
For further proof that good times can still be run well into late middle age (whatever that is these days) we need look no further than the recent Sydney10. This fun run is open to anyone, and also doubles as the NSW road 10k championships. Some of the winners’ times amongst the over 40’s are pretty startling. Full results can be seen here
40-44: Jo Rankin, 40:11
45-49: Liz Miller, 38:54
50-54: Robyn Basman, 39:20
55-59: Jo Cowan, 45:05
60-64: Mary Sheehan, 44:13
64-69: Shirley Dalton, 57:37
70+: Dorothy Tanner, 56:14
40-44: Nick Bennett, 33:15
45-49: Andrew Wilson, 34:04
50-54: Geoffrey Bruce, 34:32
55-59: David Riches, 36:55
60-64: Dennis Wylie 37:23
65-69: Donald Mathewson 39:16
70+: John Spinney, 48:57
What are age-graded percentages?
Age graded percentage tables allow us to compare times across age categories, by taking a set of age factors and age standards and multiplying these by a time or distance. The first official Age-Graded Tables were compiled by the World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA) in 1989. WAVA has since become WMA – World Masters Athletes.
Standard times were established for males and females for each distance and for all ages from 8 to 100. The standards were pretty much based on world record performances for each age in each event. Performance was plotted against age to give a set of curves that one would expect for a smooth performance regression with age, with adjustments for a small number of results that were inconsistent. Tables have been revised when performances have indicated that a change was necessary. The current tables were last upgraded in 2010.
In a nutshell, your age graded percentage is a measure of how well you are doing compared to the world’s best of your age and gender.
Working out your age graded percentage
Event standard for your age / your result*100
Eg: You’re a 45 year old female and you just ran 10k in 39 mins
The event standard is 1953 secs (32 :33)
Convert 39 mins to seconds : 39*60=2340
32.55/39*100 = 83.46%
Use your age graded percentage for goal setting
If you’re able to keep the same age graded percentage each year, then relative to all other athletes of the same age, you are maintaining your performance level (regardless of your actual time getting slower). If you keep a record of your age-graded performances over the years, you’ll be able to see whether you are improving your performance, maintaining it, or whether you’re going out the back door at a rapid rate!
You can also use the age graded percentage as a motivator. It might not be realistic to be aiming for PB’s every time you perform as you get older, but you can aim for an improvement in your age graded percentage. If you’re sitting at 78%, you can aim to lift this to 80%, and you can use the tables to help you figure out the time you need to aim for to reach the higher percentage. Then you can plan a good training program to reach your realistic target time.
I’ve just worked out that if my time in the upcoming Gold Coast half is 1 min 22 secs slower than the time I did a few years ago, I won’t really have slowed down at all. How good is that? Of course, ever the optimist, I’m aiming to go faster.
Comparing yourself with others in different categories
If you know someone else’s time, you can see how you’ve fared against them, which can be comforting when you simply can’t achieve the same times as that annoying young 30 year old whippersnapper who trains along beside you (you know who you are!).