I recently had a birthday. It wasn’t one of those marquee numbers that runners get all excited about, though. It was just an even number rolling to an odd number. But in 2023 I’ll get one of those Age Group flips! Look out, next bracket, here I come!
People who say age is just a number were probably never a runner, or an athlete in any other sport that pits like aged individuals against other like aged individuals. And one of my favorite lies has always been ‘I feel as good as I did 25 years ago’. No. No you don’t.
The age group divisions in running are a great equalizer when it comes to the competition. In my early days, I envied the upper age group runners but never really spent any time thinking about them as competitors. As I started getting ‘less young’ (when I hit 40), the competitive advantage of youth started to wane, as did the gap between myself and those older athletes. In the younger years, it was about the Open division (usually 39 and under), but as the years pass, I’m no longer on the same lap as those 20, 30 or even 40 year olds.
Runners are for the most part competitive by nature. We want to outrun other runners, or ourselves or some other force. It’s the Age Group Divisions that allow us to maintain that spirit of competition.
When I turned 40, I started competing at some of the regional and national Master’s Competitions (that’s what they call us 40+ runners… we’re MASTERS. And 50+? GRAND MASTERS). A nice feature at those national meets was a second race bib that was worn on the back of competitors, indicating which Age Group they were in.
In 2014, I placed 4th at the Outdoor Track & Field Championships, held at Wake Forest University, in the 10,000 meters (running 37’20). I missed a medal because the 3rd place competitor (who beat me by :04 seconds) wasn’t wearing a back age group bib. I had plenty left but did not realize a medal was a short sprint away. The next day I placed 8th in the 5,000 meters, running 18’10. I was sorta tired and Age Groups don’t excuse for tired (see my comment above about feeling like you did 25 years ago).
All races, big and small, local and far away, miles and marathons, offer age group awards. These are almost always on the race app or website. Larger races tend to offer those 5-year spreads (40-44, for example) but smaller ones may opt for the 10-year range (20-29). Male and female divisions are the norm, and a few races are starting to offer the binary race division as well.
Enjoy the aging process. You may be slowing down relative to you 25 years ago, but so are your competitors. And that’s what makes it interesting! Just don’t lie about feeling as good as you did years ago. We know better.
I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails.