What It Means To Grow Older In The Sport

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Aging as a runner isn't a bad thing when it comes to health benefits and race stats. What It Means To Grow Older In The Sport www.runnerclick.com

Entering a new age decade can be exciting, but it also comes with a whole new set of challenges. It might mean our metabolism isn’t as fast as it used to be or that we need a lot more recovery after enjoying a night with some drinks. For runners, it means moving up in the age group brackets when racing.

Running And Aging

For starters, running is kind to people of all ages. It welcomes all ages in with open arms. You are never “too old” to start running. Some start with high school track—or even younger. Others start running in their 70s.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash.

In fact, running has lots of anti-aging properties. This includes a reduced risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S., and a sharper mind. Runners have a higher volume of gray matter in the brain, so have better concentration and focus.

Runners were found to also have longer telomeres, the structures at the end of a chromosome that protect DNA from deterioration. Running basically slows down the aging process even from the cellular level.

But what does it mean to grow older in the sport?

Older Race Age

Races break up runners into various age groups. While there is always a first, second, and third place finisher in the race, age group placement (also first, second and third for that age group) allows runners to see how they performed against their peers. In a way, it evens the playing field since an 18-year-old racer is probably a lot faster than a 40-year-old.

Most races follow the USATF standard for age groups which are: 14 and under, 15-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 70-74, 75-79, 80-84, 85-89, and 90 and over.

While some people dread getting a year older, it does have some benefits in the racing world. Moving up to the next age group means that the runner has a higher chance of beating their opponent. Some may not run races for this reason, but it is a great incentive to help push the pace when knowing that placing for their age group is a real possibility.

Photo: Stage 7 Photography | Unsplash

The younger age groups are highly competitive because these teens are incredibly fast. Expect to see young men finish a 5k in around 18 minutes. Even if a 29-year-old runner is killing it performance wise and had a year of personal records, they might not be able to get this fast. But their 26 minute 5k can translate into impressive stats when compared to those in the 30-35 group.

There are even pro runners who thought they reached the peak of their career, but then crushed records well into their late 30s and 40s. Just because we are getting older doesn’t mean we slow down as runners. It is a new chance to buckle down and train hard to see how we stack with this new circuit of runners.

From the 20s to the 30s

Besides the track star youth, another tough age group is the ones in the 20s. This is made up over former and current track runners at the college level, as well as young adults who are just fit and fast. Many races like 5ks are popular among this age group.

There are still fit and fast runners in the 30s and on. But there are fewer people in the older age groups generally as the age increases.

So since super fast runners will likely finish overall, there is a window for age group awards to drive the runner as fast as they can to the finish.

Photo by Stage 7 Photography on Unsplash

But for those runners who just fell shortly behind the top runners in their age group when in their 20s, moving up to the 30s age group has its perks when it comes to competing. This includes having more years of training which leads to faster speeds and an increase in endurance. They might also run the same race a few times, so throw in what to expect on the race day as a major benefit.

This runner ran a local Valentine’s Day-theme 5k in 30:30.7 at age 26 in the 25-29 category. This resulted in a fifth age group placement. But now at age 30, this would place me in third place based on the 30-34-year-old females from that same year. And if a runner improved when it comes to speed and endurance over the past 4 years, chances are they will finish even faster.

Many everyday runners start racing in their 20s. So by the time they hit 30, they are experienced, well trained and ready to take on the slightly older competition.

And who knows, the runner might just take home the top age group award in the next race.