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Age-graded BQ Standards

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5/6/09

The May, 2009 edition of Runner’sWorld magazine contained an article titled “All in the Timing: Qualifying for the Boston Marathon”. The article discussed the history of requirements to enter the Boston Marathon and the evolution of entry qualification (BQ) time standards from a simple 4-hour requirement first imposed in 1970 to today’s table of BQ time standards for both genders and 5-year age divisions beginning at age 35.

 

Based on 3-year (2006-2008) data from 227 U.S. marathons reported in my BQ Stats Report, the article stated, “….you can’t say the BQs are biased against men or women, and they certainly aren’t biased against older runners. Boston has the same 60/40 male/female split as the average of all marathons in the U.S., while the average age is older than the national average. Here’s what you can say about the BQs: They’re inconsistent.” The last statement reflects a relatively wide range of BQ percentages among the age divisions … from a low of 7.9% of both male and female finishers under age 35 to more than 15% for the 45-49 and 65-69 age divisions.

 

To rectify the inconsistencies, the article suggests, “….there’s a simple way to level the playing field: Use the age-graded tables created by the World Masters Association (WMA), which use world-record times and ‘age factors’ to calculate ‘equivalent times’ for all race distances for every age between 8 and 100. … Why not apply them to America’s first and most historic marathon, which instituted qualifying times and heralds them far and wide? Fairness is an important ethic in road running. It is not always achieved, but it should always be the goal.” To that end, the article presents RW’s proposed changes to the current BQ standards as shown in Table 1. The proposed standards are based on age grading at a 65% performance level.

 

 

 

Men

Women

Age

Current

Proposed

Current

Proposed

18-34

3:10

3:11:58

3:40

3:30:10

35-39

3:15

3:15:08

3:45

3:36:36

40-44

3:20

3:23:23

3:50

3:48:06

45-49

3:30

3:32:24

4:00

4:02:36

50-54

3:35

3:42:16

4:05

4:19:04

55-59

3:45

3:53:05

4:15

4:37:55

60-64

4:00

4:05:01

4:30

5:00:56

65-69

4:15

4:18:14

4:45

5:30:56

70-74

4:30

4:34:38

5:00

6:11:15

75-79

4:45

5:00:56

5:15

7:07:26

80+

5:00

5:43:29

5:30

8:30:37

 

Table 1. Current and RW’s Proposed BQ Standards

 

The purpose of this document is to explore the consequences of applying RW’s proposed change to the BQ standards to actual race results.

 

Calendar year 2008 race results of 225 of the 227 marathons that were included in my BQ Stats analysis and report, which represented approximately 97% of all 2008 U.S. marathon finishers, were used for this analysis. The two excluded races are the Boston Marathon and the Lewis & Clark (MO) marathon, which was shortened to 10 miles on race day due to flooding on the course. BQ rates resulting from current standards and using RW’s proposed standards were tabulated.

 

Applying RW’s proposed age-graded standards would have increased the total number of BQers in 2008 modestly from 41,070 to 42,590 (a 3.7% increase) and the overall BQ rate from 10.7% to 11.1%. However, the effect on the distribution of qualifiers would have been much more significant.

 

  • The current standards result in a 60/40 male/female ratio among BQers, which mirrors the national averages of all U.S. marathon finishers. Age-graded standards would shift the ratio of BQers to closer to 70/30, which clearly would favor males.
  • The current standards favor older runners. In 2008, masters comprised 56% of BQers (and Boston Marathon finishers), compared to 45% of all U.S. marathon finishers. Age-graded standards would exacerbate this inequity by increasing the percentage of masters BQers to 67%. The actual number of sub-master female BQers would have decreased by 48% from 8894 to 4626.

 

Table 2 compares actual average 2008 BQ rates for the 225 races using current standards and what they would have been if RW’s proposed age-graded standards had been in effect. Figures 1-3 depict the data in Table 2 in graphic form. Figure 1 illustrates overall (men and women combined) BQ rates by age division using each set of standards. Figures 2 and 3 compare the relative BQ rates for men and women, respectively, for each set of standards and age division.

 

 

Men

Women

Both

Age

Actual

Proposed

Actual

Proposed

Actual

Proposed

<35

8.2%

8.7%

8.4%

4.2%

8.3%

6.4%

35-39

8.6%

8.6%

10.5%

6.0%

9.4%

7.6%

40-44

10.8%

12.7%

12.3%

11.0%

11.4%

12.0%

45-49

15.3%

16.7%

15.2%

16.8%

15.3%

16.8%

50-54

13.4%

18.2%

11.9%

20.1%

12.9%

18.8%

55-59

13.6%

19.3%

10.1%

21.8%

12.6%

19.9%

60-64

15.1%

19.2%

10.6%

25.7%

14.1%

20.6%

65-69

16.0%

18.1%

10.9%

28.6%

15.0%

20.2%

70-74

15.9%

17.0%

7.0%

35.4%

14.5%

19.9%

75-79

11.4%

15.2%

2.6%

62.2%

10.4%

20.1%

80+

7.5%

18.2%

11.8%

88.2%

8.1%

27.6%

 

Table 2. BQ Rates Resulting from Each Set of Standards

Age-graded_BQ_Standards-1.jpg

Age-graded_BQ_Standards-2.jpg

Age-graded_BQ_Standards-3.jpg

Which set of standards does the better job of “leveling the playing field”? Draw your own conclusions. However, in my opinion, adopting age-graded standards would be a step in the wrong direction, if equitable representation in the Boston Marathon across all categories of runners is the goal.

 

Intuitively, one might expect age-graded standards to produce equitability across the field. But that is clearly not the case. Adopting age-graded standards in place of the current standards would correct some current BQ representation inequities while creating others. Why? Apparently, because age-grading factors, which are derived from the world record performances of a very small number of elite athletes of all ages, are not universally representative of the broader running community's actual performances across both genders and all age divisions.

 

Of course, it could also be argued that age-grading factors do accurately project theoretical relative capabilities across the spectrum of runners and that some segments of the U.S. running population generally don't or can't train as hard as others, perhaps due to other life demands, such as career building and family raising on the part of younger runners.

 

The "best" set of standards really depends on the goals of the BAA concerning management of the size and composition of the Boston Marathon's field.