A guide to running scores. Handicap, age grading and scoring in running

As a typical recreational runner, you get into some big races, have some results, and you’re satisfied by the medal count. And then one day you get up and tell yourself: I want to do better. However, to do better, you need a reference. Can you compare your 22 minutes for last weekend’s parkrun with the 4h30 marathon you just did? And that’s where the running scores come into place.

Age grading

It’s a percentage of your time compared to the world record for the age category you’re in and for the same distance you’ve run. It is obtained by dividing the world record time with your own time. For example, if the world record is 70 minutes for a specific distance, and you ran it in 100 minutes, that’s precisely 70% of the world record. Another way to put it is that it tells you exactly how close you are from the world record.

To compare two times, regardless of the age, gender or distance, you compare the age grading score. The higher, the better.

Handicaps

Handicapping is somehow the same idea but put differently in practice. It’s still based on age and gender, but this time each age group has a coefficient that’s applied to your time. That flattens all-time results and makes them comparable.

For example, the world record for the professional active senior athletes is 80 minutes. The one for the age category of VM35-39 (Veteran Male 35 to 39 years old) is 100 minutes. So if you’re in this age category then a 20% handicap is applied to your time. So if you run the distance in 150 minutes, your final time is 120 minutes. Which can be compared to that 80 minutes above.

Running clubs, in general, have their own members only handicap races. Edmonton RC, the running club I’m a member of, has such a race. During the summer, there are five runs of 5k each, and your best three results are considered. The fastest runner receives the trophy regardless of age.

Someone that is from the VM60 age group and has finished in 24:02, will have their time adjusted to 19:02. Not bad for a 5k. The idea is, whatever your age, you have to give your best.

So happy to have won the Edmonton RC handicap races championship in 2016!

The above is a simple version of a handicap because there are lots of other factors to take into consideration besides just the age group. The surface you’re running on (be it track, road, cross country – or XC, etc.), the elevation of the course, its difficulty in general, the weather on the day, etc.

Resources

RunBritainRankings.com is a site that aggregates all the races that are British Athletics licensed. They calculate a handicap score from your race time combined with some other factors. It’s based on your best five performances adjusted for course difficulty but weighted towards more recent performances. So you have to run often, better and better, and it leaves room for not so good races too.

With Edmonton RC

All professional athletes, active and retired, have profiles on RunBritainRankins.com. Also, anyone can create an account. Not only it’s easy and free to do it, but you can compare yourself with the crème de la crème.

At this moment, Mo Farah has an overall handicap score of -7.8 and leads the national leaderboard, followed by Andrew Butchard with -7.1. Mine is now 4.0, one year ago I was at 19.3.

Besides the handicap score, another number attached to your profile is the national ladder position, where are you are compared to other road runners in the UK. Other position numbers displayed are within the same age group, within the same gender, or even postcode. The overall national ladder position is computed once a month. So don’t panic when you don’t see yours going up or down with your handicap score.

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