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Tips on How to Structure Event Age Groups

People run for all kinds of reasons. For most, the primary competition for a runner is against themselves. Chasing a PR, weight loss, or general fitness are common themes. Some are driven to compete and want to win. People also want to know how their results stack up against their peer group. Having properly staggered age-categories allows runners to gauge their efforts in this way.

Tips on How to Structure Event Age Groups

You want to have an event that encourages and celebrates everyone's effort. Yes, the 16-year-old high school cross country star who finishes a 5k in under 15:47 minutes is pretty amazing, but so is the 42 year-old mom who might finish in under 21:00. Or the 60-plus crowd who can still beat people 20 years their junior. This will encourage participation across all demographics. Unless your event is purely a Fun Run, your event is still a race and that means someone has to win. Age categories create additional winners to celebrate beyond the first runner to break the tape at the finish line.

How many age groups should I have?
The standard set by USATF calls for 5-year divisions. Some races do opt to have a 10-year range instead. Utilizing the smaller range will give runners a better comparison to their peer group. For example, in the 40-44 group, runners are more likely to have similar capabilities because the differences in age are much smaller from the low-end of the category to the high-end. If you had 40-49 as your division, there is a bigger potential difference between someone who just turned 40 and a runner who is about to turn 50.

Here at RaceDirector we tend to fit into these divisions, so we are not saying that running is a young person's game. These days it is not uncommon the see people in their 40's and 50's on podiums in the overall standings of races. People are becoming smarter about taking care of their bodies and running well into their 60's and 70's. There is also a trend of younger runners showing up for longer events as well. We know kids 12-13 years-old who are running marathons. Pay attention to all the age demographics and make sure you are recognizing everyone.

USATF Age Group Standards:
  • 14 and under
  • 15-19
  • 20-24
  • 25-29
  • 30-34
  • 35-39
  • 40-44
  • 45-49
  • 50-54
  • 55-59
  • 60-64
  • 65-69
  • 70-74
  • 75-79
  • 80-84
  • 85-89
  • 90 and over

Do I need to give awards in all categories?
We recognize that if you use the structure above there are 17 categories x 2 for gender x 3 for 1-2-3 in each category = 102 awards. Holy cow! You could trim it down a bit by having a 70 and over category or only giving an award to the 1st and 2nd runner in each division instead of for 3 places. No matter how many you decide, it is important to have something for every division.

Awards for category winners do not have to break the bank. Something simple can do the trick. It can be something useful like a bottle opener or refrigerator magnet. Maybe something hand-made by a local artisan that reflects your community and the event. Be creative. If possible have an awards ceremony right after the event. It will add to the festivities and allow you to celebrate all the great efforts of the day.

Related: Race Swag: Expense or Opportunity

What other special categories should I consider?
For smaller events the standard categories probably are enough, but many larger events have wheelchair divisions. Clydesdale and Athena divisions have also become popular for XL sized runners. Your local fireman who is 220 pounds and fit as a fiddle may enjoy competing against others with his build. Fitness comes in all shapes and sizes. The more inclusive you are the better your registration will be as well.

Having a relay option for longer events may encourage people who are not ready for your event's distance to get a team together. Corporate divisions or other team concepts can also rally community support and get more folks involved. Maybe instead of a traditional relay your event could have a team of 4 runners and score the fastest cumulative time of these groups. We have seen costume categories, human/dog, and events where runners have to stay connected to each other during the entire race. It can be fun and creative as well.

Related: Adding Distance Options to Your Event Could Be a No-Brainer

No matter what you end up deciding, be sure to apply categories equally among men and women. Also, when posting results online, be sure to classify and break-down your results according to these divisions. If done in a thoughtful manner, proper structuring of age categories will insure that you get the widest cross-section of your community demographic to come out and support your event.

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