Is age the best way to categorize runners during a race?

Nearly every local race, from 5Ks to marathons, bases its awards on age results. But is weight a better way to bracket the results? Are there other options?

It’s a question a reader asked me over the holidays, and I thought it was a fun idea to consider. There is certainly more than one way to size up competition, and here are some of the ways I would like to see awards distributed.

A race based on weight

Much like boxing or wrestling, running in a weight class is something you at least have a little control over. You can lose or gain weight as needed to get to a more or less competitive division.

The idea might be a logistical nightmare on race day though. Organizers would have to weigh in hundreds of runners unless they were going to take peoples weights based on the honor system.

And it would benefit a few people who never get to win in an age-based race. Maybe a guy that’s 220 pounds, but not a regular runner, can leg out a good 5K time. But if he’s competing against people that do run regularly, he might fall out of the top spots in his age group. Here is his chance to shine against people more his build.

Some races do actually have a “Clydesdale” and “Athena” category for heavier male and female runners, respectively. But those categories can be problematic too. As a shorter guy, I would have to bulk up to reach a 200 pound weight limit. And it would take a lot of eating to maintain that weight if I were running a lot. But someone who is 6 feet 4 inches tall would have an easier time running at that weight. Depending on their build, they might even be able to lose a few pounds.

A race based on BMI

One way to help even out the playing field for a race based on weight class would be to factor height into the mix.

Body mass index (BMI) is a number based on your weight divided by the square root of your height. If weigh-ins at a race were problematic, now you have to add math to figure out what division you can race in.

But BMI isn’t perfect either. It doesn’t account for weight from muscle versus weight from fat. A bodybuilder might be considered overweight, according to a BMI chart. But they would probably have an easier time running than a person with the same BMI who spends their free time drinking from a gravy boat.

A race based on Chinese zodiac

Throw all your physical attributes out the window. You’re competing based on whatever year of the 12-year cycle you fall into. Fast or slow, young or old, you really have no idea what kind of hand you’ve been dealt until the race is over.

Who needs awards anyway?

The not-so-old adage, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” applies here. Sure it’s interesting to see where you stack up with other runners based on age or any other factor, but the race really only has one winner. And isn’t the real reward for the rest of us just going out and doing something healthy? Or am I grasping at straws?

Brett Herrmann can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or Follow him on Twitter @NT_SpringValley.


NewsTribune Online Editor covering Spring Valley and Dalzell. Contact him at (815) 220-6933 or
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