Leveling the Running Field

One thing that I like about running is that it’s a completely objective sport. Want to win? Finish first. It doesn’t matter if your form is in the crapper or the judge from nation X can’t stand your country. On the flip side, certain inequities become apparent. Women are generally slower than men (a topic worthy of its own post). A fifty-year old will usually lose out to a twenty-something. Even people who don’t necessarily care how they stack up against others can become discouraged when age siphons their speed away.

Enter the WAVA tables. Based on age and gender, a person gets a numeric ranking based on a time for distances from 5 to 100 kilometers. A 100 ranking is the theoretical best a person can achieve, and most world records are scored 98 to 99. A 60 is considered “Local Class”. The number has nothing to do with the percentage of people that you’re faster than; it simply compares your speed to the ultimate performance for your peer group. A teenager can face off against his grandmother. Someone who is 20 years past her physical prime might actually be a better runner now.

I started plugging some of my PRs into calculators and was pleasantly surprised to the see the times a 25 year-old man with a matching WAVA score would run. While I will probably never run a sub-3 hour marathon, if I can manage a 3:31:26 next year, it would convert to one. I hope to someday run a sub-20 5K, but with the adjustment, I am already there.

Distance My PR 25 year-old man WAVA Score
5K 20:43 17:35 71.2
10K 44:01 37:43 69.2
1/2 Marathon 1:40:03 1:26:19 66.5
Marathon 3:38:41 3:08:40 63.5

There is a part of me that feels like this is a big cop-out. Like how in Bull Durham, Crash Davis doesn’t want fanfare for breaking the record for minor league home runs. It’s a “dubious honor” that underscores his inability to last in the majors. On the other hand, it has opened my eyes to how impressive some of the local masters runners really are. Our times may be close on the race course, but their level of performance blows mine away. A few races will even award prizes based age-graded times. Ultimately, I think that anything  that brings more motivation and fun to the sport of running is a good thing.

Here are a couple of calculators to play with: