Basically, Age Graded Scoring allows all individuals within a race to be "scored" against each other. That is done by first comparing the individual's finish time at that particular race distance to an "ideal" or best time (not necessarily the "world record") achievable for that individual's age and gender.
Age Graded Scoring utilizes statistical tables to compare the performances of individual athletes at different distances, between different events, or against other athletes of either gender and/or of any age. Confusing? Perhaps looking at how Age Graded Scoring applies to road racing may help clear things up.
Let's say a 55-year old male runs a marathon in 3:00:27. He would receive an Age Graded Score of 80.21%. That is because, according to the Age Graded Scoring tables, the "ideal" finish time for a 55-year old male is 2:24:22, and that's about 20% faster (about 36 minutes) than our 55-year old ran.
Now let's say that a 27-year old male ran the same marathon in 2:45:47. Obviously, that is faster than our 55-year old. But is the performance of the younger runner really "better" when compared with that of a man more than twice his age? The answer is, "No!" In fact, the Age Graded score of the 25-year old is only 76.51%. The old guy wins! And, our 27-year old has a lot of training to do if he expects to "improve with age" and post anything close to a 3-hour marathon when he turns fifty-five!
Age Graded Scoring was originally developed to do two things:
The research and statistical analysis that allows us to determine these percentages was developed by the World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA), the world governing body for masters long distance running, racewalking, and track and field. WAVA compiled approximate world record level performance standards for both genders and each age between 8 and 100. Then separate sets of standards were established for each of the standard road racing distances (5K, 8K, 10K, 12K, Half Marathon, Marathon, etc.).
WAVA has also developed the following broad "Achievement Levels" for use with Age Graded Scoring. A score within each range indicates the level of performance achieved by an athlete.
Although few US race directors currently employ Age Graded Scoring, it is an interesting and very useful piece of information for many runners. There are many overseas events that do use these standards to score their races and some even distribute awards appropriate for the level of achievement.
And it may be that Age Graded Scoring will gain in popularity in the US as the number of older runners continues to increase.