- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

Leveling the playing field is one way track and field offers competition to its participants from youth to the genealogically challenged, i.e. older folks.

Right now, the 2003 USA Track & Field Youth Athletics National Championships are progressing on the campus of SUNY-Buffalo, while the 2003 World Masters Athletics Championships are going on in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

Age-group competition allows the 16-year-olds to compete against other 16-year-olds at the youth games and allows 80-year-olds to compete against other 80-year-olds in the masters games.

Years ago, the mathematical experts from the former World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA), now World Masters Athletics, devised an age-grading program that seeks to put all age groups on equal footing. Each performance is given a percentage based on 100 percent depending upon gender, age and performance.

It is interesting to compare performances with those standards set by people older and younger. Age-grading is used primarily in track competitions but is gaining more use on the roads.

One example was Friday’s traditional DCRRC 4th of July Age-Handicapped Four-Miler.

The race has been held for years at Carderock on the C&O; Canal Towpath. But according to race director and veteran runner Ian Clements, he found out Tuesday from the National Park Service that the course permit had been denied because another group already had reserved the area.

“I’m not sure if the disconnect was on their end or ours, so we didn’t argue it,” Clements said. Instead, he quickly decided to piggy-back his race onto the Potomac Valley Track Club’s Go Fourth 8K at Belle Haven Park in Alexandria on Friday.

The point of his race is to start all competitors according to age and gender. The oldest women, then oldest men go first, then on down the age progression until the youngest leave the starting line last. In a perfect world, All competitors will approach the finish line at the same time.

Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, so the field of 51 was separated by nearly eight minutes.

The winner of the race was no surprise. In a regular race, she finishes behind the top open woman. Her true talent comes to the fore in an age-handicapped race.

Most racers know her as Betty — Betty Blank, a 50-year-old from Falls Church. She has dominated her age groups for decades in the Washington area, and on an age-graded basis, she tore apart one of the area’s top male runners, 32-year-old Glen Mays of Washington, by 54 seconds. Point Blank.

To be fair to Mays, he did run the four-miler moments after winning the PVTC 8K in 26:40.6, which was 1:35 better than the runner-up on a warm morning.

McLean’s Steve Forman also showed his superiority on a level playing field. At age 63, he placed fifth overall, 1:37 behind Blank.

Easy Mac — Congratulations to 45-year-old Mac Allen, a former area standout who is competing at the World Masters Athletic Championships in Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, he placed ninth in the M45 8K cross country run at Bahia Beach Resort in 29:30 (age-graded 27:28.94), and on Friday he placed 12th in the M45 5,000 meters in 17:26.59 (age-graded 16:11.35).

Women racing, women chasing — Two Annapolis Striders races will celebrate women’s running with the Women’s Distance Festival 5K and Run After the Women 5K at 7:45 and 8:45 a.m., respectively, on July 12 at West Annapolis Elementary School. Entry forms are available online at www.annapolisstriders.org.

If this event is as well organized and fun as the John Wall Memorial Track Mile that the Striders conducted yesterday, these two races should be worth their price of admission.

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