competition · training

Do age group medals count?

Image description: Age group medals

I blogged recently about a fun end of summer race that I did with my daughter complete with age group medals for both of us.

I told people about the medals somewhat sheepishly. They were age group medals and there was a small field of competitors. And I have friends who aren’t convinced, even in a large field of competitors, that age group medals really count.

After all, they also announced the overall best finishers and some people think that those athletes are the only ones that belong on the podium really. They think age group medals are kind of like finishers’ medals. While we here at this blog like races where everyone gets a medal, we know others aren’t so keen.

I think people who ask this question about “really counting” are engaged in in a form of gate keeping. They want to know who are the real athletes and who are the real winners. In their mind it’s only the fastest overall that counts.

But I’m a huge fan of age groups, whether it’s the “kids of steel” in triathlon events or the 80 + group of marathoners like Ed Whitlock.

Here’s a great article from The Independent on the virtues of age groups: Don’t let age hold you back.

“Some of the most competitive age categories are in the 50s and 60s age ranges. Spare a thought though for those in the same age group as Canadian resident Ed Whitlock. At 69, Whitlock ran a marathon in 2:52.47. Yes, believe it or not, you did read that correctly.”

Now 82 and still running, you can read more about Milton, Ontario’s Ed Whitlock here.

Now in an important sense triathlons really are just a race against yourself, or the clock. There’s no strategy involving other people in the way that sail boat racing or road racing involves. I can’t draft while you ride hard, I can’t scheme to drop my opponents on hills (fat chance!) and break aways don’t make any sense.

So why don’t I just compare my time to the last time I did that distance?

As with running, why isn’t it a race against my best 10 km time, for example?

Well, for one thing the conditions might be different. This is the group of people who did this race in this wind, at this temperature, on these hills etc.

But it’s always a snap shot in time. There are people who think regional races don’t count, only international ones. For any race, just about, there’s someone who thinks it’s not the real thing. Maybe only the Olympics and the Tour de France and the Ironman get to count for real.

But like Tracy, I think that misses out on the value of athletic competition. Tracy recently asked Why Participate If I’m Not Going to Win? and came up with a whole host of reasons.

I get that 30 year olds who’ve recently moved from elite open competition to age group events might feel that only the overall winners have really won. But I’ll ask them again when they get to 40 (and 80!)  how they feel about age group medals.

5 thoughts on “Do age group medals count?

  1. Do age group medals count? I suppose so, if any medals for such events count. For all but a tiny handful of events that probably no one in any given race has ever participated in, even the fastest person in the race is only the fastest person registered, and not the fastest person, period — not in the world, of course, and maybe not even in the vicinity. Any medal represents achievement relative to a cohort; so I don’t see much reason to think that high achievement relative to slightly larger cohorts makes that achievement genuine and other kinds fake.

    Are they a good idea? I would say they are, if they motivate people to get involved and go hard. But they may lead to that phenomenon of the guy who wildly blows past someone at the finish line, whose supportive family and friends are out clapping for them and trying to take a photo, because he wants to finish Bronze rather than 4th in the category of 190-200 pound 42-44 year-olds from postal codes ending with a 7. When overall that’s the difference between being 314th and 315th, something in me says that the right thing is to hang back and let the person in front have their big family finish. I’m not sure I could argue persuasively for that, but I sure feel it.

  2. I don’t get how they could be considered “not counting” because, let’s be honest, winning or getting top three in your age group is still pretty hard! No, it’s not as hard as getting first or top three overall, but it is still pretty challenging, it’s not something someone can walk in with no training and do (except *maybe* in the smallest of races, but even that is a stretch).

    I am happy and feel accomplished when I get top three in my age group, which I have managed to do this past season. My goal for next season is to try to get top 10 overall, but I know it’s going to be tough and take a lot more training.

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