ASK THE GOAT: The age group myth

Jan. 24, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Goat: “I am about to move from the 20-24 age group bracket to the 25-29. This should really even out the odds and help me gain some more victories in races, don’t you think? What should I know about moving into this slower category? Should I seek out some bigger races, like Boston?” Signed “Aging Allen”

Dear Allen: Ummmm. Yeah. We need to talk. None of what you are about to hear is going to make you happy. None of it. So sit down, grab a soothing beverage and let’s begin.

I, like you, once believed the myth of “aging up” into an easier bracket. The sad truth is you never really do.

What’s worse is that you are speaking of a mid-decade bracket that is rarely used at all. Many races, particularly the USA Track and Field Championship Events, only recognize and award for decade age brackets. Many smaller, local venues are the same due to awards cost. So here you are, in the middle of a decade grouping that will be recognized in only a handful of events. And on top of that, it wouldn’t matter much anyway.

You always hear athletes chiming in phrases like, “now I’m the youngest in the prescription line instead of the oldest in the school cafeteria,” as they near landmark birthdays. More commonly when they turn 30, 40 and 50, then beyond, these misguided souls actually think they will dominate the sport those first years within the new bracket.

But does this really make much sense? Everyone you competed against is moving with you and some who were already dominating the older bracket are now your new rivals. Do you really think your performance will outshine everyone in the older grouping? Are they really that far gone athletically? Did your ability dissolve at the striking of midnight on your whateverth birthday? Things will not be different. You will perform as you did before, and those in your bracket will challenge you the same as they had before.

So, Allen, I am not trying to destroy your optimism. Keep pushing for those victories. But realize that any advantage you may inadvertently gain simply from “aging up” will be slight, if at all. And by that token, every successive year for the next nine should see your standings wane, and then on a decade birthday, “Pow,” you are back on the podium as champion and victor. You do see the rational issues with the “aging up” theory?

But do not feel bad, I myself had been looking forward to my fortieth birthday for three years in the same misguided light. I have been 40 for three days now, and do not foresee a change in my athletic standing.

Train for victory through ability, not for numeric advantage. True talent is just that, and will carry you through the ages.