Running Event and categories question

Lets get this off the bat right from the start…Im not a runner. I know nothing about running, I do want to learn but cx and MTB is my sport. I did my first running event this weekend to support my wife doing a half marathon. It got me thinking…everyone in the staging area is talking about “the race” when, to me, of the 3k or so people there, its a race for about 8 of them. The folks that can win know they have a good chance, for the rest of us, its an organized run. Running is simply broken up into distance and age group, which coming from a cyclist, seems odd. In cycling, theres obviously categories. A 16 year old cat 5 has essentially the same chance of doing well as a 30 year old cat 5. The overall winner for my event maintained close to 5 min/mi for the 10k, I was at 9. I had no chance of winning, or even coming in the top 100. No matter how much I wanted to, theres simply no chance of me placing well. Why doesnt running adopt a similar category system as cycling, so a noob like myself can run with other noobs? Turn it into an actual race instead of a $75 organized run. Sure a Tshirt is fun, you get a beer at the end, but for $75, it was nothing I couldnt do on my own… The clock woulda said the same thing and I would have gotten a similar level of satisfaction

Just not enough demand for it for that organizer. There’s a local trail race series (Ex2 Adventures) that does podiums five deep for age categories.

Runner here. I thought cycling categories are more about racing experience, not necessarily ability to go fast.

In track where you obviously have limited space the field does get broken up into heats by seed time. But on the roads everyone can go together.

Anyway, something like this makes little sense for road running unless necessitated by other constraints. We generally just care about finishing time because that is the main measuring stick in the sport. Even age group awards never got me particularly excited.

Yes and no…experience gets you out of cat 5 but points (racing success) gets you from 4 to 3,2,1

I think thats kinda my point. If im just racing the clock, why do I need to pay to do it? I can do that at home. Its the difference between a fast group ride and a race. I did an unsupported gravel race last year for $100. I left wondering what the hell I just paid for. I got a T-shirt and and email 3 days later telling me how I placed.

I think there is! Id bet this one, small town race, had more participants than every MABRA CX race last year combined. Its a format that would obviously take a ground-up refresh, but I bet people would be down for it.

I can and do occasionally time trial solo. But it’s easier in a supported environment, and it can be a social day.

Head to head racing has a place on the track, where the distances are shorter, and positioning as well as timing your final sprint can matter. On the road, it’s very different.

In road running over long distances, where positioning and drafting are largely eliminated as factors, even head to head racing at the upper levels ultimately ends up being a time trial. In almost every marathon, the race is decided long before the finish line is in sight, and there is still a lot of prestige in running a fast time. Even elites who are maybe not quite upper echelon and not competing for the win are out there trying to run a time.

I also think you are wrong about there being demand for a cycling like format. There is a reason participation in running races is so much higher than cycling. It’s way simpler and much more accessible. We have lotteries to get into races, because the demand is so high. There isn’t anything missing from the product other than better execution of logistics from some organizers.

Very nice explanation, thanks!

No arguing is accessible! Massive mountain to climb, and pay, for bike racing!

Tbh, coming from the running world I kinda thought the categories in cycling was the thing that was odd (and I gather is used strictly for safety). I mean, you don’t want someone out of shape or with poor handling skills racing pros on a looped course. But in regards to running why no categories? I would say it’s logistics. You can put a lot of people on the road safely at one time… run the race and be done. Why run different races all day, keep the roads closed, pay for police, etc. when you can get it all done at once? That said, there are divisions in high school here in the US. There is Junior Varsity, Frosh-Soph, Varsity and sometimes a freshman only division in some large cross country races. But that is done in parks for XC or on the track.

In running you are either running to win or against the clock. What’s the point of categories? I mean even you cross the line in 54th place you didn’t win anything… but you look at your age group to see how you stacked up to others. It’s pretty simple.

I always felt like distance options were (very roughly) the running equivalent of cycling’s categories. For many longer events, there’s a shorter option available (pick 10 miles or 10k, etc). Somebody up-thread mentioned EX2 Adventures - I enter the 5 mile trail races instead of the 10 - I can enjoy those, do reasonably well, and do so without impacting my cycling training.

You don’t need to physically separate the runners for categorized races though. Just give people different numbers or colors based on the group they are in and then their race results are categorized based on that group. If people wanted the experience of “racing their group” at the beginning you could probably stagger the different category start times by a couple minutes so people can get an idea of who is in their group they are racing but it doesn’t have to be waiting until the other group finishes because like you said there’s not the same safety concerns.

I think the largest obstacle is what you would need to do it like cycling is a governing body that organizes and manages who is in what group, category promotion, and all the stuff that USA Cycling does for bike racing. That means people need race licenses for those events and things that make putting on the events a lot more complicated and probably take out from their bottom line for putting on these events.

Running races are a lot more like TTs or hill climbs in cycling, generally you aren’t that likely to win (although TT fields can be small) - in the UK, there’s a lot of prestige in doing a sub-21 or sub-20 minute for a 10 mile TT, it’s kind of similar in running: a sub 3hr marathon for example is obviously very fast and people will recognise it as such, and 4 hours is kind of a benchmark.

Although TBF whenever I have done bike races (MTB endurance and road hill climbs are all I have done), I am never going to win either, I just want to do the best time I can.

This is what is weird to me though… You finish mid-pack but are a “champion”? There is one winner… and that is ok. Everyone else is going for personal bests.

They did this in our cross country league I coach. They combined 4 leagues into a super league, ran all at once and then separated in results for a “league championship.” So kids were crowned a “league champion” despite not crossing the line first. That is weird to me.

I always had the same feeling. Even when it’s been me on the podium (for an age group place). Ok, so I was 3rd in the 40-49 group, but 20th overall - I don’t want a trophy for that (though I’ll happily take any swag :rofl: )

Edit - should note, I only run local events. If I was 3rd in AG at Boston, I’d happily take the podium and not feel weird about it at all.


It probably provides motivation for some people to see results by age group? Noone is (I think) making a living off winning age group divisions in running races but if it motivates a few people to run or to run faster than it seems like a good thing.

I’ve felt about equally silly on age group podiums as I have on category ones.

Yeah I understand that. At least in age groups you are comparing yourself to people in your age range. And back to the HS race scene, the winner of a JV race feels like a winner (a lower category) because they crossed the line first in their race. But to finish 12th and be awarded league champion is strange. You really are just the first finisher in your division but not the winner. And that is ok!