The New York Times discovers Yale prof’s Age-Declining Tables

Yale Prof. Ray Fair

Yale Prof. Ray Fair

You’ve heard of the Age-Graded Tables, right? Now The New York Times writes about the converse — Professor Ray Fair’s Age-Declining Tables. That’s what I call them, at least. In a story headlined: “Aging Runners Find Help for a Question: How Slow Will I Get?” our old runner friend Gina Kolata talks about Ray, “a professor in the economics department at Yale, who was inspired to find the patterns of slowdowns when his own running performance began to decline. The result is a table. You can put in your best time ever for an event, say a 10-kilometer race, and how old you were when you ran it. The table then shows how fast you could have run it when you were younger and how fast you should be able to run it now and as you grow even older.” She quotes Ray as saying: “Some say the site changed their life. They know they will slow down as they grow older, but as long as they slow down as much as the site says they will, they are fine.” Here’s the table for men’s sprints, which starts at 35 and goes to 100 (as all his tables do). Methinks he could have saved time by somehow flipping the Age Grading Factors. It turns out Ray cites the AGT when he wrote this 1994 paper: “How Fast Do Old Men Slow Down?”

The story also talks about Mary Decker Slaney:

Sometimes, as with Mary Decker Slaney and Doriane Coleman, elite middle distance runners, the end of a career starts insidiously with an injury from which their aging bodies just cannot recover.

Slaney, who is 57, ruptured her posterior tibial tendon in 1997. She had surgery to have it reconstructed and then tried to train, telling herself she could get back to the point where she had been.

“For a long time, I thought there was still a way to get better,” Slaney said. “But eventually you get to a point where you realize that is not happening. I couldn’t run, I could only jog and to me that was disheartening. But after about 10 years, I decided: O.K. I will jog because I can’t do anything else.”

She was saved, she said, when she discovered a sort of combination of elliptical cross-trainer and bicycle that she can use on the roads outside her home in Eugene, Ore. “It is the closest thing to running without actually running,” she said. “I got on one for the first time and within 10 minutes I knew I had to have one. I thought, Oh my God, I haven’t felt that way in a long time.”

Slaney still dreams of running, and she often dreams she is back on the starting line. Her dreams even include training again. “There is nothing to replicate the feeling of running,” she said.

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April 27, 2016

7 Responses

  1. David E. Ortman (M63), Seattle, WA - April 27, 2016

    Well, that’s a little spooky. Best 200m time at 40 was 23.42. The table predicts 26.8 at age 63. Last month at Indoor Nationals three weeks shy of 63 I ran 26.83. Hummmm.

  2. Weia Reinboud - April 28, 2016

    He didn’t know of existing age gradings? Or did he have the wish to calculate them on his own? A perfectly understandable wish.
    I have a spreadsheet that can generate age gradings at any time, after whatever world record improvement. It unfortunately isn’t a straightforward data driven process, many choices have te be made. And so anyone comes up with a bit different gradings, although the main idea remains the same.

  3. Weia Reinboud - April 28, 2016

    I can’t add pictures in this forum. I made a graph comparing Fair’s gradings, our official gradings and mine. Fair is more optimistic about decline than the others, that is, he thinks decline is less severe than the others think. From a certain age decline is accelerated and his is more pessimistic than the others, so he thinks acceleration will be very severe. I’ve done this only for 100m for men, other events will show the same pattern I guess.

  4. Rick Easley - April 28, 2016

    I put in my age 45 400m time and it says I should be able to stay under 60 seconds until I am 69. I wish that were true.

  5. Nat Larson - April 28, 2016

    There was nothing new on age grading in this NY Times article. In fact, the excellent NYT economics journalist David Leonhardt wrote an article on the same topic in 2003 that was far more insightful with more details on Prof. Fair and his work. You can find the original article on Prof. Fair’s website or on the NYT database.

  6. Matt B. - April 28, 2016

    I like it. Now I’ll test it out.

  7. Ken Stone - April 29, 2016

    Here is Weia’s chart

    Here’s description of chart:

    Blue are the current world records for the men’s 100m, green WMA’s age gradings, red is my grading model and orange Ray Fair’s system. Vertical is (reverse) percentage of Bolt’s 100m record.

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