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The 5 Levels of Sprint Races: What is Attainable?

The 5 Levels of Sprint Races: What is Attainable?


Many competitions are available at the school, county, regional, national and international levels in track and field. As athletes, this is hugely beneficial for us when setting goals. Goals are important!

Female athletes at starting line


If you have a goal, you have a set objective for which you are aiming for during the season. Each level of competition has different qualifications and processes to enable us as athletes to compete. Of course, all athletes want to compete at the highest level (or whatever level they desire), but this takes time. Some competitions are only available to select age groups, meaning if you are not within a certain age, you can't compete no matter how good you are at the time. This makes it fair, as all athletes are within a specific age range. 

The standards for each event and, in this case, sprints, are calculated and published by the sporting organisers and relevant sporting national governing bodies. These standards show the times required from the athletes in order to achieve selection to said events. Just because an athlete may run the standard, does not guarantee selection. There are various other factors that come into selections, such as head to heads, injury history, current form & many others. These factors play a massive part in whether an athlete is selected.

Below, we will be looking into these different sublevels of track and field, what that level of competition looks like and what can be obtained from those levels. 


Kid athletes running in school race


I first started out with athletics at a school level. My PE teachers asked me if I wanted to run, and I agreed.

I ran twice a week in the County Schools meetings. These meetings are local-level school competitions available in the summer for students to take part in and earn points for their respective schools with the aim of making the plate or cup finals. I unfortunately never got the chance to make either of those finals, but I know that every meeting counts towards making said finals, so the emphasis was always upon ensuring that all events were filled.

The plate and cup finals are a follow-on from the local level. It then jumps more towards the county/regional level as the best schools within your county with their best athletes will be in attendance. The level at the plate or cup finals is slightly higher than the weekly school meetings as it stretches further out of your local area to schools within your district and county. I was able to learn about competition and the whole process of a race, as this was my grassroots athletics experience. 


I had to learn about nerves, losing, winning and everything in between. I’m so blessed to have had the chance to compete at this level because it prepared me for my future as a sprinter. At this level, for me, it was all about making those mistakes and learning from them. I didn’t have any coaching, so I was completely unaware of what a “warm-up” was. And this was okay. I was learning. And at that level, that’s really what it’s about, which is learning. So, at this level, try to learn more about yourself and whether or not you actually enjoy competing. 


Fast 100m teenage sprint athlete


For this level of competition, you’ll be racing against all the best athletes in your county. 

Once you reach the plate and cup finals, you’ll be racing the best athletes within your county. This is also the case for the county schools championships, as these championships double up as the trials for the national English Schools championship. The county level is a step up from the school level as it’s a larger pool of athletes. 

Starting blocks in athletics stadium

At this level of competition, you can expect to see athletes with their own spikes, potentially blocks and their own warm-up routines. You may find the odd athlete who still doesn’t quite understand what they should be doing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t run. Just because an athlete may seem unprepared does not mean we should underestimate them or assume it’s an easy victory.


At a county level, you can qualify for national-level competitions and race amongst higher-level athletes. This is a great way to test yourself. Each county will hold its own version of the county schools championships with the aim of selecting the best athletes per event for the annual English Schools Championships. If your county as a whole is quite strong, it then makes it harder to make the team. If you have a fast sprinter from your county, it makes the races much more difficult. However, this should be something you look forward to instead of fearing.

Racing faster people can seem scary, but it’s better to look at it in the sense that they can pull you along to a faster time! You should stay relaxed and enjoy the experience.

Young male sprinters on starting line


As we now reach the national level, many things begin to change.

When I went to my first national level competition, I was an U17 athlete. I had never been inside a call room before as all my previous competitions were at the county level and below, where call rooms aren’t required. For this reason, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sitting in a room with your competitors was somewhat strange to me. I couldn’t really understand why it was necessary. However, now that I am older, I completely understand why they do it. 

When multiple athletes compete in a high-level event, everything must run on time. If a single race is late, it pushes the entire meeting back, and before you know it, the competition gets extended by 2 hours, which affects everyone. So, the officials like to ensure all athletes are in one place and registered in the call room so they can go out and be ready to race at the exact time as planned. This can be quite stressful as you can't do much within said call room. You're just expected to wait. Some officials may allow you to move around a bit, whereas some may not. It all depends on the day. At a national level, you will be competing against the best athletes in the country.

The stakes are much higher as national medals and selections for international competitions such as Youth Commonwealth Games, U18 Europeans, U20 Europeans, U20 World Championships & U23 Europeans could all be potentially taking place that summer, which the national championships would serve as the relevant “trials” for the upcoming competition. 

Sprinters in spotlight


The stakes are much higher as national medals and selections for international competitions such as Youth Commonwealth Games, U18 Europeans, U20 Europeans, U20 World Championships & U23 Europeans could all be potentially taking place that summer, which the national championships would serve as the relevant “trials” for the upcoming competition. 

As expected, it can be quite a nerve-wracking and stressful day as everyone wants to do well. I would suggest keeping as relaxed as possible. As much as it may be a national championship, it should still be about having fun and enjoying yourself.


There are also NAL (National Athletics League) competitions on a club level available to athletes if your club is of a certain level. The NAL is comparable to that of the Youth Development League or the Eastern Young Athletes League (depending on your region) in terms of structure. The league has a certain number of clubs competing against one another for points, and as such, the team with the most points wins the league, whereas the team with the least points gets relegated to the league below.

Each season, the club's aim is to either be promoted, remain or win the league. The only difference with the NAL is that the standard is much higher compared to the YDL, which is more geared towards juniors. 

Sprint athletes running indoors


We touched on this slightly in the national level section, but essentially, this is all of your relevant age group championships taking place depending on your age group. 

As an U17 athlete, for example, you would have your age group championships in the form of your North Of England or South Of England Championships, depending on where you live. Alongside this, you would have your Inter-counties championships followed by your age group Nationals, also taking place in the summer.

These meets categorise the athletes by their age group. In some open races or in the Southern Athletics League, for example, you may race against athletes who are older or potentially even younger than you, as seeding for open meets tends to be done solely on time as opposed to age. With senior-level meets such as the SAL, you'll likely be racing against seniors as this league is specifically for senior-level athletes. 

The competition will have a structure with all heights and implementations in place. Much like that of the national level of competition, your age group championships give you the opportunity to gain selection or qualify for the relevant international competitions taking place that summer. These meetings are also usually held at a Level 2 standard. This Level 2 standard means the times run at said competitions can count towards qualifying for internationals.

Times run at competitions that don’t maintain that Level 2 standard will not be accepted for qualification purposes. However, they will still count towards your PB, current form and head-to-head statistics. This standard mainly depends on the number of officials present at the meeting, alongside other factors.


British sprint athlete


This is the highest level of competition for an athlete when representing your country. 

This level can stem from U18 Europeans all the way to the Olympics. The age groups break up these champs to categorise the athletes based on age. Depending on your age, you may get the opportunity to compete at these championships more than once. These competitions are a great way to represent your country on a big stage and to gain valuable experience.

Young male sprint athlete


The qualification for these championships often changes on a seasonal basis, making it somewhat difficult to gauge what you need to run in order to be selected. The best way to approach this is simply to prepare as best you can and allow the times to come naturally.

As an U18 athlete, you can potentially be selected for both the U18 Europeans & the U18 Youth Commonwealth Games. As an U20 athlete, this could be the U20 European Championships & the U20 World Championships. Or, if you're an U23 athlete, you could be selected to compete solely at the U23 European Championships. Past the U23 level, the next step up is the senior level, which consists of various competitions from European & World Indoors and Outdoors to The Commonwealth Games & The Olympics. This also includes the European Team Championships and various other international opportunities.

With an abundance of competition available, athletes will progress as they grow, with each level catered to the personal development of each athlete competing. There are memories to be made, experiences to gain, and lessons to be learned. 

Sprint athletes finishing race


With all this being said, it’s important to remember that your journey isn’t defined by what competitions you do or don’t do.

Whether you run your PB at an open meet or at the Olympics, it’s still YOUR PB. No one can take that away from you. So, hopefully as you now better understand what’s available, remember that each athlete is different. Some athletes peak early and have very promising junior careers, whereas some athletes don’t achieve much as a junior and have much more success as a senior. It’s all on a case-by-case basis. I wouldn't even worry about it...

I would say just have fun. Even when you get to these competitions, just enjoy them. Be in the moment, make some memories and just have fun with it all. Slow progress is still progress. Don’t rush. Be patient and trust the team you have around you. The journey is a part of your story. Embrace that. And please don’t compare yourself to others. Just because someone did something does not necessarily mean that you have to do that exact same thing in the exact same way. It’s okay to have a different path!


Destiny Ogali Neuff Athletic Blogger

Destiny is a sprinting athlete who competes for Harrow AC, and he is incredibly passionate about helping other sprinters and athletes go further in their athletic journeys!

He already has experience in discussing athletics topics with others through The Visions Podcast, where he has sat down and spoken with some great athletes, including Desiree Henry and Aidan Syers! 

You can find Destiny's sprint performances on his Power of 10 profile.

Instagram: @destinyogali & @thevisionspod

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