On the bus ride home from a track meet, coaches hand out medals to the top runners in each event. Earlier in the day, these top few crossed the finish line to cheers. They are gifted and dedicated runners who have rightfully earned acclaim.

But after them, in each of those races, were many other finishers; less gifted, younger and developing runners, who earn no medals and scant praise. Yet their progress and improvement—meet by meet, year over year—is what produces future medalists, as well as inspires lifetime runners who get hooked on the ability to create better versions of themselves.

Brooks Running wants to encourage and reward those athletes. So, for the second year, they’ve again partnered with Athletic.net, an online platform for track and cross country results, to produce the “PR Score Virtual Competition.” Brooks also hosts an annual PR Invitational, a June meet in Seattle for the “fastest of the fastest” high school athletes—but they wanted something broader and more inclusive as well.

“We have the PR Invite, we really think that speaks to the competitive side of track,” says Steve DeKoker, Brooks’ sports marketing manager, “But as the brand, our goal is to be inclusive of all who run. So the idea that we could produce a program that connected to not just the elite high school kids but to every kid that participates on the team really appeals to us.”

high school track girls distance runners dusk
photo: 101 Degrees West

The PR Score system awards points for every PR set by any runner on the team over the course of their season, weighted to reflect how many runners are on the team and how often they compete. Athletes and coaches can see how they rank against other teams in setting PRs at the national and state level.

What’s unique about the score is that it is based entirely on improvement. “The slowest kid on the team has equal weight on the score at the end of the year,” says DeKoker—provided that kid gets better and sets PRs. The freshman breaking 13 minutes in the 3200m for the first time adds as many points as the senior winning the race with a nine-something personal best.

Similarly, the PR Score rankings don’t necessarily match up with standings based on finisher place results. A team that loses all of its meets could rank highly if many of the athletes are getting better.

“You may not be in a zip code where there is a lot of natural talent,” says DeKoker. “But it’s a great metric showing how much you get for the talent you have.” That’s a nice affirmation for the coaches, and a motivation for runners who may not get many, if any, of those shiny medals on bus rides home.

To date this season, more than 3,200 boys and girls teams have opted into the program, representing over 160,000 athletes. “We were pretty blown away by the participation numbers,” says DeKoker. “I think it validates the idea of the program.”

The top-ranked boys team nationally now is Bishop Kelly of Boise, Idaho. A quick dip into results shows, for example, that at a recent meet, three of their milers set PRs. That gained them more points than other teams in that event, even though the fastest of those placed eighth.

On the girls side, Life Christian Academy of Tacoma leads the national rankings, and in this small school it appears more than one runner has PRed this season in every event from the 100m to the 3200m. Interestingly, the second-place girl’s team is also from Tacoma, but it is the larger Washington High, whose results show multiple different runners PRing every week.

At the end of the season, top three scored teams will get a prize pack from Brooks with swag like hats, spike bags and water bottles. But mostly it is about recognition of improvement, a celebration of becoming better.