Mandy Owens and Ken Fresquez stand ready for the start the Duke City Marathon 5K race walk in Albuquerque on Oct. 18. Fresquez placed first overall in the men’s division, while Owens won the women’s division and had the besttime among both genders. (Submitted Photo)
For competitive runners of all ages, the glory doesn’t have to end when injuries mount and joints begin to ache.
Race walking combines the athleticism and skill of a runner with the concentration and technique of a hurdler or shot putter, to keep the competitive spirit alive and well.
On Oct. 18, two local race walkers dominated the 5K event at the 32nd annual Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque.
Mandy Owens, 49, took home her fifth consecutive title in the women’s division of the 5K walk with a time of 29 minutes, 53 seconds. Ken Fresquez, 56, won the men’s division of the same race with a time of 30:35. The win was his fourth title at Duke City in distances ranging from 5K to 20K.
According to USA Track & Field, race walking differs from running in that it requires the competitor to maintain contact with the ground at all times and requires the lead leg to be straightened as the foot makes contact with ground and must remain straightened until the leg passes under the body.
Race walking may not get the airtime of sprinting or marathon runs, but it’s been around a long time and features great athletes of all ages.
“It’s an olympic sport,” said Owens. “It’s been an olympic event for men since 1908 and women have had it since 1992. Men compete in the 50K and both genders compete in the 20K.”
Certified judges evaluate the technique of race walkers and may disqualify those who repeatedly break the two basic rules.
“In college basketball you get five fouls and then you’re out of the game,” said Fresquez. “In race walking you get three.”
The recent Albuquerque event featured five USATF-certified judges.
“When they see that your form is bad and you are in danger of breaking the rules, they will show you a red paddle,” said Owens. “If you do it again in front of that same judge, they will write you a red card, which is basically a proposal for disqualification. Three red cards from three different judges and you are out of the race.”
During the 2015 National Senior Games in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Fresquez finished fourth in the men’s age 55-59, 1,500M race walk, but the third place competitor was disqualified for improper form, enabling Fresquez to win the bronze medal. Fresquez also took home the bronze in the 5,000M race.
The Duke City event is open to all competitors and many enter with the simple goal of staying in shape while having fun, but for Owens and Fresquez, it’s about competing and getting faster.
“We had about 302 competitors in the 5K, but we’ve had up to 500,” Owens said. “There’s maybe 10 that are really competitive, but I never take anything for granted. You never know who is going to sneak up some year and be your competition.
Owens grew up in Cloudcroft and competed in track as a high schooler. She continued to run competitively until she was sidelined by a knee injury and then found race walking by accident.
“For 30 glorious years I was a distance runner, since high school, and then my knee just gave out,” she said. “I had surgery and intended on getting back into running. I started off walking slowly and one day I got bored and decided to walk a mile as fast as I could.”
Owens entered a local 5K race walk and to her surprise, she won.
“That’s how it started. I found a new sport,” she said. “But I had to learn the technique. I attended some mini-clinics and a big clinic in Austin and got better, little by little.”
Fresquez was a cross-country runner and has been race walking for about 10 years. He was introduced to the sport by members of the Roswell Runners Club.
“I didn’t start getting competitive until I joined the New Mexico Race Walkers and met coach Lenny Krosinksi, who coaches a lot of race walkers in the state,” he said.
Fresquez said it’s hard to get faster as you get older and joint and muscle pain worsens, but he has some ideas about how he can improve moving forward.
Owens believes she has a good five-year window to improve and hopes to take it as far as she can.
“I’m late getting in, I wish I had found it in my late 20s or 30s,” Owens said. “There are some time goals that I think I can still reach.”
Owens said she has many local inspirations, such as Robin Hughes, Doris Callaway, Jacklynn Hewitt, Teresa Aragon, Laura Drealos, Bob Edwards and Vern Dyer.
“Back in her glory days, Teresa Aragon could hit 26 minutes for a 5K and she taught me a few things,” she said. “In Albuquerque, I have Laura pushing me and it’s a flip of the coin which of us will come out on top each time out.”
Owens and Fresquez hope to see more young people get involved in race walking, either on their own or through the Roswell Runners Club, which holds events throught the year.
“Running isn’t for everyone, but race walking, in my opinion, is harder than running,” Owens said. “To get better, you do the same workouts that runners do. It’s easier on the joints as well.”
Fresquez said race walking is a great way to stay in shape and he hopes to keep it up. In the spring he will begin training for the next Senior Games to be held in Birmingham, Ala., in the summer of 2017.
“Once joints start hurting it’s not fun, but as you get older you have to stay active,” he said. “Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving, stay active.”
Owens said it’s a blessing to be able to move at all, let alone have a competitive outlet.
“Even when my competitive days are long over, I’m still going to walk and maybe run again,” she said.
The Roswell Runners Club will hold the 31st annual Rio Pecos Medical Reindeer Run on Dec. 5. The event features a 10K and 2-mile run and walk. To register online, go to active.com and search for the Reindeer Run in Roswell. Registration is $20 and will benefit local charities.