By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Not having run in the Apple Blossom Festival Valley Health 10K (6.2-mile) race since her freshman year, Millbrook High School senior Tammy Cheung decided to enter this year's event, mostly just for fun.
With her 39:05 time, Cheung garnered the Virginia and U.S. top female prizes, as well as the 15-19 age group trophy, adding to a string of prep accomplishments in the 29th edition of the Apple Blossom race Saturday morning.
"I didn't know I was going to win anything, or get anything," Cheung said, trying to control a giggle while maintaining the balance of the three trophy cup boxes under her left arm. "I wanted to have fun. It was just like, 'It's my senior year, go run, enjoy Apple Blossom this year, enjoy life.'
"I didn't have any strategy. I was just like 'go out and have fun.'"
Cheung, who will attend Virginia Military Institute next year, has had a strong career at Millbrook and finished seventh in the Group AA state cross country meet this year. Even though she wanted to have fun, Cheung still took the event seriously and still wanted to reach some goals.
"I think in my last mile, I did push a little bit," Cheung said. "I saw the [finish-line] clock and it was 38:00 and I thought, 'I'm gonna break 40:00.' So I pushed a little because that was my goal."
It was sunny and 70 degrees, with no wind and 65 percent humidity, as more than 1,600 runners gathered on Handley Boulevard for the 8:30 a.m. start. There were 1,459 finishers.
At the opposite end of the preparation spectrum from Cheung was Alene Reta. The Ethiopian, who lives in New York City, won the Santiago, Chile, marathon (26.2 miles), with a 2:12:33 performance, on April 11.
Reta, 28, led the entire way, crossing the electronic finish line at 29:13, for his second consecutive overall first place finish, earning the first place trophy and $1,000 prize.
Reta's time was just shy of his 29:04 winning mark in the rain last year.
"It was good -- nice weather, last year was little bit rainy and humid and raw," Reta said. "This year is very nice. I led all the way, starting with my own pace. I don't wait for anybody else, I just go. You want to win and get the prize money, but you don't really have to push. There are a lot of hills, but it's fun, not too steep."
Even though she didn't go all-out, Deba Buzunesh, 22, also from Ethiopia, clicked in at 34:27, breaking the women's event all-time record she set last year and earning the other $1,000 first place prize.
"Same thing [winning last year too], but, you know, I have a race [Sunday], so I saved [some of] my power," Buzunesh said. "[Sunday] I will run in the Potomac River half-marathon. That's why I didn't push myself. After the 5K point today, I led by myself. I like running the circles [of this course] instead of straight course."
The top Virginia and U.S. male performance was 30:30, turned in by Tim Young, of Fredericksburg.
Kevin Shirk, 30, of Winchester, got the best time among local runners, with 32:15, slightly off last year's 31:55 mark, but good enough to also win second in the 30-35 age bracket. Shirk is an assistant cross country and track coach at James Wood and was recently hired to be Millbrook's cross country coach next season.
"This was my third Apple Blossom 10K," Shirk said. "I didn't have a particular strategy. Two weeks ago, I ran in the Boston Marathon. My legs were still a little bit tired today. So my main plan was to not start off super, super fast and see how I felt throughout the first mile, and then I was just gonna go with the flow.
"Somewhere around the two-mile mark I was kind of strung out by myself with the top seven or so pretty far in front of me, and the next guy was a decent amount behind me. I just made sure I maintained that distance. I felt a bit sluggish, but I felt OK."
The male Masters (over 40) winner was John Piggot, 44, of Williamsburg, with a 34:51 effort.
Samantha Cole, 41, of Arlington, ran 40:11 to earn the women's Masters trophy.
Rob Davies. 53, of Stephens City, took the men's Grand Masters (50-plus) cup, with a 42:14 effort.
Elizabeth Ramsey, 53, of Royersford, Pa., crossed the finish line at 49:02, to win the women's Grand Master honors.
Strasburg Mayor Tim Taylor showed that he could run in something other than an election, turning in a respectable 49:45 in his second-year effort.
"My goal was to break 50:00, so I feel good about it," Taylor said. "I brought the long distance runners from Strasburg High School's track team, including my daughter Rachel, with me, so we kind of had a community presence here."