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Newcomers win top honors in Apple Blossom 10K


By Dennis Atwood - sports@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- An Olympic marathon veteran from Great Britain and a developing young runner from Kenya, both in their first time in the event, took the top prizes in the 32nd Apple Blossom Valley Health 10K race, homed at Handley High School on Saturday.

In ideal weather for runners - upper 40s and overcast, Claire Hallissey, 30, of Great Britain, captured the women's overall championship, with a 34:34 outing. Kiprono Kurgat, 24, from Kenya, won the men's overall top prize, crossing the finish line with a 29:49 chip time.

Hallissey had a 21-second lead over Divina Jepkogei at the halfway mark, and finished a comfortable 38 seconds ahead of the runner-up Jepkogei.

Hallissey competed in the marathon for her native Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, finishing 57th , and moved to Arlington three years ago.

The course terrain, including the Jefferson Street uphill on the west side of the Handley campus, wasn't a surprise to Hallisey, as she had scouted it with her husband, Matt, who ran a decent 41:50, eighth of 86 men in the 30-34 age group.

"We were down here last night and saw a bit of the firefighters parade, and checked out a little bit of the course then," Hallissey said. "One of the local race directors from around here lives in Arlington now, and he had warned me it's a lit bit undulating and a bit twisty-turny. I didn't want to go out too hard, basically making sure I had enough energy to tackle the hills. Where I train, in Clarendon, is quite hilly.

"I've been giving myself a bit of a break, from all the pounding. My knees were suffering a little bit at the end of last year. My [10K] personal record is about two minutes quicker, over a very flat course, before I stepped up to marathon levels. The conditions were perfect, for this time of year."

"Justin Sweeney manages the Pacers Store in Arlington and informed Claire Hallissey, who is on a team [Sweeney] coaches, of our race," Rosie Schiavone, in her 14th year as Apple Blossom 10K race director, said. "[Sweeney] ran and coached at Clarke County High School, and managed the Apple Blossom 10K before my time."

At 24, Kurgat, a Chapel Hill, NC, resident, who didn't start competitive running until after high school, won the men's overall championship, crossing the finish line with a 29:49 chip time.

At the 5K mark, Kurgat hung back, five seconds behind Mulugeta Genbere, then picked up his pace, to finish nine seconds ahead of Genbere.

The top prize added to Kurgat's other recent successes, having won the Naples, Fla. Daily News half-marathon, on Jan. 20, and the Yuengling Shamrock (Virginia Beach) 8K, on March 17.

Kurgat, no relation to 2011 winner Nicholas Kurgat (29:24), who is also a member of the men and women runners in the cadre of the Westchester (NY) Track Club.

One of the club's managers, Ben Kurgat, said he recruited Kiprano Kurgat (no relation) in his home village of Kures, Nigeria, after Kurgat completed high school.

"I was ready for everything on this course, you have to be ready for anything, and the weather was not bad," Kiprano Kurgat, with the assistance of his manager, said. "I moved ahead after the fourth mile, on a downhill [on Jubal Early Drive], and coming up towards the five mile, I kept ahead. I was feeling good in the last mile."

"I stopped by a village [in Kenya] and gave a speech about the opportunities available for students who are healthy and want to run," Ben Kurgat said. "The villagers didn't know about student athlete opportunities. So [Kiprano] started to run, and he was getting better and better, then, it was 'why don't I try the professional circuit.'"

In a family affair, Brenda Schrank, 41, of Winchester, garnered both the top U.S. women's prize and the Masters Women prize, with a time of 38:01, and her son, Alec (14), turned in a slightly faster 37:46, to take first place in the men under 15 category.

Alec Schrank also won the Kids Bloomin' Mile race, on Friday.

"Alec ran in last year's race, and that's when he really started to train, and found his passion," Brenda Schrank said. Alec had a one-second lead on his mother at the 1K split, and moved out to an 11-second lead at the 5K spot.

"We had a race strategy to go out together," Brenda Schrank said. "There's more strategy involved the longer the event you're competing in. I just didn't want him to go out too fast. He was going to stick with me until the 5K mark, then, if he felt he had more in him, he could ease into it a little more and take off."

Ricky Flynn, 25, of Lynchburg, was the top U.S. male finisher, with a 30:30 effort.

The Masters Men's prize went to Dennis E. Mickey, 48, of Ridgeley, WVa., for his 35:43 run.

Chris Northrup, 50, of Winchester, clocked 36:54 to earn the Grand Master Men's award, while Martha Merz, 50, did the same among the women, with 41:05.

Jillian Pollack (24), a Millbrook High School graduate, who went on Columbia University, now an Arlington, Va. resident, took first in the women's 20-24 age group, with 39:46 effort.

Mary Kate Berglund, of Richmond, has competed in all 32 Apple Blossom 10K races, according to Schiavone. Berglund (71) was alone in the women 70-74 group and ran a remarkable 58:31 on Saturday.

There were 737 men finishers, and 721 women, for a total of 1,458, slightly fewer than last year's 1,499.

A total of $8,300 in cash prizes were awarded, with $1,000 going to each of the overall champions.

In a tradition established by Shiavone, a pewter Jefferson Cup was presented to all of the prize winners, including the top men and women in each of 14 age groups.



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