By Jim Laise - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- While younger internationals and pros have dominated the open ranks lately in the annual Valley Health 10K race, several local runners believe that even if they're getting older, they're getting better.
"We're local. We do train on this course, so that helps," said Masters run women's champion Sarah Nelson, 41 of Winchester, on Saturday. "But even with all that, we're not getting younger; we're getting better. So, I think it has more to do with that than anything."
Kenyan Kimutai Cherniyot, 28, a resident of Durham, North Carolina, won the open championship of the 33rd 6.2-mile race which started and finished on the north side of the Handley High School campus. The certified USA Track and Field event wound through the streets of Winchester and covered part of the Apple Blossom Festival Grand Feature Parade route. That event followed later in the day.
Cherniyot finished in a record net time of 28 minutes, 47 seconds -- or 4:38 per mile. He was perspiring, but breathing evenly as he made his post-race remarks.
"I'm used to longer runs than this. So from that point, it was an easier race for me," said Cherniyot, whose time came under ideal racing conditions.
Nahom Mesfin, 24, of Alexandria, was the second-place men's finisher at 29:18; third was Simon Chirchir, 29, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina (29:19); fourth was Abiyot Endale, 27, of Bronx, New York, whose time was 29:44. Fifth was Ricky Flynn, 26, of Greenville, South Carolina (29:49), who for a consecutive year in a row claimed the low U.S. men's time.
Joan Tangwar, 24, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina (a net 35:25 or 5:42 per mile) finished first among the women, followed by Alissa McKaig, 28, Washington, D.C. (35:41); Selamawit Mekuria, 29, Washington, D.C. (37:24); Brenda Schrank, 42, Winchester (38:23) and Susan Gray, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania ( 39:30). Schrank was the top U.S. women's finisher for a consecutive year.
In all some $8,300 was awarded to the first-through-fifth place finishers in the open race -- male and female. Some $300 was doled out to the Masters men's and women's winners, with $200 going for second place in the event and $100 each for the Grand Masters men's and women's winners.
Runners Retreat of Winchester presented checks of $200 apiece to the first men's and women's U.S. residents to cross the tape and $100 each for the second place American finishers.
Craig Woshner, 44, of Winchester was crowned the men's masters winner with a 33:52 net, or an approximated 5:27 per mile. This was good enough to place Woshner, the James Wood High School coordinator of activities, in 15th place overall. He was also the only 40-plus-year-old among the race's top 15 finishers.
"This is actually just the second or third time I've run in this event in the 21 years I've lived in Winchester. Typically, I'm training for something else this time of year, but I decided to come out and see what I could do," said Woshner.
When Woshner last ran here it was 1996, and his time was 31:20, which was good enough to give him second overall in the open event. Eighteen years later his time is slower, but he is reaping the rewards of finishing high in his age class.
"When it first started out it was just a local meet. But as it grew, the purses grew too, and so what you have now are a lot of the [paid] runners coming in and competing in the top spots," Woshner said. "It's great that the event has grown, but it's good to see the local contingent contesting for other races."
"I think the Winchester runners really work hard," said Brenda Schrank. "We have the Shenandoah Valley Runners who train hard in the winter to get ready for a race like today. Starting in the winter, we have weekend meets which sort of serve as a springboard to the race season."
"We're local and we use this course, yes ... but I think Winchester's runners aren't getting older, their getting better," said Nelson, whose 44:43 time put her ahead of Hope Lee of Stephens City (45:47) for the age-group prize.
Some 1,500 registered for the event, according to race supervisor Rosie Schiavone, while race records show some 1,452 participated on the undulating course, filled with twists and turns.
Last year, 1,458 broke the finish line.