Tischler, Stickley fare well in Apple Blossom 10K

WINCHESTER–Saturday’s $8,300 Apple Blossom Valley Health 10K was a success for Rachel Tischler and Mark Stickley.

Strasburg senior Tischler, who finished 11th in the Group 2A girls cross-country championship last fall and has already qualified for the state championship meet in two outdoor track races this spring, finished 42nd overall — the 10th women’s challenger in the 6.2-mile race. Former Ram (1980) and Virginia Tech All-American (’85) Stickley finished 46th, the 35th overall men’s participant.

Neither Tischler nor Stickley finished in the money — Tischler could not collect because, officially, she’s an amateur — but the finish was important to each one of them for various reasons. Tischler forfeited a chance to run in a scholastic meet last week in order to be in top condition for the Winchester race, which took place under near perfect conditions. For Stickley, the competition represented an almost transcendent moment, as it was the first such distance he has finished since injuring a knee in 2008.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, residents and Kenyan natives Hillary Too, 36, and Cleophas Ngetich, 25, ran 1-2 in the race which wound around streets on the southern end of town.

The first women’s finisher was Tigist Jabore, 21, of Silver Spring, Md., while the first U.S. female was Charlottesville’s Ann Mazur, 29, who finished sixth in her gender and 34th overall.

The first U.S. male runner across the tape on Handley Blvd., was Bridgewater cross-country coach Brian Flynn, 31. He finished fourth overall.

Stickley’s Runners Retreat athletics equipment store in Winchester provided checks of $200 to Mazur and Flynn, while Too earned top prize of $1,000; runner-up Ngetich picked up a check for $750. Third overall finisher Jadmad El Jaouand, 31, of Roxborough, Pa., secured $600; fourth-place Flynn added $500 to his totals and Daniel Hoyne, 20, of Cabot, Vermont, finished fifth overall. The No. 5 finisher earned $400 to round out the money winners.

Stickley, Handley High School’s boys cross-country coach, did more than provide cash for several of the leaders, he participated in the race for the first time in seven years.

“It’s been that long since I did this. Last year, I could barely walk up stairs. It’s coming along, but this was very gratifying,” the 52-year-old said.

The name Stickley is synonymous with Strasburg, Shenandoah County and beyond. The former Ram distance runner and Virginia Tech All-American is part of an 11-generation line that leads all the way back to the mid-18th century in his part of the state. He began running as a teenager on the family farm, now the site of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Along with his high-school, college, and business acknowledgements, Stickley won this race in 1992. In ’84, during his college days, he finished runner-up. Stickley also was the Masters division champ in 2007 and 2008.

But those running plaudits were a distant memory on Saturday to the coach who, in ’08, injured his knee. That kept him out of competition until recently when he ran several shorter meets leading up to the Winchester event.

In February 2014, Stickley underwent stem cell therapy in Fairfax to repair damaged cartilage and, for the last 15 months, he has slowly been recovering.

He was limited in even minute activities like deep-knee bends this time a year ago.

“It takes a lot to get back, it takes a lot of races and a lot of rehab,” said Stickley, whose clock time of 39:42, amounted to a 39:40 adjusted net time (from the time he crossed the starting line to when he crossed the finish).

“What I’ve found is that even if I’ve been running on [the knee] my leg is weak from all the non-use. I’m a little out-of-balance.”

Stickley, a Winchester resident, said that even if his time was not in the 37th-minute, which he had hoped, he had to finish the race as a toast to the other competitors.

“Well, I passed my street [after about three miles] and everybody was down there cheering me on. I couldn’t quit because of them, even though I knew I wasn’t going to run a very good time. The other thing was, people might say, ‘Well, he quit running because he knew his time wouldn’t be the best.’ But what about those other participants? — Those who were out there doing their best? — I had to run it for them too,” he said.

Placing just ahead of Stickley with a net time of 39:15 was Tischler, who, in the last year, has started to make a similar name for herself.

The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Cross Country Runner of the Year is dominating the outdoor track ranks. As of Wednesday, she had the area’s best 1,600 and 3,200 meter times of the spring.

Her time in the Apple Blossom race represented a personal record. On New Year’s Day, she clocked a 42:30.

“It was a good result on a perfect day,” said Tischler, 17. “I just love running on the longer courses and this was just great competition on a fun course. I love the longer distances and this was just a great opportunity.”

Tischler, who said she ran eight miles one day last week, hoped to finish in the area of 39 minutes, and so, she proclaimed her effort “a success.”

“Just getting out here and running with all these people was fun, but I ran this race seriously, and so my result was really satisfying,” Tischler said.

Prize-money was also awarded to first-place finishers among Masters and Grand Masters divisions.

Among the 1,252 finishers, the race represented different things to each competitor: it was a lucrative challenge for elite racers, a competitive run for the more serious challengers and a fun exercise for others.

Perhaps no one has ever termed it “path to stardom,” but that’s exactly what Chapel Hill, North Carolina resident and Kenya native Ben Kurgat said the race, which was started and ended on the north edge of the Handley High School campus, represented.

“This is the path they take to stardom,” said Kurgat, as he congratulated the top two finishers who are part of his running group which has dominated the Winchester race for at least decade.

“We’ve had too many winners to count,” Kurgat said, standing with countryman Too and Ngetich.

Too finished the race in 29:29, just off teammate and fellow Kenyan Kimutai Cherniyot’s 28:48 clocking of 2014. Meanwhile, Ngetich tripped around the course at 30:02.

Those times amounted to 4:45 and 4:50 mile paces, respectively.

“A race like this leads to longer races in places like New York and Chicago and, hopefully, even the Olympics,” said Kurgat, who served as something of a translator for the two leaders.