WINCHESTER — Simion Chirchir returned to the Apple Blossom Valley Health 10K on Saturday seeking to defend the title he won for the first time last spring. Chirchir completed the 6.2-mile course, which begins and ends near Handley High School, one minute and 19 seconds slower than his winning time in 2018, but the end result on Saturday was the same.

Chirchir, 34, a Kenyan who trains out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, topped the field of 1,135 finishers with a time of 30:23, giving him a second straight Valley Health 10K title. Chirchir’s mark on Saturday was well off his winning time of 29:04 last year, but was well ahead of runner-up Dirkiba Yiguzu (31:42), of New York.

The only difference between Chirchir’s last two performances at the Apple Blossom event, he said, was the humidity on Saturday that gave the mid-60-degree morning a warm, sticky feel.

“It was fun,” Chirchir said after claiming his prize, which included a $1,000 payout. “I think this race has been good, has been good for me. I have participated in this race, this is my third time. I ran here in 2014 and I was third. I was third in 2014 when they were breaking the course record. … And then I came here last year, and I won with 29:04. Today I wanted to run sub-30 again but the humidity was too high.”

A fellow Kenyan, Susan Jerotich, 32, who also races out of Chapel Hill, was the first woman to cross the finish line and did so in a time of 34:44, a mark that netted her fourth-place overall and the race’s other $1,000 payday.

Unlike Chirchir, Jerotich had some competition for the top spot among the female racers and had to outsprint Pamela Cherotich to the finish line. Jerotich edged Cherotich by one second.

“I thank God for this opportunity that he gave me today,” Jerotich said. “From the start until the end, I decided I wanted to be patient, waiting for the last to kick because I knew the other lady was also fast. So I decided for the last 200, I move.”

Winchester’s Matthew Lofton, 40, an assistant cross country coach at Millbrook High School, was the top local finisher on Saturday and crossed the finish line in eighth place overall with a time of 35:53, a fraction of a second behind 29-year-old Bennett Umhau, of Savage, Maryland.

Lofton was first in the men’s Masters division (40 years of age or older) and earned a $300 prize.

Lofton, who said he suffered an Achilles injury last summer and hadn’t competed in anything longer than a 5K since he started running again last November, improved seven spots from his 2018 finish at the Apple Blossom 10K but saw his time rise by 45 seconds.

“There wasn’t enough competition up front like there normally is, which makes me look like I’m quicker this year but I was actually quite a bit slower,” Lofton said shortly after crossing the finish line.

“I’m coming back from an injury so I’m trying to see where I am right now, trying to get a basis for where my fitness is. I was pleased with the race overall, not my best, not my worst, so I’ll take it.

“A lot of the guys that come out and (are) usually up front, especially a lot of the faster Americans, weren’t here today for some reason,” he added. “I don’t know if the weather kept them away.”

Mario Zuniga, 54, of Front Royal (25th overall, 39:24) and Ann Robb, 56, of Winchester (219th overall, 51:15) each won the Grand Masters divisions for the men and women, respectively.

Winchester’s Silas Schroer, 17, the top men’s placer in the 15-19 age group, and Carter Johnson, 15, rounded out the overall top 10 with ninth (36:24) and 10th place (36:30) finishes.

Other local age group winners in the men’s race included: Liam McDonald, 14, Winchester (Men Under 15, 39:17); Jamie Cornuaud, 20, Winchester (Men 20-24, 38:01); Nelson Mandela, 29, Winchester (Men 25-29, 37:14); Michael Blye, 39, Clear Brook (Men 35-39, 39:40); Jeremy Sanders, 43, Stephens City (Men 40-44, 40:13); Scott Bowman, 47, Winchester (Men 45-49, 41:48); and T’Ai Roulston, 55, Winchester (Men 55-59, 40:39).

Local age group winners in the women’s race included: Emma Ahrens, 14, Stephens City (Women Under 15, 45:56); Mackenzie Fergus, 18, Winchester (Women 15-19, 46:47); Lauren Chamberlain, 20, Cross Junction (Women 20-24); Paige Harry, 27, Stephenson (Women 25-29, 43:34); Megan Roberts, 31, of Stephens City and Sherando High School’s cross country coach (Women 30-34, 42:58); Emily Warner, 35, Winchester (Women 35-39, 43:56); Gillian Greenfield, 43, Winchester (Women 40-44, 44:18); Jennifer Hershberger, 51, Winchester (Women 50-54, 52:24); Rebecca Polite, 59, Winchester (Women 55-59, 52:33); Earlene Kemnitz, 70, Winchester (Women 70-74, 1:16.49); and Janet Hughes, 82, Winchester (Women 80 and up, 1:16.36).

– Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com