by Thomas Shea
What do I say when out of town relatives ask me to name the highlight of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival®? That is not an easy answer. So many fun events come to mind like The Midway, the Sports Breakfast and themed luncheons, the Carnival (where I have eaten many snow cones over 20+ years), Wine Fest (I can finally imbibe), and parades that rival the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. But, for me, one of the highlights is definitely the thirty-nine-year-old 10K Race on Saturday morning of the big weekend.
“Forever Apple Blossom” is the theme of this year’s Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival®. The logo for the 93rd Bloom is a beautiful gold infinity symbol intertwined through pink and green apple blossom flowers. The course for the Apple Blossom 10k mimics this year’s infinity symbol. Analogous with the infinity symbol looping around the apple blossom flowers in the logo, the path of the 10k runners envelops the heart of the festival by circumventing John Handley High School and historic Winchester. The road course provides plenty of eye candy as runners take in the beautiful landmark high school and gorgeous historic homes, each with its own character and charm. Of course, one hopes to be running so fast that these iconic buildings become a blur, which may be a reality for the front runners, but the rest of us enjoy the views.
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom 10K is a tradition for runners in and around Winchester. The event consistently draws over a thousand runners each year (1,135 finishers in 2019) and offers over $8,000 in prize award money! While this race is exhilarating for the runners, it is perhaps as exciting for the community that lines the roads to watch. Fans intently search for loved ones, shout out words of encouragement, wave signs, and best of all, the street laden cheering section lauds all participants with arm-raised clapping and cheering.
I first ran the Apple Blossom 10K when I was 15. At the time, I was a high school cross country and track athlete, so the 10K was like a long workout. My favorite part of the race was that I knew so many of the faces, especially the kids in my age group because it was like having a hometown meet. Our coaches ran with us, as well as many teachers and people I knew from the bank and shops in town. Truth be told, it is a challenging course. Some say that since the course is relatively flat, it is easier, but to that, I respond by saying a flat course does not have a downhill recovery time. There are grade changes, albeit slight, that allow for variation and leg muscle reprieve.
The key to a successful race is to prepare. A combination of mid-distance running and sprint work is a great recipe. New runners should begin race preparation months ahead, slowly increasing his/her distance until running a distance beyond 6 miles is quite comfortable. To be able to have that desired final homestretch kick, sprint workouts are essential. Sprint work can be done on a high school track, but one can also use the speed settings on a treadmill, or even sprint the distance between telephone poles along the street. Mental fortitude is also of key importance; the 10k is no distance to laugh at. Having the mental strength to keep going in that last mile or so can make or break your race performance. Runner’s Retreat in Winchester offers an eight-week 10K prep training session leading up to the May race. So, no excuses, runners, get out there and train! Be a part of this enduring race and join in this year’s “Forever Apple Blossom” celebration.