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You only need to lace up your shoes

September 26, 2007|By ANDREW MASON

As Washington County's population continues to grow and progress, so, too, should its already-packed calendar of annual running and racing events.

"As the demographics shift to a more educated, fitness-conscious population, these events will continue to grow and more events will pop up," longtime Hagerstown resident Mike Spinnler said.

Spinnler already has his hands full with the local running scene, which seemingly starts and ends with him these days.

"For better or for worse," he said, laughing.

Spinnler directs three of the county's most popular running events - the summer-long Pete Wright Memorial All-Comers Track & Field Series in Boonsboro, the Gary Brown Memorial C&O Canal Five Mile Run in August in Williamsport and the JFK 50 Mile in November - and he volunteers his time at several others.

The JFK 50 Mile, which begins in Boonsboro and ends in Williamsport, is the oldest and arguably the most prestigious ultramarathon in the country. There were 1,017 official finishers, representing nearly every state of the U.S. and several countries, at the 44th annual event last year - a record number of finishers for a U.S. ultramarathon.

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"The JFK is just a testament to persistence," said Spinnler, who won the JFK twice in the early 1980s. "It's a great fitness event that has grown into a fantastic sporting event."

But running 50 miles in one day isn't for everyone.

The most popular distance is 5K (3.1 miles). In June, there's the Jack E. Barr 5K at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg and the Vince Tantillo Memorial 5K in Hagerstown. The Run for Freedom 5K kicks off the Fourth of July in Williamsport, and the Bill Beckwith Memorial 5K is held in conjunction with Smithsburg Pride Days, also in July.

The Vibrant Life and Run for Your Life 5Ks are held in Hagerstown in the fall, and it wouldn't be a Thanksgiving morning without the Turkey Trot 5K at Hagerstown Community College.

The Run Through History 10K at Antietam National Battlefield in June is another popular event.

Other races and events pop up all the time in the county, and nearly all of them are as geared toward the veteran front-runners as they are toward novice joggers and walkers.

"I try to be a good ambassador for the sport," Spinnler said. "I try to create opportunities for elite athletes and to also make events beginner-friendly. At the all-comers track meets, we try to encourage people to come out from age 3 to 103."

Several runners have thrived and prospered in this atmosphere. County high schools are perennial contenders at the Maryland state cross country and track championships. The Clear Spring boys cross country team has won the last two Class 1A state titles, as has the Smithsburg boys team in spring track.

North Hagerstown High School graduate Jeff Scuffins owns the course record at the Marine Corps Marathon, and Williamsport graduate and current County Commissioner Terry Baker placed seventh at the 1982 Boston Marathon.

"Compared to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, we've put more athletes in the Olympic Trials," Spinnler said.

Many county runners stay on top of the local running scene by visiting the Web site www.hagerstownruns.com for an updated calendar of events and race results.

If you're brand new to the scene, it's easy to join. Just lace up your shoes and head out the door.

"You'll meet good people and develop a healthier lifestyle," Spinnler said.

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