Gary Brown C&O Canal 5-Mile Run turns 30

August 25, 2011|By ANDREW MASON |

Few area sporting events can match the history of the Gary Brown Memorial C&O Canal 5-Mile Run.

The 30th annual edition of the race will be held Saturday morning in Williamsport, starting and finishing at Riverbottom Park. The out-and-back course is on the C&O Canal’s dirt towpath.

The event, however, is really more than four decades old. After 12 years of existence as the C&O Canal 5-Mile Run, the race was renamed in 1982 to honor the memory of Gary Brown, who died in 1981.

Brown was a star runner at Martinsburg High School who later turned Handley High School in Winchester, Va., into a nationally ranked, distance-running powerhouse as a coach.

“It was very fitting because Gary Brown’s runners had won it numerous times. His runners dominated the race,” said race director Mike Spinnler, of the event’s renaming. “It had become an unofficial preseason race for all the high school runners in the four-state area. I’ve been trying to get it back to being a gathering for high school runners, kind of like a preseason kickoff.”

Over the years, though, the race has featured much more than high school runners.

Past champions include Olympian Steve Spence and other national-class stars such as Chris Fox and Terry Baker on the men’s side, and Kristy Johnston, Maria Pazarentzos, Susan Graham-Gray and Neely Spence on the women’s side.

“It’s literally been a who’s-who list of local stars who have won this event over the decades,” said Spinnler, who’s directed the race since 1996. “One of my proudest accomplishments is that I won it in 1985.”

Spinnler said he’s expecting about 150 runners Saturday. There is $1,200 in cash prizes for the top finishers.

The top male contenders include defending champ Dan DeWitt, of Frostburg, Md., and Cameron Hanlin, of Hagerstown. Spinnler said, “The women’s field is wide open.”

Proceeds from the event benefit the Hagerstown Community College track and field program.

The No. 1 goal, Spinnler said, is to honor Gary Brown.

“The event has a good purpose. I do this because I feel it’s important to keep alive,” he said. “I hope to keep this race going for many, many years to come to honor Gary for his accomplishments.”

Registration begins at 7 a.m. Saturday, and the race starts at 8.

“We’re accepting entries right up to race time,” Spinnler said.

For information, contact Spinnler at 301-739-7004 or

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