By Lee Zumbach, Jennifer Odom Memorial Forest of Needwood 5-Mile Race Director

Much in life has transpired over the past 40 years, but one constant has been the Forest of Needwood 5 mile road race, in Petersville, Maryland. Needwood is the oldest continuous road race in Frederick County. While the pandemic and several snow storms have tried to end the event, the sponsors and directors have found a way to keep the tradition alive.

The idea of a road race came to me by way of an inspirational historic road marker along route 17 just north of Brunswick. I found this marker while on a long run in the fall of 1982 and tied the information on the sign to the vision of having a race to raise funds for a local scholarship to help our local high school runners with higher education cost.

John Loughlin, the then president of Frederick Steeplechasers, offered to put the Needwood race into the series of runs he was forming, called the “Grand Prix”. Anne Zumbach, Walt Stull, and I then met and started developing the plans for the 1 st Needwood to be held in early March of 1983. It would be a 15K with a one mile “fun run”. Start near the present day Sheetz gas station, just outside of Brunswick, and run out and back through the historic farmland known as the Forest of Needwood, between Brunswick and the village of Burkittsville.

Back in the mid 1700s a gentleman named Thomas Slim Lee and his family owned the sprawling farmland that the race would pass through. Lee was the 2 nd governor of Maryland and very influential in the founding of our country as a delegate to the Continental Congress and a member of the state convention that ratified the constitution. He worked closely with many of the founding fathers of our country and helped establish St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the current start and finish area of the race. His home still stands along Lees Lane, on the left at the 2 Mile Mark in the race.

The race was held at the original location for two years, but state police strongly suggested that we move the course to avoid traffic issues. Thus, the current location was established, and the distance was set at 5 miles from that point on, as a very good 5-mile loop worked well with the start and finish at Saint Mary’s Church. The race kept the scenic historic rolling hills and allowed for an inside registration area equipped with a restroom and a parking area. The church has been a loyal partner of the race over the years.

The goal of the race was and still is, to raise funds in support of Brunswick High School student athletes who moved onto higher education and recognize them for their accomplishments in track and cross country and in the classroom. We wanted to keep this race a friendly community minded event, with no more than 100 participants, while raising the needed funds.

While not much has changed over the years, two events have come about that have become a part of the event. The first was the tragic death of the West Point and Brunswick High graduate, Jennifer Shafer Odom. While serving on a mission in South America in 1999, her plane was shot down and all aboard, including Jennifer, perished. Jennifer did sports and drama at BHS and graduated in the top 25% of her West Point class. We decided to name the scholarship in her honor since that tragic day, and each year a highlight of the event is introducing her family as they greet the runners at the award ceremony and we keep her name alive and honor her life of service.

The next big change came when the Brunswick Area Recreation Council (BARC) voted to become the major sponsor of the event by donating funds to help pay for awards. This allowed us to do the race under their insurance and tax-free, thus helping to put more funds into the scholarship award. We have given out nearly $20,000 in assistance to over 150 students since the race began.

The course records have held for many years. While some runners have come close, the records of 25:52, set by Tom Nave in 1989 and 29:48, set by Laura Nelson in 1995, are out there to be taken still.

Many loyal Needwood fans return year after year, too many to list. Some have done over 20 Needwoods. A great example of this dedication to Needwood was Dave Hurlocker. Dave came over from Westminster each year. He was once involved in a tragic car accident while on a morning run. Dave was seriously hurt but recovered to give Needwood his best for a number of years, along with his loyal dog. Dave made a yearly contribution to the scholarship fund but sadly we lost Dave several years back. Another good friend of Needwood was Helen Schley, a long-time senior Olympic runner, who did the race several times, contributed to the fund, and made special brownies as post race treats. We lost Helen this past fall at the age of 95, a life well-lived in support of the running community.

If you do Needwood, we will guarantee the following: a challenging course with a nice hill at Mile 4, some of the most scenic farmland in the area, a quality shirt that has used the same logo each year, depicting the beautiful Potomac River gap to the south, reasonable entrance fee, personal attention, credit for the Grand Prix series, tasty post-race treats, and fun random prizes along with a strong award system that honors youth and veteran runners. Oh, yes, we can also guarantee some interesting late winter weather that has seen snow, sleet, rain, fog, mild temperatures in the 70s and the famous spring winds that will probably blow at the top of Savage Farm hill as you pass by a herd of curious cattle.

Forest of Needwood 2022 Starting Line