I first raced here in high school, a skinny lad unaware of the suffering and false rabbit tactics of rival teams. I soon learned to embrace the suck — just deal with it! — and with time I also learned to fly. There’s a trick to cross-country, you see. Of course you have to have the strength to power up and defeat your opponent on the ascent, but the race can be won on the downhill. If you can give in to gravity, to almost fall, you’ll fly down. With arms out for balance, you can speed away from even your toughest opponent.
The courses are the same as in my heyday, with flats, a cowpath, a bridge and back hill loop, as well as Cemetery Hill (also known as Vault Hill), which is part of a route used for college races. Race distances are 5K, 8K or 10K. For hill training, Van Cortlandt is a must. For runners and racers, it should be on your bucket list.
But take your cue from metal signs along the courses depicting the turtle and the hare. While I like to try to race fast here (and re-live my youth), I suppose the hare suggests that you can also take it easy. You can run or jog, but you can also stroll or just meander through a park that is one of New York City’s emerald treasures.
The Van Cortlandt Park Track Club sometimes gives winners carrot cake muffins from Lloyd’s Carrot Cake shop (6087 Broadway in the Bronx), across from the start/finish line. Whatever your pace, you can seek your rewards there as well.