Welcome to Sunken Meadow State Park, home to one of the most grueling cross-country courses in New York State. It’s a place known for breaking down runners and bringing up their times.
As described by DyeStat.com, the five-kilometer course starts with a flat 1,200 meters before the runners hit steep Snake Hill. Then they move on through a picnic area and take a half-mile climb to the base of notorious Cardiac Hill, which extends for some 200 meters of steep terrain.
“Snake kills your calves while Cardiac just kills you in general,” said Mattituck senior Christian Demchak.
The straightforward assessment from Southold freshman Isaiah Mraz: “It’s hard as hell.”
And it was home to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships on Saturday, almost 10 years to the day since the state meet last came to Kings Park.
“It’s a great course,” Shoreham-Wading River junior Adam Zelin said. “It’s brutal. A lot of it is mental.”
Southold senior Michael Daddona got a kick out of watching runners not accustomed to the course react upon hitting the hills. As for his own feelings about Sunken Meadow, Daddona said, “I used to like it more than I do, but the more you run it, the more you realize how hard it is.”
No wonder some runners have a love-hate relationship with the course.
As unforgiving as Sunken Meadow can be, things weren’t made any easier Saturday by puddles of water — the result of heavy rain Friday night — and driving winds that toppled wooden barriers and tents.
“The course was very rough,” Zelin said. “There were a lot of mud patches.”
And something else … a lot of fast runners.
Zelin encountered his fair share of them in the Class B race.
Running in his second state meet, Zelin was 81st in 18 minutes and 12.5 seconds. The winner was Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior Tyler Berg in 15:52.4. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake won the team championship with 22 points.
Zelin said being familiar with what is essentially his home course helped. “Some kids went out way too hard and when they hit those hills they died out,” he said.
SWR coach Bob Szymanski said Zelin went out hard and started to fade after Snake Hill. “I really can’t complain because he came through in the clutch for us the last two races,” said Szymanski.
Szymanski agreed with the suggestion that Sunken Meadow has a mystique about it.
“You have to run over the summer before you come here,” he said. “This isn’t like running a flat golf course. [Runners] hear stories about this course and they’re frightened.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River junior Adam Zelin charging toward the finish line in the Class B race of the state meet at Sunken Meadow State Park. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)