Van Cort­landt Park re­mains a serene spot in the Bronx

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Jonathan Elder­field

Can seren­ity come from suf­fer­ing?

For that mat­ter, can seren­ity be found in New York City, specif­i­cally, in this case, the Bronx?

Those are the ques­tions I pon­dered as I ran the back hills of Van Cort­landt Park’s famed crosscoun­try trails. I was in the mid­dle of a race put on by the Van Cort­landt Park Track Club, a 5K run that be­gan with a sprint across the flats and a dash into the hills of New York City’s third-largest park, which sprawls for more than 1,000 acres across the north­east cor­ner of the Bronx.

Look­ing out to the edge of the park from some spots, you can see tall apart­ment build­ings. But in other places, you’re run­ning on trails that seem so green and wild, lined with so many trees, that you might as well be in the woods.

The park has been a mecca for cross-coun­try run­ners for over 100 years. Its cour­ses opened in 1913. Famed ath­letes who’ve com­peted here in­clude Al­berto Salazar, Alan Webb, Ed­ward Ch­e­serek, Marty Liquori, Sha­lane Flana­gan and Matt Cen­trowitz, who won the gold at the 2016 Sum­mer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in the 1,500-me­ter race.

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 crosscoun­try, 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.

JONATHAN ELDER­FIELD — AP PHOTOS

In this July 7 photo, two paths join into one on the cross coun­try run­ning course at Van Cort­landt Park in the Bronx. Van Cort­landt is New York City’s third-largest park, at over 1,000 acres, and its cross-coun­try trails have been at­tract­ing run­ners for more than a cen­tury.

In this July 7 photo, the tor­toise and hare sign on the cross coun­try course is shown at Van Cort­landt Park in the Bronx.

In this July 7 photo, a run­ner strides along the cross coun­try course at Van Cort­landt Park in the Bronx.

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