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 Saturday, almost 10 years to the day since the state meet last came to Kings Park.
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.
Shortly after completing the Class C race, Demchak described the event as “a lot of people, a lot of wind, a lot of water. There’s a lot of people, so you have to fight your way through.”
Demchak was clocked in 18 minutes and 1.1 seconds, a good time for him, he said, but well off his best time on the course: 17:35. “That’s not what I wanted,” said Demchak, who came in 45th place. “I wanted below 17:15.”
Bronxville senior Matthew Rizzo took the top honors in 16:22.2.
“I think he did well,” Mattituck coach Mike Jablonski said of Demchak. “He cut 20 seconds off his last time here.”
“The course at the start was a mess,” Jablonski continued. “I just told him to find some dry land and run hard.”
Mraz had to contend with something else during the Class D race, a cramping pain in his side that developed with about a mile to go. “It’s not fun,” he said.
Regardless, Mraz ended up 65th in 19:28.5, his personal record for the course.
Mraz passed two teammates, senior Michael Chacon (69th in 19:31.0) and Daddona (73rd in 19:37.7), late in the race. Southold’s two other state qualifiers were senior Patrick Connolly (90th in 20:33.1) and junior Jacob Boivin (112th in 22:27.1).
Shelter Island junior Kal Lewis successfully defended his state Class D crown, winning in 16:23.3.
Daddona, competing in his third state meet, had to deal with painful shin splints, which he felt on every step downhill. It’s all part of the memories, both good and painful, he takes away from his final race at Sunken Meadow.
He said, “I might walk up the course after the last race to see the course a last time.”
Photo caption: Mattituck senior Christian Demchak charging toward the finish line during the Class C race of the state meet at Sunken Meadow State Park. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)