excerpted from "Cross Country Running" by Marc Bloom, editor, "The Harrier"
Van Cortlandt Park is America's cross country Mecca. It is not paradise by any means. It has not the prettiest course nor the most difficult. It does not have the best facilities. It is just that it lies smack in the middle of the most populous megalopolis, in an area rich in cross country tradition, where sponsors and those of influence have chosen to operate. Located as it is on the fringe of New York City, Van Cortlandt is most accessible. Public transportation funnels there from every neighborhood in the city. The subways are close by. Highways and turnpikes touch the park from distant locales in neighboring states.
Therefore, in a given season, more runners race its trails than any other cross country site in the nation, if not the world. There are several distinct programs that merge at "Vanny" as it is called. The biggest is for the high schools. Manhattan College (and before it NYU), and Fordham University sponsor meets with a combined entry in excess of 10,000....over the "time tested" 2.5 mile course.
At the Foot Locker Northeast Qualifier the high schoolers move up to the 5000m, the same route now used by women competing at the collegiate level. Essentially, it's the first 3.1 miles of the famed five mile course. When the men's college teams compete, they pass through the 5,000m finish area, then another two-mile loop remains. The flats are repeated, then along the cowpath a sharp left is taken up onto the infamous Cemetery Hill, a steep, rocky incline about 4.2m into the college run. "Cemetery" --that's the way it's referred to--just "Cemetery"--rises about a hundred feet during its length of about 300 yards. Its peak stands 150 feet above sea level. It's a killer alright, and the jibes abound. Runners die up there. They're dead and buried, laid to rest. Its name is so perfectly suited for the cross country assignment that one would assume running there had some historical relationship to it. Not so.
Cemetery Hill was once known as Vault Hill. It is the family burial plot of the Van Cortlandt family, wealthy Dutch settlers after whom the park is named.
Famous names and famous faces have been part of the fabric of "Vanny", whose ambiance on fall weekends is a microcosm of the entire town. There is an overlapping tapestry; no one has the place just for himself. Soccer and football and baseball and rugby and cricket mesh on the wide-open flats, and players of all backgrounds shout instructions in many languages. But runners are everywhere--warming up, training, racing, going off in all directions--or waiting in the restroom or finding their own woods, patronizing soft-drink vendors or the delis or Burger King. Rows of cars or yellow school buses often double parked, line the finish area along Broadway. Its a place of continuous movement that embodies the spirit of New York...and what makes Van Cortlandt Park----"Mecca".
Read more at: http://www.armorytrack.com/XC/VCP/index.htm