Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Any cross country runner in the state of New Jersey knows this place all too well. The home of the New Jersey State Championships and some of the greatest races in state history. In my opinion, this would be one of the places a person would coin bitter sweet — one of the greatest, most physically taxing places to race at.
As a New Jersey cross country athlete Holmdel Park never loses its difficulty, but it becomes a course your legs just know. The most important races are on Holmdel’s sandy soil, so as an athlete, it is up to you to learn how to run this course.
When I say you have to learn how to run the course, I mean actually learn how to run it beyond just running fast.
It is so intensely ornate that you need to learn how to run it effectively and strategically. You have to learn the hills, the different paths, where to surge and where to relax. Personally, from freshman to senior year of high school, the course never got easier, but I had run it so many times, I was confident in my knowledge of how to compete there.
The most iconic part of the course has dubbed the name “The Bowl.” The Bowl is a large incline about a mile and a quarter into the race, and it sweeps all the way up and around giving the area a bowl like shape. This hill is so intensely vertical and long that running up it feels like it takes an eternity. Specifically at the end of the hill, in order to get to the next flat part, you need to almost run vertically and take a huge jump up in order to keep yourself moving. The best way I could describe it would be that the way you have to run up that part of The Bowl is like running straight up towards the sky.
In my opinion though, that hill is not the hardest part of the course — the real pain starts on the hill right in the beginning.
The starting line is in the middle of a field and right in the beginning the entire group of racers is forced to funnel into one small area in order to scale the massive hill as soon as you start the race.
There's no time to get settled in in the beginning.
If you do not get out as fast as possible you end up getting stuck going up the hill in the woods with no way to get around people, which is just another thing you come to learn after running Holmdel a few times. While it is one of the hardest places to race physically and mentally, anyone who has ever run there could tell you that there is no greater racing feeling than the finish at Holmdel Park.
About a half mile from the finish, you enter the woods and you get that second wind feeling even though you are exhausted at that point. You know you are so close at this point, and you get that sense of urgency.
Then you emerge from the woods, you see the finish line and you just take off.
It is right in front of you and that exit from the woods brings a sweet sense of relief and pride. The finish is honestly ideal. People crowded around on both sides of you cheering as you exit the woods and start barreling down the field, but you do not see the hundreds of people watching. All you can see is the timer with its blaring red lights and the finish line.
It’s been said before and I will say it again — there is nothing like the Holmdel Park magic.