I feel like this story starts the same way as so many others do on this team. A hot, humid, brutal summer run, bright and early in the morning. The date was July 27th, 2020, and on this day, Winters decided to bust out a new spot for us to run at, Shady Oak. Almost everyone has been there now, and its nuance is all but gone. It’s just another paved trail along the river, shaded and hilly. While the lockdown made practice the highlight of my day, on this day the energy was not there. I showed up that day unprepared and I knew it, dehydrated, barely stretched, and tired on another level. But like most people on most days, you just chugged along and made it through enjoying the highlights and forgetting the lows. Another surprise from Winters was then laid on us when he decided that day was a long run, the longest to that point in fact. I had 8 whole, painful miles ahead of me and I was scared. Not nervous, anticipating what's to come, genuinely frightful of what that might entail. I know now that 8 miles is just another long run, and for many on the team an 8-mile-long run would be easy. I was not even close to prepared for what was to come. The final pre-race surprise for that day would be one of the most impactful ones, Winters would be joining me and Will for these 8 miles meaning we would be going his pace, a frightening prospect to say the least.
Usually, what happens on a run, like the talking that occurs, all of that gets forgotten. But for once, I can distinctly remember what us 3 were talking about. For the first two miles, we talked about Alex Jones and conspiracy theories. And then for the last 2 miles out, we were talking about the Patriot Act. If you don’t understand what that it is, I implore you to google it, or if you really want to know, ask Winters. Regardless, let’s just say we weren’t focusing on the run. Now as we turned around at 4 miles, my stomach started to hurt, my legs started to burn, I'm falling a step behind. All bad signs of what's to come. Winters and Will continue talking. I feel like I can barely think by this point and I’m really just trying to get to the end of this run as soon as possible, as easy as possible. Spoiler: It will not be fast, nor will it be easy.
We reached around the 5.5-mile mark, and disaster strikes. The construction we saw on the way out is now blocking the trail to get back. A large trail closed sign blocks the path back. My first thought at this sign was to go right past it but ultimately, I saddled up for the ride. There is no way back through the trailhead, so we have to go around. The sign also presents the arrival of a new group to this story, consisting of Colin, Yash, and Luke Hihi. They ask Winters what we should do, and after a few moments of deliberation we decided to head left of the sign off of the trail. This put us onto a highway, and a bridge which you can see from the trail. On this bridge, a man in a gray truck pulled up beside us, put his window down, and offered us a map. That man was an angel in disguise. We dismissed him and kept running. After reaching an intersection and making a right turn, we headed downhill, past some houses, and then through a small neighborhood. None of us had phones and all we were looking for were directions. Then we saw it, a large gravel driveway, surely a public park. Which means a map. We’ll know where were going again. And how to escape this place. We get to the sign at the front of most parks, with the tiny roof on top and what do we see. Not a map. Not the only thing we needed…
A birdwatching guide.
Welcome to Hoy Park.
Welcome to Hell.
To say my heart dropped is an understatement. All I could do was laugh. What else can you do when you fall so far. You have no energy to cry. You just stand and laugh at your own misfortune, your own failure. Right now, you can travel on Google Maps the exact same route I took to Hoy Park, but you can’t go in. In takes real suffering, real pain, to enter that place. You can only enter at your lowest of lows, halfway through a run you never wanted to do, at a speed you can’t go, on a day you shouldn’t run. Yet there I stood, in a sick twisted form of shock and horror and yet laughing. Everyone except Winters stood around for a while he scouted uphill for a possible escape, ultimately unsuccessful. So, what did we do? We ran back the way we came. I started to really die by this point, I had stopped sweating a while ago, but I began to feel chills run down my spine. Finally, when we got back to the trail closed sign, now accompanied by a construction worker, I was offered a water from his cooler. Now when I say that was the best water I’ve ever drank I mean it. That was the taste of Life. I had escaped Hell.
But I wasn’t home free. Slowly but surely Winters and Will pulled away leaving me all on my own trying to make it back in once piece. Right before the steel bridge you go under, I stopped. Unable to run anymore, I just sat there. Defeated. Dead and yet Alive. Wishing I wasn’t. I walked onwards just trying to finish the run with what I had left. I threw up after I went under the bridge and Chia was there. Asking what was wrong. I forget what I said but I know it wasn’t PG-13. I eventually reached the end. A liberating feeling? Far from it. I threw my shirt off, said goodbye to Winters, hopped in my dad’s car with the AC on blast and went home. I would throw up about another 20-25 times before going to the hospital. It wasn’t great. I hated life. But I kept going. And after two IV bags, one call from Winters asking how I was doing, and a small amount of luck, I survived Hoy Park. And I was right there at practice the next day.
That’s what cross country means to me. A life changing experience for good and bad, a social experience in some parts, a pure mental battle in others. I’ve been asking myself a lot of what others can take away from this story. And it’s not something shallow like “I’ve been through worse suck it up.” What I think you can and should take away from this is that everyone on this team will have their Hoy Park moment. That pit of despair, the lowest point, where you just want to quit. These moments are crucial to not only running but to life. Cross country means so much to me and in this case, it became a learning opportunity to understand what I can handle, where I can go, and how I can push through everything holding me back. That is more important than any time or place in any race. You only get 4 years of cross country, please savor them. The more and more I reflect on my time on the team, the more and more I realize how little I have left. Enjoy every day at practice, you only get so many of them.
~Jacob Cross - Class of '23