By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
When one thinks of Ashtabula, they’re probably thinking about the Lake, the beach, maybe some historic lighthouses, but probably not a mountainous terrain.
That is unless you are a cross country runner that has competed at on the course at Lake Shore Park. Then you know all about “The Hill.”
The hill greets runners about half a mile into the course. It is a steep incline that spans about 50 yards. They then run it again before completing the course.
At the War on the Shore on Monday, a girl from Poland could be heard approaching the hill.
“Can I take the steps?”
The answer is a resounding no.
“The Homely Hill” is what Lakeside Athletics Director Greg Zannelli passionately calls it.
“I’ve seen people, not Lakeside people, but other people, literally get to the top of that hill and sit down and cry.”
Zannelli coached cross country at Lakeside for ten years. The hill was a part of the course for the old Ashtabula Panther cross country program. Four years ago, Zannelli re-included it in the course.
The hill is a distinctive part of the Lakeside course. It is a cross country course in a literal sense. Runners must take on the beach, the grass and the road over the span of 3.1 miles.
Jeremiah Allen of Geneva ran the hill for the first time.
“It’s definitely one of the hardest I’ve ever faced,” Allen said. “You have to be ready to adapt to it. By the time you get to the top, you’re out of energy. You really have to kick yourself in the butt and look deep inside you to recover.”
William Taggart, a senior this year for Lakeside, is no stranger to the hill.
“We went to a camp a couple of weeks ago. That hill makes anything else around here look like a speed bump,” he said.
Taggart’s teammates agreed. “That is probably the thing that makes this the hardest course around,” Patrick Darrough said.
“It’s probably pretty intimidating (to other schools) Caleb Henery said. “It’s pretty tough and you have to run it twice. This being our home course, though, we train on it, so I guess we’re used to it.”
Yes, the ladies run up it as well.
"The biggest thing is probably mentally," Jefferson girls coach Steve Locy said. "We've all run hills. But you see it and you think I have to run it twice. It’s definitely mental."
"I sprint the hill just to get it over with," Carlie Watt of Lakeside said.
"It's definitely the hardest part of the race, Geneva's Hailey VanHoy said. "Yeah, it was hard on me. The three hills after the big one are what kill you.”
The hill is a challenge not only for the runners, but also the coaches.
“This is definitely a tactful course. You have to plan and strategize how you take it,” Lakeside coach Erik van’t Veer said. “You know there’s going to be a lot of hills. You have to be able to recover quickly.”
The hill is not only endured by the home team. Edgewood coach Steve Hill has great appreciation for it, as well.
“We try to down play it a little bit, but that’s definitely what people think of when they think of this course. It’s been the trademark of this place and it’s been since I ran here in the 1980s.
“There’s only one other course that matches up to this one and that’s Woodridge. Other than that, you’ll very rarely find anything 25 percent of that.
“It’s an unfortunate thing that this has become more of a speed sport. Lakeside has stayed true to the sport and kept it an endurance course.”
It can be called challenging, brutal, intimidating, a test of human will. Folks from Lakeside are fine with just calling it “The Hill.”
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.