The Running Dead: Celebrate Halloween by Running in a Cemetery

A welcoming path in a cemetery in Hopkinton, Ma., near me.

Which running venue do you most prefer – trail, track or cemetery?   If you’ve never run among the dead, you’re missing a life-affirming experience, and Halloween is a great time to experience it.  (Unless, like me, you’re awash in Frankenstorm, in which case, wait for Nov. 1, the official Day of the Dead.)

It never would have occurred to me to run in a cemetery, but for a newspaper colleague of mine long ago, who used to run in Elmwood Cemetery, in my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina.  Pam, a photographer, always struck me as somewhat of a rebel, the kind of person who would run anywhere regardless of any menacing “Keep Out” signs.

I, however, am somewhat of a coward, the kind of person who is intimidated by the “Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law” tags on bossy mattress and pillows.  So before I ran there for the first time, I called the office to make sure it was all right.

“Yes, you can run here,” a gracious receptionist said. “We have 150 acres, and anyone is welcome to run or walk on the grounds. Just be respectful of anyone in mourning.”

Of course.  Common sense suggests that when running through graveyards, we stay clear of ceremonies, hearses and weeping. And deep, rectangular holes.  Also, that we might dress a little more modestly  than we do while running with the Harriers or alone on a track. And that we conclude our runs well before dark.

But, odd as it might seem, large cemeteries are perfect for running.  They have well-maintained paths and roads, they’re scenic and quiet, and you’re unlikely to be run over by an irate motorist going 65 in a 35 zone.

Am I paranoid, or is she glaring at me?

An added plus for me:  none of the inhabitants look with disdain at my wide load.

Not so I can see, anyway.

There’s a melancholy that settles on you while running among the dead, to be sure.  A lot of people avoid graveyards because, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, they point to our own eventual fate.  But running in a cemetery reminds me that any day above ground is a good day, regardless of how much my overused hamstrings ache.

And, it’s also just kind of cool. And yes, rebellious, in a Death-I-Scoff-at-You kind of way.

For added fun this week, do it with a Halloween playlist on your iPod.    Mine always includes “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, “Abracadabra” by the Steve Miller Band, and of course, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

I guess if you run a 20-minute-mile, you’re okay.

A note of caution:  Not every cemetery is as accommodating as Elmwood in South Carolina.  If you, like me, cower in the face of authority, check in at the office before becoming one of the Running Dead.  One cemetery I checked out recently in Medway, Ma., had no office, but made it clear that runners aren’t welcome, with a sign that says not even vehicles can go faster than a walk!

SALTIES, Have you ever run in a graveyard?  And what’s on your Halloween running playlist?

 

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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5 comments

  1. What a fabulous idea. Here all the cemetaries are very uniform and flat but when I was a child there was a huge old cemetary (my hometown was founded in 1796) a block from our elementary school (built in 1876 – yes I went to elementary school there from 1972 – 1976). We used to go there for field trips at least once a week to play and feed the ducks. And we learned the correct behavior in a cemetary and picked up garbage and weeded where needed. After I moved and I would tell of visits to the cemetary to friends they all looked at me like I was crazy.

    My grandparents were burried in a different cemetary that was above the valley (it was the Jewish cemetary for the surrounding 75 miles) and as a child we would go there to visit and just sit and look at the town.

    I always have had fond memories of cemetaries and would love to run in one of those old ones someday.

  2. Every so often I teach at a local university and my favorite place to run near there is a cemetery. It’s a beautiful old cemetery that lots of people use as a park for walking their dogs, picnicking and exercise. I do feel bad doing a tempo run next to a funeral so I always tried to avoid those if possible, but otherwise I loved it. I loved the beauty, the quiet, the lack of traffic and to me there is nothing more respectful of the dead than to live amongst them. And there’s nothing more alive to me than running!

  3. There’s a cemetery ~3.5 mi from my house with a 1+ mile perimeter. I avoid it on weekends but I’ve never seen anyone there when I’ve done a loop or two early on a weekday morning. I love looking at the different stones.

    I actually learned to drive in the cemeteries in my hometown. With the low speed limit and minimal traffic it’s a great place to get some low-pressure practice. My parents even let me choose which of several to go to.