There are upsides to running in a cemetery, especially during a pandemic: mainly, there’s not many people. It’s a large, quiet space free of cars and traffic and a cemetery, famously, is where the great Ed Whitlock trained before he ran away with the record book. Whitlock, who ran 2:54 at 73-years-old, once told iRun of his choice of training destination: “On the roads, you have to look respectable. You go to the cemetery and, by comparison to everyone else there, you’re in good shape.”
Whitlock never took a dollar of sponsorship money and wore old shoes he modified himself with a razor blade. By any account, Whitlock is running’s etiquette king, though that’s a title he’d surely not relish. Still, many people find it uncomfortable in following the legend’s footsteps. Is it OK to run in a cemetery? The jury is out.
“I feel it’s disrespectful to people who are there to mourn loved ones. It’s not a gym for us, it’s a resting place for people’s families,” wrote one runner on the iRun Facebook page.
“It’s usually forbidden to do so for a good reason,” said someone else.
Another commentator added: “Don’t run near a group mourning, I would find that offensive.”
While the vast majority of runners decided that it was OK to run through the cemetery, as long as people were quiet and respectful—not a great place for speed work, perhaps, and certainly not the moment for singing along with your music or yelling at yourself to get pumped up—it remains an issue that’s pretty much up to each individual. One runner recounted being yelled at inside a cemetery. “I just said I was here temporarily keeping fit, so I don’t have to be here permanently until much later,” he replied.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto is a destination for elite and amateur runners. On their website, they offer paths of 1K, 3K and 5K routes for either walkers or runners. And the Canada Army Run, which raises money for Support Our Troops and features a span through Beachwood Cemetery—home of the National Military Cemetery—races amongst the tombstones of fallen heroes.
“While running through Beechwood Cemetery, Canada’s Military Cemetery, as part of the 2019 Canada Army Run half marathon, one thing I noticed was how quiet the large group of runners around me had become once we entered the grounds,” wrote one runner. “I didn’t hear any of the usual banter or casual chitchat you normally hear during a race. All you could hear were the runners’ footfalls. Very respectful. Very peaceful.”
“Respect” seems to be the optimal word when it comes to judging the appropriateness of the cemetery run. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a group run, but quietly alone or maybe with two people seems okay,” one commentator said.
For many runners, a cemetery offers the chance to add a little something extra to an otherwise ordinary run. “I frequently run through two cemeteries—one where my late brother and sister-in law are buried and another where my late father is buried. I stop for a brief visit and chat with them,” someone said.
“It’s so peaceful and I feel the spirits giving me energy,” wrote someone else.
During COVID-19, runners have found themselves on the receiving end of vitriol for running on sidewalks, running in groups and even for running at all. Clearly, the pandemic brings out animosity, rage and frustration.
In some cities, cemeteries host Shakespeare in the Park. And, like the Canada Army Run, the PEI Marathon once raced through a cemetery as part of its course. Should you be running in a cemetery? Is it respectful, tacky or OK? For a final verdict, we turned to Father Jarek Pachocki, a marathon runner with the St. Patrick Parish in Hamilton, Ontario.
“I’ve done it a number of times and I think it’s ok as long as it’s respectful,” he says. “It kind of helps to reflect on the meaning of life.”
Photographs of Ed Whitlock by Darren Calabrese for iRun magazine.