In honor of my giveaway on Instagram for best stories of weird things that have happened on your runs, I wanted to share a weird running story in long-form. This story comes from my college teammate and good friend, Emily.
To everyone who entered the giveaway: thank you for entering because it was very fun hearing your stories. And talking to some of you more in-depth about your stories was hilarious. Thank you for taking me down memory lane with you.
*I especially liked the stories about making the front page of the paper, poops in poor places and abandoned amusement park tours.
My friend Emily Langenberg has many interesting stories about things that have happened to her while on a run. But this one about getting lost with her brother, Tim, at night in Manassas National Battlefield Park while on summer vacation in high school for two hours makes me laugh especially hard.
Even though, at the time, it was quite unfortunate—or well, she said it was “traumatizing”. At the time, she and her brother were probably 14 and 16, respectively. So, I can see it being a bit much.
But now she said she thinks it’s definitely funny, “It’s a great story and I love telling it.”
So to set the scene you need to know two things:
1: Emily has one of the wildest imaginations I have ever met.
Early in life, as soon she could run and knew a few animals, she would run around in the woods of Grand Ledge, Michigan pretending she was a saber-toothed tiger, an osprey or an African wild dog.
When she was six, she began riding imaginary horses through the woods. Her main horse was Milkyway then. In high school, she rode Pine. By the time she got to college at Michigan State, she was riding Gringolet while she biked across campus.
And that’s just her default: imagining more interesting stuff over the boring tasks she’s doing to make life more interesting. Don’t even get me started on the art she makes and the stories she writes—her imagination is massive.
“I’m never bored,” is how she puts it.
That storytelling element is just like a program that is always running in her imagination. She’s on a run through the woods, but she’s also riding a horse and having an adventure.
And yes, she knows she’s pretending.
And 2: Manassas National Battlefield Park is where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers died in the battles of Bull Run in the 1860’s. And Emily and Tim had heard all the stories about how that particular battlefield was particularly haunted.
So, they convinced their parents to drive them to the national park one evening, because they were in Virginia and it’s very hot in Virginia, so they wanted to go in the evening when it’s cooler.
They head out for a six or seven-mile jaunt like the tall, boney, runner-nerds they are—wanting to go for a run on a haunted national battlefield and all.
And obviously…they get lost.
They get six or seven miles out (“possibly more”) and the trail’s not looping.
“…it was just kind of going out, and out, and out. And then at one point the trail just petered out. There was nothing left. And it was dark.”
And Emily starts to panic, “because we’ve already run about as far as I can run.”
She’s trembling a little.
Her brother, a Boy Scout, decides the best thing to do is to just plow ahead. Through the woods. Because they’ll see if this trail picks up somewhere else.
And Emily doesn’t want to but she’s like, okay, I’ll follow my older brother.
“So we’re running along…Just through the woods. Just like—in the dark.”
At some point, in the dark, in the woods, in the national haunted battlefield park, the footing gets rougher and rockier and eventually, it gets too hard for them to keep running, so they have to stop. And, naturally, they have a look around and try to figure out where they are—like the finer details beyond just the haunted battlefield part.
“When we examined the rocks more closely, it turned out that there were gravestones—that we had stumbled into a confederate graveyard—a battleground graveyard.”
Let it be noted they examined the gravestones by moonlight. Because the moon was full enough to do that.
If you’re ever an hour deep into the woods of a national haunted battlefield park, lost, at night, and have already run as far as you’ve ever run before, and you’re examining confederate tombstones, you’ve literally stumbled onto, by moonlight…
I don’t know? Probably run? Because that’s what Emily did.
“As we discovered the graveyard, Tim was just kind of like, ‘Oh, I think these are gravestones, Em.’ And I was just like ‘uuhhhhhhhh….uuuhhhHHH…UUUHHHH.’ Building in volume and pitch.”
In absolute panic, Emily could no longer tell if she was pretending because the two realms—the imaginary one with ghosts of civil war soldiers, and the real one of being lost—smashed together and she lost control of her imagination.
“I was very, very scared at this point. And so, when we discovered that it’s a graveyard, I lost it—like, I am full-on panic. And I see in the distance— through the forest—I see a light. It looks like a lamp post, or something. So I just start sprinting towards that light.”
“Tim was just trying to be [a] Boy Scout–when I took off sprinting through the forest, towards the light, Tim started running after me yelling, ‘Em! Em! We have to stay together! We have to stay together!”
“I did not slow down.”
She could not get to the light fast enough. Could not get out of the forest fast enough.
When they finally broke free of the trees, they stumbled onto the sprawling lawn of what looked like a mansion, while also startling some children playing croquet in the yard.
Imagine two kids just pleasantly playing croquet by the edge of the forest and looking up to see, “two very, very skinny, boney, pale northerners emerge from the forest.”
They obviously scare the shit out of these kids because they are weirdos coming out of the forest in short-shorts and the kids run away to the lawn party that’s happening closer to the house.
“They drop their croquet stuff and go running.”
So they continue toward the lawn party as well, and they see the kids reach the adults and the adults stand up as a group to examine Emily and Tim in the moonlight.
“When we got there I couldn’t say anything because I was blubbering and shaking and crying. I was just, like, a mess. Tim was very calm.”
A nice lady named Paula asked, “Oh honey, are you two lost?”
All Emily gets out is, “wahhhhhlalalala,” while Tim calmly says, “Yeah, we got lost in the forest.”
He explains that they were out for a run and the trail kind of petered out and yadda yadda.
Paula tells them to hop in her truck, saying, “I’ll give y’all a ride somewhere—wherever you wanna go. Where ya’ll parked?”
When they tell her they’re parked at the visitor center in Manassas, she says,” The visitor center!? That’s more’en ten miles away!”
So they get in Paula’s truck, three-wide on the bench seat, and Emily’s still shaking and crying even though they are safe now, kinda.
“But she drove us back to the visitor center and dropped us off. And meanwhile, mom and dad are just in the car reading magazines—like they’re not concerned at all.”
Even though they’d been gone for a few hours. The run should have taken an hour, at most.
“We get back in the car and I’m still coming down off of the panic attack and mom and dad can’t figure me out—Tim’s says, ‘oh we got a little lost’—and mom and dad cannot figure out why I’m so upset. I’m so upset that when we get back to the hotel that night I’m still shaking. It takes me days to recover.”
Then, not too many days later, the family goes on a guided nighttime ghost walk in Colonial Williamsburg, for some reason. The guide finishes telling a story about a Native American runner ghost who can be seen running around the quad there at William and Mary College and Emily’s walking on the edge of the group as they cross a big, quad-like, open field.
“I looked to the side and I saw someone running—the silhouette of someone running across the field, and running towards us. And I sort of freaked out, again.”
“But it turned out it was just a person who was running to catch up with the group.”
You can follow Emily Langenberg, runner and artist, on Instagram @eklangs–which I highly suggest because she’s been celebrating Inktober all month. And you check out her portfolio at emilylangenberg.com.