The last two days I was in Knoxville for a great social media workshop and wanted to get in a run. I stayed at the same hotel I used for my early season Rev3 race, so I thought I might slide down to the river and run the course for old times sake. My coach had a better idea.
“You should hook up with some of the Knoxville athletes and run at Old Lakeshore. Some nice hills.”
Oh, he had me at hills, but little did I know what else was waiting.
I agreed to meet Elyse, who I met at the Muncie 70.3, and qualified for the Vegas World Championship that day. She lives in Knoxville, is training for Ironman Florida, and hadn’t run at Old Lakeshore either . . . but knew much more about its past.
As I pulled through the cyclone fence that surrounded the complex, I was immediately captured by the drab structures. I felt like I was literally driving onto a Stephen King set. The buildings were brick, with faded white paint, and one was charred black from fire.
Old Lakeshore was a mental institution and many refer to it as a “haunted asylum.” You can read about its “complicated” history here.
I can’t explain how strange this situation felt, but about halfway through the change I realized I was in my car, naked, smack dab in the middle of an insane asylum. I kept waiting for glass to shatter and a security guard, dressed in all white, to yank me through the windshield and put me in a straight jacket for a long walk up the hill into a lifetime of obscurity.
Safely in my running gear, I eased from the gravel parking lot and looked for anything that seemed like a normal place for runners to meet. I finally spotted an empty soccer field and parked next to a long line of about 20 cars. Cars everywhere but I didn’t see a soul, other than what appeared to be a man in a powder blue jumpsuit leaning halfway out an open window of a rundown building simply labeled “The Cottage.”
A chapel rose on a hill in the distance, surrounded by an endless sea of sterile buildings and zero life. The sky was gray and the entire scene was eerily quiet.
I called Elyse and she was coming toward me as we spoke.
Yes it was, and I was fascinated!
We took off on a slow jog and finally found the path which was a 2 mile loop around the grounds. I’m not gonna lie, my eyes were on a swivel as we rolled up and down steep hills, and in and out of buildings. It felt like at any minute a stray patient in a flowing robe could have toppled us into deep brush.
There was also a deserted concession stand and I stopped to use the restroom while she waited. When I came out I told her there was a guy dressed like Jesus in the bathroom handing out cologne samples.
We ran about 7 miles, all surrounded by history and mystery. I kept trying to talk her into exploring some of the facility, but she would have none of it. And after watching this video, I’m glad we got the hell out of there, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to gather a group and do a night time run at Old Lakeshore.