Barkley Marathons Creator Lazarus Lake Inducted Into The Ultrarunning Hall Of Fame

The eccentric race director, real name Gary Cantrell, is known for inventing entertaining, innovative and extremely difficult trail races, including the "backyard ultra" knockdown format

Last Updated:

The UltraRunning Hall of Fame has welcomed its latest inductee, Gary Cantrell, famously known as Lazarus Lake, the mastermind behind the Barkley Marathons and the inventor of the innovative backyard ultra format. 

Cantrell, described as an “icon of inventiveness,” has left an indelible mark on the world of ultrarunning over the past four decades with his eccentricity and unconventional approach to race creation.

Gary Cantrell, aka Lazarus Lake, on the course of the Barkleys Marathon in rural Tennessee. Photo Credit: Michael Doyle

Trail-Blazing Beginnings In Ultra-Running

Cantrell’s journey into ultrarunning began in 1979 when he noticed a lack of endurance events near his home in Tennessee. 

Motivated by the desire to organize races without losing more than $100 per event, he conceived The Strolling Jim 40, a 41.2-mile race incorporating his training routes.

According to ultrarunner Jared Beasley, Cantrell is characterized as “unconventional, complex, and sometimes controversial,” with his races attracting renowned endurance athletes from around the world. 

However, his methods and opinions have occasionally stirred conflict within the trail and ultra community. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic 2020, Cantrell created a virtual event since his in-person event could not be held, which saw over 13,000 people worldwide sign up. Participants had to cover 635 miles between May 1 and August 31, which averages a minimum of five miles per day.

Lazarus Lake collecting license plates at the start/finish area of the Barkleys Marathon. Competitors must bring a variety of items to enter the race. Photo Credit: Michael Doyle

As participants finished the race, some posted to the GVRAT Facebook group, sharing their stories and motivations for completing the event. 

Ben Chan was one runner who posted to the Facebook group, wearing a Black Lives Matter singlet and describing instances of discrimination and harassment he’s experienced.

Chan woke up one day to having his post removed, along with a note from Cantrell that the group was not the place for political or human rights posts.

Cantrell said to Runner’s World about the instance, “[The GVRAT Facebook group] is not a place for political posts or human rights matters —it is just about a run. I’m not interested in moderating the arguments that these posts bring.”

Although posts surrounding racism or human rights were not permitted, other finishers were allowed to share other personal challenges they’ve overcome including mental health, divorce, or illness.

Conditions are often less than ideal at the Barkley Marathons. Photo: Michael Doyle

The Barkley Marathons and Big’s Backyard Ultra

Central to Cantrell’s legacy is the Barkley Marathons, widely regarded as one of the most challenging ultras globally. 

Cantrell gained worldwide recognition in the world of ultrarunning following the released of 2014 documentary titled “The Barkely Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.”

Renowned for its unmarked course, relentless climbing, and dense vegetation, the Barkley Marathons has seen only a handful of participants successfully completing the grueling challenge.

Additionally, Cantrell is credited with inventing the backyard ultra format, realized in the form of Big’s Backyard Ultra

The format challenges runners to complete a 4.167-mile loop every hour on the hour until only one participant remains. 

The 2023 edition witnessed American Harvey Lewis set a new backyard ultra world record after running for an astonishing 108 hours, covering more 450 miles.

Cantrell’s Strolling Jim 40, now running for an impressive 45 years, stands as a testament to his enduring impact on the ultrarunning community.

Only a handful of competitors ever finish the Barkley Marathons, signified by reaching the yellow park gate in an allotted period of time. Photo: Michael Doyle
Photo Credit: Michael Doyle

Cantrell Enters Hall Of Fame

In 2023, Cantrell joins the ranks of ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek as the latest addition to the UltraRunning Hall of Fame. 

Jurek, known for his podium finishes and remarkable achievements in ultrarunning, shares the honor with Cantrell. Jurek is known most notably for his win at the 1999 Western States and going on to win for seven consecutive years.

Cantrell’s eccentricity, authenticity, and impact on the sport make him an irreplaceable figure in the ultrarunning world. As he joins the UltraRunning Hall of Fame, his legacy is sure to endure, leaving an lasting mark on the sport he has shaped and enriched for over four decades.

Photo of author
Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.