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Lazarus ‘Laz’ Lake – the man behind the Barkley Marathons 

Ed Mezzetti
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Lazarus ‘Laz’ Lake, whose real name is Gary Cantrell, is one of the most famous faces in the world of trail and ultra-running. 

Best known as the creator of the Barkley Marathons, billed as the world’s toughest footrace, Lake has acquired legendary status in the running community, despite a healthy lack of self-promotion. 

Lake, now 69, was a seasoned ultrarunner himself who began creating long-distance challenges in the early 1980s. He was also a school basketball coach. 

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From runner to walker 

Now living with his wife Sandra on a farm near Bell Buckle, Tennesse, he no longer runs, but usually walks five to 10 miles a day. Indeed, in 2018 he walked 3,300 miles across the USA from Newport, Rhode Island, to Newport, Oregon.   

And in April 2024 he’s undertaking another epic challenge – as the tweet below from Jared Beasley explains…

Lake was an accountant before retiring in 2011, but is now busier than ever as a race director. As well as the Barkley Marathons, Lake’s roster includes Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, the Barkley Fall Classic, Strolling Jim 40, Vol State 500k and Heart of the South Mystery Run. 

These races are renowned for their difficulty and often have unconventional entry requirements, but Lake’s creations are something of a phenomenon and their popularity only seems to be increasing. 

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The Laz Lake philosophy 

Lake gave a glimpse of his philosophy when describing the Barkley Marathons in a 2019 interview.  

He said: “It’s easy to design an impossible race, and it’s easy to make a race everyone can finish. 

“It’s really hard to find that point where impossibility is just so close.”    

But while most runners fail to finish his races, Lake also told outsideonline.com that this should not be viewed negatively. 

He said: “Your job as a race director is to provide a platform for runners to find greatness in themselves,” he says. “Everyone can find success within the process of discovering what they’re capable of. If they do that, they walk off feeling a winner.” 

Lake’s appearance is that of a self-proclaimed ‘hillbilly’ and he is missing 13 teeth, which he pulled out after they became rotten in order to avoid paying dentist fees. But he is clearly a very sharp thinker who has a growing global fanbase, despite his lack of social media. 

What is Laz like?

David Miller met him in person when he photographed the Barkley Marathons for the first time in 2023.

Miller was one of just three allowed to capture images from the event, alongside Howie Stern and Alexis Berg, and he told us: “Laz is a very intelligent guy. He really loves the sport, really loves pushing people to their limit, and I think that’s what the Barkley is about – pushing people to their absolute limit so they can find those new limits.

“He’s created a family there, he welcomes everyone, but at the same time, you just don’t want to break the rules or cross him.”

Lazarus Lake start Barkley Marathons 2023 photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram
[Photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram]
Ed Mezzetti
Written by
Ed Mezzetti

THE SBRX Show

In episode 1 of our new SBRX Show we sit down with ultra runners and coaches Kim and Jayson Cavill to get their take on the Barkley Marathons and triathlon & trail running gear reviews, training tips and more

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