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Lazarus Lake: Advertising icon hails ‘creative genius’ behind the Barkley Marathons

Jonathan Turner
News Director
Updated on
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“Laz is one of the two geniuses I’ve met in my life.”

That’s the view of Andy Pearson, an icon of the advertising industry, on Lazarus Lake – real name Gary Cantrell – who created the Barkley Marathons as well as the Backyard Ultra format.

Pearson is VP of Creative at Liquid Death, the canned water company which is the fastest-growing non-alcoholic beverage company in the world. And it’s their creatives which have set them apart, most famously that Super Bowl ad from 2022.

‘Very unconventional’

But he’s also a seriously accomplished trailrunner and on the latest ‘Freetrail Podcast with Dylan Bowman‘ he gives a fascinating insight into 69-year-old Lake.

Pearson has competed in races like Western States and Cocodona 250 – and there’s a strong connection with Lake’s events as Pearson got the assist when he was second in 2016 at Big’s Backyard Ultra.

Lazarus Lake Barkley Marathons
Laz Lake at the Barkley Marathons in 2023 [Photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram]

Chatting to Bowman, Pearson said: “If you look at UltraSignup, it’s like ‘Big Backyard Ultra’ and then elsewhere, it’s ‘Big’s Backyard Ultra’ and then it’s ‘Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra’. It’s got about three names, so from a branding standpoint, Laz is a mess.

“[But] honestly, Laz is one of the two geniuses I’ve met in my life. That guy is literally a genius. Very unconventional.”

Pushing the boundaries

A win in the Big’s Backyard Ultra books a spot at the infamous Barkley Marathons, a race which – despite being shrouded in secrecy – captures the imagination around the world.

And Pearson got to experience the Barkley in 2021 when he completed the first loop in 12 hours and 22 minutes in what was an incredibly tough year – only 17 finished the first lap and no one managed to start the fourth loop.

Pearson explained: “Getting to see Laz every lap at Big’s was why I wanted to do Barkley, because I was like, oh, man, I want to be around this thing that he’s doing, I just want more of it.

“When I talk about creativity and running, I mean, he’s the ultimate example. He’s literally creating new experiences for people.

“And if you’ve talked to him or you’ve read about him, the Barkleys is designed to push the actual boundaries of human ability. The goalposts move every year, and the whole idea is everyone should think it’s impossible until someone proves otherwise. And then the goalposts move again. And I think he’s talked a lot about that.”

On that subject, it will be fascinating to see how the Barkley Marathons plays out this year after three finishers last year, the first since 2017.

‘He genuinely, deeply, cares’

But Pearson added of Laz: “He’s been a high school basketball coach for years and years. He’s a real coach.

“And for all his character of ‘hating’ runners and trying to put them through misery, he genuinely, deeply, cares about all the people that put themselves out there and get on the starting line to try this stuff that he’s doing.

Everything he’s doing is mind games to make people strive to be their absolute best.

“And Big’s is such a brilliant example of that, too. He created this format, this now worldwide phenomenon that is literally showing the boundaries of human ability. And everyone keeps breaking through that barrier almost year after year, we keep chipping away at that. So he’s created this amazing gift I think, to our entire sport.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

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