Ultramarathoners are their own special kind of crazy, and there may be none crazier than Lazarus Lake, race director of the notoriously difficult Barkley Marathons, which took place last weekend in Tennessee, with no finishers. To the uninitiated, Lake (whose real name is Gary Cantrell) appears so eccentric, it’s hard to imagine people take his events seriously, following his quirky rules to the letter to avoid disqualification. Yet they do. In fact, they sign up in droves. Lake is a legend in the ultra world, claiming to have run at least 100,000 miles before age and injury caught up with him. His races raise money for underfunded local high schools. And it turns out the Barkley is just one of several ultras he directs, each with its own set of arcane regulations.
Barkley Fall Classic
The word “marathon” rarely connotes shame, except at the BFC, a 50K race that’s designed as a Barkley-lite for those contemplating the longer race. The BFC’s rules are similar (no GPS or maps allowed on the course, stopwatches and compasses only), with one curveball: at the 22.1-mile point, racers must decide whether to hold on til the end of the 50K (which takes approximately another three hours), or to opt for a shorter route that nets them only a marathon finish. The winner is guaranteed entry into the Barkley Marathons. This year’s BFC race takes place Sept. 15.
Last Annual Vol State
Also more than 30 years old, Vol State (short for Volunteer State, which Tennessee earned for the valour of its volunteer soldiers during the war of 1812) is a 500K (314 miles) race that takes runners from the top left corner of Tennessee through the bottom right corner into northeastern Georgia in the heat of July. There are no aid stations (not even water), no volunteers, and no pacers allowed, though runners may use a crew to transport their stuff. Runners report their location twice a day by phone or text. The time limit is 10 days. This year’s race starts July 12.
Big’s Backyard Ultra
BBU is a last-man-standing race involving repeated laps around a 4.167-mile (6.72K) trail loop, with a time limit of one hour per lap. During the night the course switches to a road loop, then back to the trail the following morning. Competitors start each loop together at the same time, meaning faster runners have no advantage; endurance trumps speed, and the race continues until no one left can continue to complete a lap in an hour. Food and water are provided. The race starts Oct. 20 this year. (Big is the name of one of Lazarus Lake’s dogs.) The winner of this race and the winner of the BFC are guaranteed entry into the Barkley Marathons.
This 40-miler road race, which winds through hilly and picturesque country roads, is Lake’s oldest race, and is named for the champion Tennessee Walking Horse of the same name. Marathon, half-marathon and 10k distances are also available. Competitors vie for a coloured shirt, indicating the fastest achievements. The UltraSignup.com site claims a cash award of $4000 will be handed out to anyone who sets a new record, and lists Andy Jones as the record holder with a time of 3:59:26 for the 41.2-mile course. This year’s race takes place May 5.
A Race For The Ages (ARFTA)
ARFTA is Lake’s newest race, and, like all his races, it features a curious twist, in this case offering runners a handicap based on age, favouring the older runner. “Kids” age 40 or under circle a 1-mile loop in Fred Deadman Park in Manchester, Tennessee (known as the Deadman Mile) as many times as possible in 40 hours; runners 40 and over try to rack as many miles as possible for as many hours as their age in years. The competition is traditionally dominated by septuagenarians! Homecooked meals are served throughout the race, which takes place over Labour Day weekend.