CONNEAUT — Gary “Lazarus” Cantrell, 64, has been running for more than half a century and has now taken on a new challenge; a walk across the country.

Cantrell has been a race director of one of the most difficult races in the history of the United States. More than 30 years ago Cantrell went on a back pack trip through a rural part of Tennessee and created a nightmare that ultramarahtoners love to hate.

While walking along Route 20 on Tuesday morning Cantrell said he did the back pack trip just to see if it could be done. Thirty years later people are still trying.

The Barkley Marathons was featured on a Netflix documentary several years ago and is famous for how few people actually finish the demanding event that winds through the mountains of Tennessee.

The 2018 version of the event concluded with nobody finishing the five lap, 100-mile course in rough terrain. As many as 40 ultra marathon specialists compete in the event and very few finish the event.

Cantrell has come under some difficult times physically so he has graduated from distance running to long distance walking. He said his doctor told him he wouldn’t have to give him medical permission because it is impossible for him to accomplish.

Never one to walk away from a challenge, Cantrell is on his way to Oregon.

Cantrell lives in Short Creek, Tenn., which he describes as the ultra marathoning capital of the United States. He said there are 25 people that live in his home town and seven of them have competed in races longer than 30 miles.

After a severe injury curtailed his long runs, Cantrell ran a mile until his heel felt so bad he had to stop.

“I had to get back,” he said of his decision to walk more that led to the possibility of walking across the United States. “I’ve always thought I would do it some day.”

Cantrell said his father was involved in distance races as long ago as 1927.

“I heard stories about running across the country since I was a child,” he said.

Cantrell is running, or walking, a bit behind schedule on his course that is taking him from Boston to Newport Beach, Ore., along Route 20. He said he is 1 to 3 miles per day behind schedule.

“It really adds up,” he said of the challenges of meeting goals along the way for support and other reasons.

Ryan Nevil of Ashtabula has a family relative that is an ultra marathoner and made him aware of the walk. Nevil and Michael Mihalick of Madison decided to walk with Cantrell through part of his Ashtabula County journey.

Cantrell started his walk in Newport, R.I., walking east to Boston and then starting his westward walk. He has a unique perspective on running and life and an interesting habit for a runner. He smokes. He stopped briefly to light up a cigarette in Conneaut.

“I started smoking and running the same year (1966),” he said with a wry smile.

Cantrell said he is averaging about 27 miles a day. He said the logistics have been challenging but he has only gone without food for most of two days once.

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