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Last Man Running: Harvey Lewis

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 10/23/21

He ran 354 miles in 85 hours...How?

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Last Man Running: Harvey Lewis


A new record has been set for Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra Race. And it was set by Harvey Lewis, a high school government teacher from Cincinnati, Ohio.  

And it all happened in the backwoods and backroads of Bell Buckle.  

“You guys really got a hidden treasure here,” said Lewis.  

Over the course of 85 hours, he ran 354 miles. The previous record was 81 hours. It means a lot for Lewis, who was a two-time runner-up in this world-wide competition.  

Having run the distance from Bell Buckle to about St. Louis, Mo., Lewis was a little shaky. But a smile on his face proved him to be a man who had reached the pinnacle of his running career.  

He of course didn’t run those 354 miles straight. Rather, the “Last Man Standing” competition calls for a little more mind endurance. Runners are required to run 4.16 miles every hour on the hour. Whatever time you have left in the hour after those four miles is what you have to rest.  

“This kind of race inspires us because it allows us to unlock the human potential,” Lewis said.  

The rolling hills and greenery provided a peaceful setting when his body was all but throbbing to stop. And the coyotes, too, are great company as they call back-and-forth to each other when the hills grow dark during the night runs. Lewis said he could only describe the sound as “beautiful.”  

The race was started 10 years ago by Gary Cantrell—or “Laz Lake” as everybody in the ultrarunning world knows him by. In his 120 or so acres of land is the track running 4.16 miles. It’s winding and twisting and falls back on itself through the wood and hills.  

Runners, like Katie Wright, who came all the way from New Zealand to compete before, say “you don’t know where you’re going when you’re running it.”  

“Laz” has been a race director for around 40 years. Lewis described him as an “artist” while Tracey Outlaw, a friend of Lewis, said he’s probably the most well-known race director in the world. His idea has sparked more than 300 other backyard races around the world.  

The name “Big Dog” comes from his rescue dog, named Big Dog, who “Laz” found in a dump, wounded with a gun shot. Big Dog is now 14, and as “Laz” himself describes him, “the only dog in the world who stages a contest where humans fight to the death.”  

What “Laz” and Big Dog have created is truly an endurance test. It takes a dedicated person like Lewis to compete—and not become another ‘DNF’ (a did-not-finish.) There were 35 competitors at the beginning. But only Lewis remained.  

At age 45, Lewis has run the Cincinnati Marathon every year since it began. He’s also won the “Badwater” race— twice—and set the ‘FKT’ record, the fastest-known-time while crossing that distance. Competitors in that race run from the lowest spot in the country to the highest. It begins at the Badwater Basin at 282 feet and ends at 8,300 feet at Whitney Portal. And daily, Lewis runs the 3 miles to his work at a Cincinnati arts school.  

How does he do all this?  

Lewis, who said he’s been running for over 20 years now, credits his plant-based diet to much of his success. When taking breaks from his run, you’ll find him munching on pickles, ginger and Fig Newton bars. He says the plant-based diet helps prevent swelling in his legs.  

And as for his shoes? Well, they’re not Forest Gump’s red and white sneakers. Rather, they’re four different pairs used for different terrain, like blacktop or soil.  

But just as important as a healthy body is a healthy mind. Lewis said you need to take time to invest in yourself. When running the Big Dog Backyard race, “self” time is equivalent to about a half-hour nap. But every minute counts.  

You also need a runner up. Essentially, number two pushed number one—against themselves and against what they think they can do. But the runner up, called “The Assist” at the Big Dog race, was a runner named Chris Roberts from Missouri. He became a DNF after sustaining a leg injury, Outlaw said.  

“It’s all about being your own hero,” he said.  

Lewis can certainly take that title if he wants to. But for now, he said he’s going to take his one-mile recovery run and prepare for the next race, where ever that may be. 


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