Media in the Wilderness

Something that I’ve struggled with a great deal is the balance between why I do the adventures I do, and the exposure of them. The two are often times at odds with each other, yet I obviously contribute to or at least enable that exposure myself (here I am, posting on my blog).

A large part of that relates to personal exposure, which I’ve posted about before. But with events like Barkley and The Spine Race, which are in part so incredible and challenging because of their remoteness and sense of isolation, the topic has broader implications. I’ve always viewed it as a bit of a double edged sword, but I’ve never really been able to convince myself which side of that sword is sharper.

I dealt with this issue a bit during The Spine Race, and now as I slowly but surely do my race report. There was a documentary crew there, separate from the excellent race coverage, and I felt I had a camera on me for some fairly long stretches that would have otherwise been spent in complete blissful solitude (where I would also be free to scream whatever I wanted to at myself).

Someone who has wrestled with this issue for far longer is Gary Cantrell, AKA lazarus lake, the creator of the Barkley Marathons. Recently, laz penned the message below to a small group who have strong connections to or involvement in the race. I asked his permission to post it here, to which he gladly agreed.

The scene at my Barkley finish in 2017. Photo: Josh Patton

This is a 100% copy / paste without any editing (you can tell how much he cares about the topic, as he even bothered to use capitalization). Some of the very media he’s referring to might portray him a bit as a sadistic, crazy man, but behind that facade there are few people out there who are more thoughtful, clever, and insightful.

Media at Barkley – by Lazarus Lake

I know that many of you would rather we did not have media. For myself, I would rather go back to the days when we came into the park, and ran our race under the cover of anonymity. Once in a while another park visitor would talk to us, and find out what was going on, and scratch their head in puzzlement.

But, I remember other times. I remember 50 years ago, when there was no park. When we parked our vehicles in a field, and walked into the mountains to camp where we pleased, and pretty well do as we pleased. Back then Frozen Head was one of a myriad of places we could backpack in the back country, and be fairly certain we would never see another soul.

I remember when we came and found a trailer with park rangers. And thought it sad that our freedom to enjoy the wilderness was slowly being diminished.

But, today I look around. And all those places we used to be able to go… If they are not a park, they are gone. Wilderness is a vanishing commodity in today’s world. Few people value it, but many covet the resources that could be obtained by destroying it.

Of course, there are still those of us who value the wilderness. Thousands hunger for the chance to set aside their electronics; to strap on their pack and forge out into the wilderness to survive by their skill and determination, To test themselves against the mountains,

Thousands hunger, but there is only room left for a few. For all those thousands, there are millions who have forgotten the call of the wild. Who live their lives without the dream, or even the willingness, to pit their human self against the challenges of being alone in the wilderness.

If the wilderness that remains is to survive, it needs a constituency. It needs people to see that it has some value, beyond the raw materials that could be extracted from it. Not just the tens of us who are able to find that experience at frozen head. Not just the few thousands of us who hunger for that experience. But we need for some of those millions who will never dream that dream to catch a glimpse of the magic of it. A magic that even those who have passed beyond hungering to taste it can still be stirred by vicarious experience.

The media has a purpose here. They carry that message to those who will never dream to be here. Many will read, or hear of what transpires in this place. And it will stir something in their soul. Because man was meant to test himself against great challenges. He was meant to strive, and fail, and rise to strive again. And the wilderness calls to something in our soul.

Your great and valiant odyssey into the wilderness; your failures and rare successes; they capture the imagination of people who are not a part of the constituency of wilderness. People who might see nothing out there but another few truckloads of coal, or another few subdivisions worth of lumber. Every one who finds some part of their soul that responds to this great adventure, their eyes are opened to a little bit of the magic. They become a part of the constituency of wild places. And growing that constituency has never been more important. What wilderness we have left could disappear in the twinkling of an eye.

And so I do mot see the media as an imposition. Perhaps theirs is the most important job that happens on this special weekend. If we can share with them, and get them to see how special this place is; how those who come here are made whole by stripping down to the bare essentials, and leaving the comfort zone; then they can convey this message to those who will never dream of being here. Man needs the wilderness. Even those who are too far removed to ever be willing to experience it for themselves, they are inspired by it, even if it is just through the recounting of the deeds of those who are there.

So I ask you to be patient. Those who come, not to run, but to share the stories of those who do, can carry the message of what is valuable here to thousands. Sometimes to millions. The message that there is something more “out there” than ore, and coal, and gas, and board feet of timber. Only 40 people a year get to have the experience firsthand. We owe it to the wilderness to share with those who cannot be here. We are not just runners. We are spokesmen for wild places.

Thank you for listening.

laz

26 thoughts on “Media in the Wilderness

  • January 28, 2020 at 10:57 am
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    This is amazing! Thank you laz, and thank you, John, for posting this!

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    • January 28, 2020 at 5:28 pm
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      I’m fortunate to have the means of projecting these thoughts a bit farther

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  • January 28, 2020 at 11:09 am
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    That’s so interesting. I often think how furious I would be if someone ran alongside me with a camera. However, if one chooses the media wisely and they accept certain boundaries it is so good for us mere mortals to see coverage of these races. The Spine Race, in particular was utterly compelling.

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    • January 28, 2020 at 11:45 am
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      I’m really glad you enjoyed the coverage; they did a great job with it. Normally for me I can definitely get annoyed in the moment but looking back am almost always glad they were there.

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      • January 28, 2020 at 3:47 pm
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        I can fully appreciate the negative aspects it can bring, but to me it also brings huge positives. Athletes like yourself are truly inspiring and seeing you in action and achieving these feats of ultra endurance just drives us amateur runners even more.

        Just from a chance encounter on Facebook I dot watched Damian Hall achieve a podium at the Spine. This in turn has completely transformed my life, I quit smoking and took up running. I completed my second ultra on Saturday and my dream of competing in the spine myself is edging ever closer.

        Watching you in either the Barkley or the spine or even just on Strava drives people like myself to go harder and faster and never give up.

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        • January 28, 2020 at 5:26 pm
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          Thanks so much for sharing. That’s amazing. Congrats on all you’ve done so far and all the best at making it to the Spine one day!

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  • January 28, 2020 at 11:33 am
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    Wonderful insite. Thank you for sharing the joy of being held by wild places and the importance of those who carry its message to the world at large.
    We all are drawn to know “the Something More” out there.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 3:05 pm
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    such a beautiful and powerful message. thank you so much for sharing.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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    Thank you for this. I also struggle with sharing the sense of adventure and at the same time, the desire to keep it secret. Hopefully in sharing and inspiring, we can also create the desire to protect and expand.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 6:37 pm
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    Inspiring words, as usual. Maybe it’s just a shared sensibility or maybe Laz is really just a really smart guy 🙂 Seriously, though, I really value the idea that the wild places need a constituency to be protected. What better way to show this undervalued value of a space? Now, I know I don’t bear the burden of being subjected to the camera but it does feel like a reasonable price to pay to protect the wild places that sustain us. That said, we will all be better off if we are respectful of the talent (the people and the places). Thanks for sharing, John. And thanks for being you, Laz.

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    • January 28, 2020 at 7:04 pm
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      Thank you. The camera to me is something that in the moment at times has maybe been a bit annoying or felt obtrusive, but after I almost always am glad it was there.

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  • January 29, 2020 at 12:01 pm
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    yeah tricky balance, definitely should ask permision before filming though given how intimate those moments can be and the ananymous past of the race

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    • January 29, 2020 at 4:41 pm
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      Yup, and runners need to know that they can say ‘Not now please. Thank you.’ Or something a bit less genteel as necessary

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  • January 30, 2020 at 4:26 pm
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    This is such an interesting read and such a paradox. I suppose it’s a bit like zoo conservation projects (i.e. seeing an animal in captivity, whilst not ideal, inspires people to donate to help in the wild).

    It must be interesting to be filmed – having watched some footage of photographers clamouring around the gate then I understand why some would prefer to keep the event closed and go back to how it was. Equally, I wouldn’t have heard about the BM at all had I not watched documentaries of the event!

    I can’t say I’m that big a fan of some of the youtube channels out there, as they seem to tell people how important it is that the event stays small yet wildly promote it over and over. It feels a little like an exclusive club which they are in (not the runners, rather the social media people who have gained access). I think I prefer to read race reports from those who have run the event. I’m aware this might be controversial though and is probably a chip on my shoulder or something!

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  • January 31, 2020 at 5:00 pm
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    If you want to see media circus, UTMB is the worst, or best, depending on how you see it.
    I agree with others that I would hate to have a camera in my face. I should at least be able to not touch anyone if anything were to happen. If I need to balance and throw my hands out but can’t and now have to slow down in order to get by them.
    You obviously don’t see this happening to the most popular stars and I think that is a huge issue
    So as long as a runner is given the space and freedom they need to be out there, and have that full experience, then it’s all good.
    When a camera crew starts treating a runner like a media star and it becomes a detachment to the experience itself. Then it’s time for everyone to take a step back.
    Until then, I tend to both agree and disagree with Laz. But do agree with his intentions.

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    • January 31, 2020 at 6:00 pm
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      When it starts to affect race outcomes / performance rather than just slightly altering the experience then yes it’s a different story. I had to tell people to back off a number of times on The Spine with bright lights right in my face in front of me or behind me even to where I’m running in my own shadow.

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  • January 31, 2020 at 10:23 pm
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    Thank you for posting it here. I have recently been drawn to trail running and one of the biggest draw for me for such races / events is the chance to explore the wilderness – I love my time in there.
    Videos of athletes such as yours have been a huge huge reason for me to go explore myself and the wild… so while it’s a pain for you, trust me – you inspire many of us to go test ourselves, explore..
    Thank you for sharing your stories yourself and letting others share it as well !!
    PS – even today when I look at some videos / photos from your Barkley’s win it gives me goosebumps !

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    • February 1, 2020 at 5:03 am
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      Thank you very much, it’s awesome to think it has an impact so far away. Enjoy your time out there, and all the best!

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  • February 6, 2020 at 2:57 pm
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    Stirring message. Thanks for sharing this, John. Keep leaning forward.

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  • March 4, 2020 at 3:48 pm
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    I think you can only guess at the effect races like this have, when sympathetically documented for “the rest of us”.

    Yes, I think it shouldn’t be a media circus, but then laz protects that by only allowing filming in certain sections.

    But as runners, you forego some of your rights to privacy, by the mere fact of entering. These days you know people are going to be there, and be interested. If you just wanted to run on your own, you could. But there’s something in competing – being there amongst everyone else.

    As a non-runner two years ago, I went from a non-exercising, overweight 46-year-old to my first half marathon in 10 weeks, on the back of a drunken conversation with my similarly-aged cousin, who a year or two previously went from the same to a 100 km ultra because “people said I couldn’t”.

    The original Barkley film on Netflix was totally inspirational to me at that time, It kept me training, got me over the line, but more importantly stirred in me a desire to see those wild places – I wondered whether I could?

    I got over being tired out running. I started to enjoy running, started to look for amazing places to run.

    As the distances increased, so I could go to more remote places. I could go away from roads for a few hours. And so I would look for more and more exciting places to run. And while I know I’ll never be a Barkley contestant, I would love to just come along, and be part of it – such is the link between the emotions it brought out of me and my own journey of the last two years.

    The first half marathon I completed was a big deal, made all the more special by doing it surrounded by everyone else. But interestingly, before crossing the line I’d already booked my first marathon because I knew it was going to be an anti-climax if I finished and there was nothing else ahead.

    And a few months later I’m completing half marathons on my own, in the same way I grew out of 5k runs. In the same way I was once amazed I could complete 3 10k runs in a week.

    That’s the power of media attention on these races – they have the ability to affect thousands of people. The scary thing for me is that without the media attention, I might still be in front of Netflix, rather than enjoying the wild places.

    Reply
    • March 5, 2020 at 3:37 pm
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      Huge congrats on how far you’ve come Jake, and all the best for your future adventures!

      Reply

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