She Tried to Cross a Highway in an Ultramarathon. She Didn’t Make It.


Thomas Grinovich does. A fellow participant in the race, he was trying to cross Highway 72 with McCoy. One moment, he said, McCoy was close to his left shoulder, halfway across the dark, wide roadway. The next, a headlight, the roar of an engine, then a horrific, pounding thud.

“When I get the flashbacks,” he said, “that sound is what I hear.”

On June 18, McCoy and Grinovich were among the 66 runners who set off from West Memphis, Ark., for the inaugural running of the Heart of the South Road Race, the brainchild of Gary Cantrell, known in the ultrarunning world as Lazarus Lake.

Since the mid-1980s, Cantrell, a bearded, Camel-smoking ultrarunner from Tennessee, has been creating some of the world’s toughest events. His competitions are more journeys than races, ones many runners never finish. In the past three decades, only 15 people have completed Cantrell’s Barkley Marathons, a 100-mile venture over unmarked terrain in the Cumberland Mountains in eastern Tennessee.

As ultrarunning — any race longer than a 26.2-mile marathon — has become more popular, the sport’s hard-core practitioners have pushed the limits of the sport and human endurance. Races that stretch more than 200 miles over several days are no longer uncommon.

Catastrophic injuries and collisions with cars are rare in ultrarunning, though the sensation of dodging death — from exposure, exhaustion, dehydration or even an encounter with a bear, a mountain lion, a rattle snake or speeding traffic — can be a part of the appeal. But McCoy’s accident, crossing a highway after five endless days of running, raises the question of whether this race was a test of rigor or recklessness.


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