Morgan Mckay reflects on her first Barkley Marathon

For the second year in a row, no runner finished the event

This past weekend, the legendary Barkley Marathon was held in Frozen Head State Park near Warburg, Tennessee. The ultramarathon trail race is renowned as one of the toughest and most unique on the planet, and few competitors ever manage to finish the race each year.

This year, as it was In 2018, nobody finished. In 2017, one runner, John Kelly, crossed the finish line after a gruelling 59 hours and 30 minutes. It's that tough.

In an attempt to finish this year's race, two Canadian women lined up at the start line to navigate themselves around the bush searching for books from which competitors must tear pages corresponding to their bib numbers as they run five loops. Stephanie Case, a Canadian living in Afghanistan completed two of five race loops at the Barkley in 2018 and she went back for more. Joining Case for this season's event was OCR competitor Morgan Mckay. Mckay won the Spartan Ultra World Championship in 2017 and was second last year. 

Neither competitor finished. 

Get Out There caught up with Mckay and asked her to reflect on her experience.

 Why did you want to tackle the Barkley Marathon?
It’s something that has always sparked my interest. I love the idea of trying to take on something that is “impossible” for the chance to make it possible. I loved dreaming about not only finishing but being the first ever female finisher.

Was it all that you thought it would be?
It was so much more! I knew it would be hard, but it was so much harder than I imagined and way more confusing to navigate than I anticipated.  

What surprised you?
How quickly a small error can turn into a huge error.  I was following a small group of runners to book 1, I lost sight of them. I saw a new group of runners and I started to follow them. I soon realized this new group had already found book 1 and was now searching for book 2, therefore, I now found myself completely alone heading back to book 1 and the race had just started.

What was the greatest challenge?
The biggest challenge was getting myself mentally right after making a big mistake. I had this idea in my mind that I would follow some vets for the first loop and figure out the course. It quickly turned into finding myself alone and at the very back of the pack, which is a new experience for me.  I had to take a moment to collect my thoughts and remind myself “why” am I here? I am here to do “my best” so I did my absolute best to backtrack and find book 1 and continue!

When did you decide to “tap out?” (Runners are literally played "Taps" on the bugle once their race has ended.
I joined forces with vet Leonard and newbie Ben. We had an amazing time hiking around together and searching for books. We were looking for book 8, we were way past the cut off for lap 1. It was pouring rain and we had been searching for 2 hours. We decided it was no longer safe to continue, we were all soaked and it was getting colder. One false slip “out there” could be catastrophic, so we hiked three hours back to camp.

Are you going to do it again?
Oh my, this is a hard question. Yesterday when I “tapped” out I was in bad condition because I was so cold, boarding hypothermia. I was glad to be back at camp and could not imagine putting myself through that again. Now that I have had time to digest what has happened, I remember the amazing times hiking with Ben and Leonard and how proud I felt when we found each book. I can’t help but think “what if?” What if I did things a little different, could I do it?  So to answer your question ...TBD

What would you do different last time?
I would travel down to get more familiar with the trails and the layout. I had hoped my navigation skills would be enough and I could figure it out, but it was way harder to navigate than I had anticipated.
If I went back, I would also need to contain my excitement. I was so excited to be there and run with everyone, that I made a critical error right from the get-go.  

What was the first thing you wanted to do when it was all over?
Shower. I was frozen! I spent at least 20 minutes in the shower to try and warm up. Then I ate a box of Oreos!



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