Welcome to our second feature on the 2019 Barkley Marathon's. This time we get to sit down with OCR's very own Morgan Mckay to talk about her experiences. Hailing from Canada, the "Battle Unicorn" is well known in the OCR world for her boundless enthusiasm, signature facepaint and relentless drive. She has an Impressive resumé including winning the inagural Spartan World Ultra Championships in 2017 and setting a Guinness world record for Fastest 10k while carrying a 100lb pack in 2018.
You are known within OCR as being a specialist at the Ultra / endurance events such as Spartan Ultra world Championships and Worlds Toughest Mudder. What was it that drew you to attempt the Barkley?
"I was drawn to Barkley because it’s so different. There are no course markings and it’s almost “impossible” to finish. I really wanted to test myself at something that is out of my element."
You work closely with Yancy Culp in your training, how did he have you prepare differently for a challenge like the Barkley and did anyone else help?
"Yancy is a great coach and he really helped me maintain my strength going into the race. I also worked very closely with Ray Zahab who is well known for his crazy expeditions all over the world. He had me out snowshoeing every weekend for hours using only a compass and map to navigate in the woods. This was really helpful to gain more experience with navigation. He also worked on my nutrition, I felt very fit going into this race."
How did the reality compare with your expectations?
"Completely different. I had high expectations of being able to navigate the course, it was so much harder to navigate then I had anticipated. I was expecting it to be more about pushing myself physically, but it was way more mental. I learned quickly that every choice I make is crucial and there is zero room for error to hit the cutoffs."
What did you find the most challenging aspect of the event?
"For me, it was regaining my composure after going a mile past book 1. I felt so embarrassed and silly for making a mistake so early on, finding myself completely alone right away and knowing how hard the course is to navigate. I had to take a moment, remind myself why I am here and keep going."
How did you come to the decision to retire from the race?
"I was navigating the course with a veteran Leonard and newbie Ben, we had spent 2 hours trying to find book 8 in the pouring rain at around midnight. We were already past the cutoff for loop1 which was at 10:43pm. We were all completely soaked from the rain and starting to freeze due to the extreme temperature drop and high winds. It didn’t make sense to continue anymore, putting ourselves all at risk of injury or worse."
What was it like to face the bugle?
"A little stressful but also exciting! We camped on site, and I went to bed fully dressed in my racing clothes so I was ready as soon as it was blown. I had this feeling it would be blown around midnight, but I was wrong."
We also heard from Nicky Spinks Earlier in the week, did you get a chance to meet her out there?
"No I didn’t, but I hear she is a total badass and I wished I got the chance to meet her."
Will you attempt it again and what would you do differently?
"I would love to attempt it again. I would do some orienteering events to sharpen my skills. I would go in with a plan of navigating the course myself and not needing to follow a vet. That way I can go whatever pace suits me best. I would also do more steep ski hill repeats. I thought there would be more trail running, but it’s mostly up and down ski hill sized mountains!"
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about trying to enter?
"Do a ton of research, really know and understand what you are getting yourself into. Make sure there are no weak points in your tool box, because just one will be exposed very quickly and could very well be the beginning of the end for your attempt. Also take a trip down before the race starts and get familiar with the trails. I wasn’t able to, and I really wished I could of."
What are your racing plans for the rest of the year, will we see you in Essex for the OCRWC in October?
"Right now I am really focused on OCRWC enduro in Australia and Spartan Ultra World Championships in Sweden."
Finally we all know about your amazing WTM and event doodles can you tell us the story behind these and how you ended up creating the BM2019 tee shirts?
"I love doing little race drawings of events because Its a fun way to remember the event and it gives a great visual for others. I sent in a little drawing of the Barkley for fun, and Laz really liked it. I was so thrilled and honoured when he asked if he could use the drawing. I was so excited but I swore not to tell a soul. It was the greatest feeling ever when I arrived to registration and Laz was wearing my art. It was a dream come true!"
Thank you Morgan, it's been great to hear from you, and best of luck for the rest of the season. If you want to keep up with Morgan's latest exploits you can follow her on Instagram @worlds_toughest_morgan