Two Canadian women, Morgan Mckay and Stephanie Case, will be among the 40 people waiting anxiously for Laz to blow the conch at Barkley Marathons this year (signalling that the race starts in one hour). The Barkley is expected to start sometime this weekend at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee (but spectators are not welcome).
— Territorio Trail Media (@TerritorioTrail) March 18, 2019
The lack of a specific start time or date is just one of the many unusual features of the 100-mile race, which only 15 people have finished in its more than 30-year history (all of them men). GPS are not allowed, and there are no aid stations. Crews may only support their runner in the campground between loops. The loop is, by all accounts, significantly longer than the advertised 20 miles (32K). And runners must find books hidden on the course, tearing out the pages corresponding to their bib number and presenting them to the legendary race director Lazarus Lake in camp, completing all five loops within 60 hours.
Runners must complete the first three loops in under 36 hours to be allowed to attempt a fourth loop. (If they finish three loops in under 40 hours, they’ve completed a “Fun Run,” but their race is over at that point.)
Mckay, who is from Ottawa, was the 2017 Spartan Ultra world champion, and finished second in 2018. She is not well known in the ultra-trail community. Last year she set a Guinness World Record at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend for the fastest 10K while carrying 100 pounds. She also competed in the 60-hour Spartan Death Race a few years ago, which involved obstacles like chopping and stacking wood and carrying heavy loads, and in which taking time to sleep would result in disqualification.
Case, a human rights lawyer who works for the UN in Afghanistan, started the organization Free to Run to support women’s and girls’ running there. Case competed at the Barkley last year with the goal of completing one loop. (She completed two loops plus all the books, but not within the allotted time.) “First entrant from Afghanistan!” she told us. (She previously worked in Geneva, and lived in Chamonix, which some would call the ultra-trail capital of the world.
Mckay told us the main difference in her training for the Barkley was to hire an orienteering coach, since her biggest fear is getting lost on the unmarked course. “He seems to think I’ve got it,” Mckay says, with some hesitation. “I’m just used to the terrible weather, the awful terrain, not having water, getting lost–all those kind of things. So I’m hoping that will play well for me.”