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Interview with Jasmin Paris: the First Female Finisher of the Gruelling Barkley Marathons

Updated: Apr 15

Jasmin Paris recently made history by becoming the first female to finish the Barkley Marathons, a gnarly and mutable 5-loop course that covers 100 miles in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee. In addition to the time pressure (Jasmine made the 60 hour time limit with 1 minute 39 seconds to spare), participants must contend with 60,000 feet of elevation and navigate fierce terrain to find 14 books planted by the offbeat race founders, Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell (known as "Laz") and Karl Henn.


Jasmin Paris drinking water during the Barkley Marathons
Jasmin Paris during the Barkley Marathons. Photo credit: David Miller

Paris holds records for a growing number of mountain races and made headlines back in 2019 for winning The Spine Race, a 268-mile race that took just over 83 hours and 12 minutes, which included 7 hours of rest; time she spent eating, sleeping and breastfeeding her daughter. We caught up with the ultra runner, vet and mother of two, to learn about her journey to running, her support crew and, of course, to find out more about her most recent achievement.


What drew you to running as a child and how has your running journey evolved up to running the Barkley Marathon?


I didn’t start running until I left university. Prior to that I ran maybe 20 minutes a week, around the park. We spent a lot of time playing and exploring outside as children though, particularly thanks to my mum. From an early age we hiked in the hills with my parents, and as we grew older my brother and I started going away for hiking trips in mountains across Europe, wild camping for 7-10 days at a time. So, I came to hill running from a walking background. The catalyst for taking up running was a colleague at work (my first job as a vet, in Glossop, the Peak District) who suggested I go along to a local fell race. I loved it – the people, the hills, the adrenaline, the views – and I promptly joined the local fell running club. After that I quickly realised that I loved rough and long races most of all, and over time I ended up at Barkley.



Jasmin Paris signing up to the Barkley Marathons mountain race in Tennessee
Jasmin Paris during the Barkley Marathons. Photo credit: David Miller

Jasmin Paris taking on the fierce wilderness of the Barkley Marathons
Jasmin Paris during the Barkley Marathons. Photo credit: David Miller


Was running put on hold in the first years of becoming a mother?

 

I carried on running when I had children. With my first (daughter), I was able to run up to the day she was born. With my second (son), I had to modify my running due to pelvic pain in the later months, but still remained active. I was lucky to have straightforward deliveries and was able to start running again by 6 weeks postpartum with both children. It was good to have that hour each day to myself, to be outside and remember myself. I’m very lucky that my husband and I have such equal roles in terms of childcare, cooking etc. He’s a runner too, so he understands. The main challenge is trying to find time to both train each day. This year it worked out well because his race (The Spine) and mine (Barkley) were staggered in terms of date and therefore maximum training load. 



We've read a little about what your training looked like in preparation for this event but what would you say is a typical week of activity when you're not in a specific training block? 


I wake up at 5am, train 5.30-7.15am, do an online strength class 7.15-7.45am (Coach Dee, three times a week), then take my son to nursery for 8.15am. If I’m on a research week, I cycle commute into the lab from there (4.5 miles each way). Weekends are similar (5am start), just with longer runs, since I aim to spend the majority of the day with the children. I have Monday as a rest day each week. 


Do you have a coach or a team supporting you?


Damian Hall coaches me, which is great because he is a friend and also understands the concurrent challenges of work and family. I do online strength classes with Coach Dee, get physio advice from project: physio (Edinburgh), and sports massage from Neil Briggs, who I’ve been going to for years. And I run for The Green Runners (thegreenrunners.com), who I helped to co-found a couple of years ago, in the hope of inspiring runners to make changes for a fitter planet. 



Jasmin Paris fuelling for the event. Photo credit: David Miller


At what point did you realise you were going to have to start sprinting at the end? Did someone say something or were you watching the clock?


I knew from hours out that it would be tight. The last 4 hours or so were like a tempo run (for that stage of the race), but I still believed it was possible. The last kilometre was when I realised it would be incredibly tight – roughly with 8 minutes to go. 



The man behind the famous Barkley Marathons in Tennessee
Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell (known as "Laz"). Photo credit: David Miller

On the nutrition front: what did you do during the race and how did you plan for snacks and meals? Did you carry food with you at all times?


Yes, I carried food at all times. I ate pretty well in the first 2 loops, but then things deteriorated, and I really struggled in the last 3. At camp I was eating pasta, porridge or rice pudding, plus a banana (those always work for me on long races), and drinking coke, tea and coffee. On the course I was drinking stream water and eating a mixture of the following: frittata (made with potato, peas and cheese), pizza, sandwiches (cheese and pickle, jam, banana and peanut butter), trail mix, Snickers bars, homemade flapjack, sweets, a few gels.



Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee
The home of the Barkley Marathons: Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee. Photo credit: Konrad Rawlik

How did you feel about being on the mountain on your own overnight?


Being alone didn’t bother me as such, I’ve trained on my own in the hills for the last 16 years, and long before that I hiked alone in the mountains. Remote places like that don’t scare me, I’m far more nervous running in a city alone. It was nice to have company though when I was with others. To share the highs and lows, and the navigational load. 



What was your inner dialogue when things got really tough? How did you dig yourself out of mental holes?


I had such a strong drive to finish this year, that I found it much easier to remain focused throughout, compared with 2022 and 2023. As a result, I had fewer hallucinations than previous years, and only a short period early on loop 4 when I was struggling to stay awake. I had a really rough patch towards the end of loop 4, after Jared and Greig dropped me, when my guts were really unhappy. I allowed myself to lie down for a minute, curled up like a baby to make my insides hurt less. In retrospect, I'm super lucky that I didn't fall asleep at that point. At times like those, I thought of home and my family. They helped get me through the hardest moments.



A woman sits by the finish line of an endurance race
Jasmin Paris becomes the first female to finish the Barkley Marathons. Photo credit: David Miller


Did you ever think you were not going to finish?


My biggest doubt came with about a kilometre to go, that was the first time I really contemplated that I might not make it. The final sprint uphill to the gate was the hardest thing I’ve ever made myself do. 



What was going through your head as you approached the camp ground?


When I realised I might not make it, I started to imagine myself arriving at the gate a few seconds over the time limit. At that point, in my exhausted state, the thought of having to come back next year and do it all again (since I knew I’d not let it rest until I’d finished it), was so awful that I forced myself to dig even deeper – to find something I didn’t know I was capable of until that point. In my mind, I’d decided I would either reach the gate in time, or collapse trying. 



A woman collapses after completing an endurance race
Jasmin Paris collapses at the finish. Photo credit: David Miller


How did you feel about being photographed when you'd just finished?


I didn’t care, I was just so relieved it was over. 



How do you get through your toughest times? What's your why?


Ultimately, I run because I love it, because it takes me to the hills and mountains each day, which keeps me happy and sane. In the chaotic juggle of motherhood and career, running is my ‘me-time’, my mindfulness, my adrenaline kick, my perspective, my peace. That’s my ‘why’ for running, and for most of the races I do. I’ll admit that Barkley is a bit different, but I was intrigued as to whether I could finish it, when it was deemed to be almost impossible – I like testing myself like that too.  



What's the next challenge?


I’m doing the Scottish Islands Peaks Race and the Jura Fell Race (because both are brilliant fun), and then the Tor des Geants in September (another big challenge that excites me, and which people I trust have all spoken highly of). 



Have you spoken with Camille Herron after her recent world-record-breaking run or do you have any comments to share on this?


I tweeted to say thanks for the inspiration – her 6-day record run was the perfect inspiration in that final lead up to Barkley. 



A sign addressed to the founder of the Barkley Marathon on a gate
"Dear Laz" sign. Photo credit: David Miller



Finally, we're passionate about getting more girls into sport. Do you have any thoughts on strategies that might change this?


I don’t have a magic answer, but when I look back at my childhood, my parents were great role models. They gave me the same opportunities as my brothers, inspired in me a deep love of the outdoors, and taught me the joy of movement. Children are wonderfully open and enthusiastic, I think it’s up to us to show them what’s possible, allow them to explore their limits, and most of all make sport fun.



Jasmin Paris co-founded The Green Runners to drive change for a fitter planet. To learn more about how you can support their four pillars: to improve how you move, what you wear, how you eat and how you speak out, visit: https://thegreenrunners.com




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