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Jasmin Paris first woman to complete gruelling Barkley Marathons race



A British runner has made history by becoming the first woman to finish one of the world’s hardest ultramarathons.

Jasmin Paris from Midlothian completed the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee with just one minute 39 seconds to spare of the 60-hour cut off.

Thousands of supporters watched the race on social media as she made her nail-biting finish on Friday.

She was so exhausted she slumped to the ground after finishing the race which is inspired by a famous prison escape.

The course, at Frozen Head State Park, changes every year but covers 100 miles involving 60,000ft of climb and descent – about twice the height of the Mount Everest.

Only 20 people have ever made it to the end of the race within the allotted 60 hours since it was extended to 100 miles in 1989.

The 40-year-old vet had to navigate through extreme and often pathless terrain, continuing to run through the night.

Pictures show her legs scratched from pushing through sharp bushes and scrub in dense forest on steep slopes.

She has said previously: “Barkley Marathons is a truly unique challenge, and the idea of running it has been growing on me for the last few years.

“(I feel) a mixture of excitement and nerves. I know it’s going to be very hard, possibly impossible, but at the same time that’s what makes me want to run it.”

David Miller Jasmin Paris David Miller
Jasmin Paris out on the race trail

David Miller, a professional photographer at the race, told BBC Scotland he had witnessed the “greatest ultramarathon achievement of all time”.

“There was a lot of anticipation at the finish line and three minutes before the 60 hour cut off we heard shouting and a roar and it was people cheering Jasmin on.

“She was sprinting and giving it her all as there was no room for error because otherwise she would not have made the cut off.

“She touched the gate and collapsed in exhaustion. It was the best thing I have ever seen, it was unbelievable.

“Obviously I was very focussed on trying to capture Jasmin and a moment in history but at the same time I could feel a tear behind the lens because it was such an emotional moment.”

David Miller Jasmin ParisDavid Miller
David Miller, a professional photographer at the race, told BBC Scotland he witnessed the “greatest ultramarathon achievement of all time”.

The race is not only known for being physically gruelling but also for its odd traditions.

The course changes every year but is roughly five loops of 20 miles with only 35 participants allowed each year.

The Barkley course was the brainchild of Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell and Karl Henn.

The idea for the race came when they heard about the 1977 escape of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr, from nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

Ray covered only about 12 miles (19 km) after running more than 50 hours in the woods, hiding from air searches during the day.

Mr Cantrell is reported to have mocked the distance covered by Ray, saying: “I could do at least 100 miles.”

Prospective runners must write a “Why I should be allowed to run in the Barkley” essay along with a $1.60 (£1.27) entrance fee and if successful get a letter of condolence.

Racers are also required to bring an additional “fee”, which in the past has included things such as a white shirt, socks, or a car registration plate, as a donation for being a non-finisher.

David Miller Jasmin ParisDavid Miller
Jasmin Paris at a checkpoint during the race

Competitors must find between nine and 14 books along the course (the exact number varies each year) before removing the page corresponding to their race number from each book as proof of completion.

They take them to the race creator and director Mr Cantrell, otherwise known as “Laz”, at the end of each lap.

He waits at the yellow gate made iconic by the 2014 documentary Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.

The race starts any time from midnight to noon on race day, with one hour till race start signalled by blowing a conch. The race officially begins when the race director lights a cigarette.

The course is unmarked and competitors must memorise the route beforehand.

The first and third loops are run clockwise, while the second and fourth loops are run anticlockwise. The first finisher of the fourth loop gets to decide which direction they go on the last loop.

David Miller Laz Lake at the start of the 2023 Barkley MarathonsDavid Miller
The Barkley Marathons race starts when Laz Lake Cantrell is seen lighting a cigarette

Jasmin, who was born in Hadfield in Derbyshire, had previously completed what is called a “Fun Run” on her debut in 2022 by getting through three of the loops.

Despite its title, the race is still 60-miles long. In 2006 nobody managed to finish it in under 40 hours.

Last year Jasmin became the first female since 2001 to embark on a fourth loop.

David Miller Jasmin ParisDavid Miller
Jasmin Paris stopping for a drink during the race

Previously the best women’s achievement was Sue Johnston’s 66 miles (106 km) in 2001 when more than 30 competitors failed to reach the first book (two miles).

In January 2019 mother-of-two Jasmin expressed milk for her baby during a 268-mile race along the Pennine Way to break the course record by more than 12 hours.

She completed the Montane Spine Race – from Derbyshire to the Scottish borders – in 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds.

Her previous sponsor, Inov8, said her achievement was “one of the greatest stories” in the sport. She has since co-founded The Green Runners.

Source: bbc



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