Home > Trail Running

Why Jasmin Paris is about to become a household name

Laz is believed to have once said a woman could never finish the Barkley Marathons. Then he met the woman who would

jasmin and laz Photo by: Jacob Zocherman

British ultrarunner Jasmin Paris made history on Thursday when she became the first woman runner to finish the Barkley Marathons, charging to the finish with only 99 seconds to spare before the 60-hour cutoff. But this is not the first time Paris, who runs free of sponsorships and is an environmental advocate, has achieved something remarkable in the trail running world. Here’s what we know about the 40-year-old ultra-trail champion.

Jasmin Paris Jacob Zocherman3
Photo: Jacob Zocherman @searchingforzocherman

Paris is a veterinarian and research scientist from Midlothian, Scotland. In 2019, she jumped to world attention on the ultra scene when she smashed the overall (men’s) course record–by 12 hours–at Britain’s 268-mile Montane Spine Race, finishing in 83 hours, 12 minutes, 23 seconds–while also pumping breastmilk for her infant daughter.

“When it was really difficult I made myself think about my daughter and imagined the different things she does—that kind of kept me distracted and entertained,” she told British Vogue after her Spine Race success.“Some of the time you don’t really think about anything. It’s mindful, you’re just putting one foot in front of the other.”

The Barkley Marathons is five loops of a 20+ mile course in Frozen Head State Park, near Wartburg, Tenn. (distances vary; the race is thought to be well over 100 miles) featuring thousands of metres of elevation gain, with a time limit of 60 hours. It was first run in 1986, and was inspired by the prison escape of James Earl Ray, who was serving time at Brushy Mountain penitentiary for the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.

After more than two days on the lam, Ray had only covered 13 kilometres before being re-captured. Laz, a former ultrarunner who knew the area well, is said to have responded, “I could do at least 100 miles,” and created the race, naming it for his friend, neighbour and running partner, Barry Barkley, who died in 2019. 

Gary Cantrell (a.k.a. Lazarus Lake, or “Laz” to his friends) dreamed up a 100-miler in the vicinity of the prison, which closed in 2009, is now abandoned and is a feature of the course. GPS watches are not allowed; each runner is issued a cheap watch set to “Barkley time,” i.e., the 60-hour limit. Runners must collect pages corresponding to their bib number from 13 books hidden on the course (they receive a new bib for each loop); missing pages mean disqualification. There is water available on the course, but no aid stations. Runners may only receive aid from their crew between loops, in camp, where they are on the clock.

Paris was always passionate about the outdoors, but only took up running in university. She began winning local and national fell-running and ultrarunning events, including the Scottish Hill Running Championships, British Fell Running Championships and then the 2016 Extreme Skyrunner World Series. Paris ran a hill race 10 days before giving birth to her daughter.

While Paris says it has been challenging to juggle training as a parent to a young child, she adds that it’s important to maintain a balanced life.”It doesn’t make you a worse parent if you have something else that is just yours; in fact I think that it’s probably inspirational to your child, she told British Vogue.”I hope my daughter will be inspired when she grows up to believe that she can do anything.”

Laz asked Paris to run the race after her victory at the Spine Race—he thought Paris might be the only woman who could possibly finish. In 2o22, she completed three loops (which is dubbed a “fun run”); in 2023, she was eliminated after four loops, falling short of the 48-hour cutoff time to begin the fifth loop. Paris was only the second woman ever to attempt a fourth loop; the first was Sue Johnston of Vermont, in 2001.

Ihor Verys becomes first Canadian to finish Barkley Marathons

Fellow British runner and two-time Barkley Marathons competitor, Damian Hallmade it to loop five for the second year in a row, but was unable to complete the race. He commented on Paris’s remarkable finish to his sponsor, Inov8: “It was still an amazing experience, and incredible to see Jasmin finish and make history. That wiped away most of my personal disappointment. It was the greatest sporting achievement I’ve seen in the flesh.”

“The final minutes were so intense, after all that effort it came down to a sprint uphill, with every fiber of my body screaming at me to stop,” Paris told The New York Times post-race.“I didn’t even know if I’d made it when I touched the gate. I just gave it everything to get there and then collapsed, gasping for air.”

Renowned photographer Howie Stern is a regular at the Barkley Marathons, and captured Jasmin throughout the race.”Thank you Jasmin for putting your heart and soul into the dark world that takes place in a little park in Tennessee, which has captivated and inspired women and men the world over,” he said on Instagram.



Check out the latest buyer's guide:

Best trail running gear for spring 2024

Explore our favourite trail running gear for short trips and longer treks, from watches to gaiters