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Jasmin Paris Is First Woman to Finish Barkley Marathons


The runner Jasmin Paris became on Friday the first woman to complete the Barkley Marathons, an extreme footrace that requires participants in rural Tennessee to navigate 100 miles of rugged terrain in no more than 60 hours.

Paris, 40, of Midlothian, Scotland, finished the race with one minute and 39 seconds to spare, making her one of only 20 people to complete the Barkley since it was extended to 100 miles in 1989. She was one of five to finish this year, out of 40 entrants.

At the end of the run, Paris sank to the ground in front of a yellow gate that marks the start and finish of the event, which consists of five roughly 20-mile laps.

“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 said in an email.

Her legs were covered in cuts and scratches by the time she reached the end of the race, which was the subject of a 2014 documentary, “The Race That Eats Its Young.”

“I didn’t even know if I’d made it when I touched the gate,” she added. “I just gave it everything to get there and then collapsed, gasping for air.”

She attempted the race in 2022 and 2023 and became the first woman to reach the fourth lap since 2001. Though she didn’t complete the event in those years, she said that she felt more confident and experienced going into the race on Friday.

In 2019, Ms. Paris, an ultrarunner and veterinarian, became the first woman to win the Montane Spine Race, a 268-mile ultramarathon in the United Kingdom. She broke the previous course record by 12 hours despite stopping at checkpoints to pump breast milk for her newborn.

The Barkley began in 1986, after its founder, Gary Cantrell, learned about the prison escape of James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ray fled for eight miles over the course of 54 hours through the Tennessee wilderness. Cantrell thought he could fare better himself, and he began to map out routes inside Frozen Head State Park.

The prison has been along the race route, which can change every year and requires athletes to often run through pathless terrain.

The rules for entering the race are cryptic. The Barkley doesn’t advertise. It asks applicants to submit an essay explaining why they wish to compete, in addition to a $1.60 entry fee.

“There is no website, and I don’t publish the race date or explain how to enter,” Mr. Cantrell said in a 2013 interview with The New York Times.

“Anything that makes it more mentally stressful for the runners is good,” he added.

Nothing about the marathon, which also boasts the equivalent of 60,000 feet of ascent and descent, about twice the elevation of Mount Everest, is straightforward.

On the night before the event, runners must stay alert for the sound of a conch shell that signals one hour until the race begins. When they take their marks, Cantrell signifies the start of the race by lighting a ceremonial cigarette.

As the race advances, runners must find books that are scattered along the course and remove a page that corresponds to their assigned number to prove their progress.

They hand the page from each book to Mr. Cantrell, as they complete each lap. There are no path markers, and runners have to memorize the course before they begin.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Barkley,” Ms. Paris said, “it’s that you never know what you are capable of until you try.”



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