March 25, 2022

Jasmin Paris admits Barkley Marathons has her in its grip

Insightful blog from British ultrarunner provides fascinating detail on her first attempt at this mystical race
By Chris Buckley
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Jasmin Paris has admitted that the Barkley Marathons has got her firmly in its grip and says she is already feeling nostalgic for the intensity and effort as well as the people she shared it with.

Reflecting on her virgin attempt at the race, which saw her complete three loops of the treacherous course achieving ‘Fun Run’ status, the first women to do so since  Bev Anderson-Abbs in 2013,  Paris wrote in her blog:  “I’ve had time to be proud of myself and of what I achieved.

“I went to Barkley determined to give it my all, and I came away knowing I did. Whilst I made many mistakes, I also found the strength to overcome those disappointments, time and time again.

“I am already forgetting how hard my time ‘out there’ was, and in its place is a sense of nostalgia for the intensity of that effort, and the people I shared it with. I understand now why Barkley becomes an obsession; in fact I suspect I’m already firmly in its grip.”

Pushing yourself is addictive

Paris admits that, when first hearing of the Barkley Marathons she had been sceptical thinking is sounded contrived and the emphasis on suffering strange, but her 2019 Spine Race victory helped change that view: “There is something strangely addictive about pushing oneself to the edge of what is possible,’ she explained.

The race itself lived up to all expectations. On the first loop Paris ran with the ‘inspirational’ Courtney Dauwalter and later with veteran and fun-run finisher Guillaume Calmettes, who gave her a guided tour pointing out landmarks to look out for in the reverse direction as well. She finished the loop in 9 hours 13 minutes, ate and then added additional waterproof clothing and set off for the second loop which brought with it a major change in the weather.

Rain sets in on loop two

“As the darkness deepened, the rain set in,” she explained. “Water seemed to be everywhere, running from the trees, pooling in the hollows, turning the steep descents into a sliding quagmire. The mud clogged the studs of my shoes, and I slid downwards through fallen leaves, snagging against briars and grabbing out to tree trunks for traction.”

Paris had run briefly with Thomas Dunkerbeck at the start of loop two and she met up with him again later that evening as the two came together from slightly different directions as they both battled to navigate the inhospitable landscape.

“Working as a team, progress improved,” said Paris. “The descent from the fire tower was like trying to stand on an inclined ice rink – in the end we just sat down and slid the steepest sections

“I met John Kelly as I started my descent to camp. He shouted something like, ‘Get back out for that fun run’, which suddenly seemed doable now that it was light and no longer raining. I forced myself to speed up, preparing in my mind a list of things I would need to do at the changeover, to be back out again by 24 hours.

“I touched the yellow gate at 23:38:31, and after a hurried bowl of porridge accompanied by chocolate milk, I collected my next number from Laz at 23:52:24, thus starting loop 3, this time in the opposite (anti-clockwise) direction.”

Heavy falls and navigation errors

The third loop started well but a couple of hours in things got tougher. Paris found the change of direction surprisingly challenging. Two heavy falls and a series of navigational errors soon ate up the three hour ‘buffer’ that Paris was relying on to complete the three loops within the 40 hour cut-off to achieve a fun-run. She knew the 36-hour cut-off that would have allowed her to start a fourth loop was no longer possible.

“I was relieved when I finally reached the last summit, with an hour to make the descent. Once again however, I relaxed too soon. Somehow I gradually drifted off the ridge onto a diverging slope. At one point I saw a stream and made my way down to it, then changed my mind and inadvertently overcorrected.

“I checked my watch and for a moment I lost all hope, with half an hour remaining I surely couldn’t make it back in time. But then my resolve returned, and a huge wave of adrenaline kicked in. I was suddenly running back uphill and across, far faster than I’d moved since loop 1. I re-joined the race route, and finally ran down the track to touch the yellow gate at 39:49:46.

Remarkable performance

It was a remarkable performance that has had Barkley followers and elite ultra-athletes alike singing her praises, with many tipping her to be a candidate for the first women to complete all five loops.

Anybody wanting to run the Barkley Marathons is required to submit an essay with their application making their case for one of the 40 places available. Jasmin Paris’ essay said:

“I’m looking for a new challenge, an adventure that will push me to the limits of what I can endure, and beyond. I’m ready to feel small and insignificant in the wilderness, and I’m excited to find out what I can achieve, when I believe in the impossible.”

She certainly achieved all of this and more.