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‘She persisted’: John Kelly on why nothing will ever top Jasmin Paris at Barkley Marathons

Jonathan Turner
News Director
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We already knew he was brilliant at finding books in woods – and has a wonderful way with words.

And both have again been in evidence in the last few days as John Kelly first became only the third person to finish the Barkley Marathons on three separate occasions.

Then on Sunday he penned a moving tribute to what Jasmin Paris achieved in becoming the first woman to finish the infamous race – with 99 seconds of the 60 hours to spare.

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‘I didn’t know if I would ever see it’

American star Kelly is an ultrarunning legend and writing on Instagram and referencing the photo below of (from the right) himself, Paris, Ihor Verys, Jared Campbell and Greig Hamilton, all of whom finished in what was a record-breaking year, he said: “A few days ago a bunch of my friends came & ran around the woods of Tennessee tearing pages out of books for the Barkley Marathons. The 5 of us here gathered 75 each.”

Barkley Marathons 2024 five finishers photo credit Keith Dunn on X
The five finishers [Photo credit: Keith Dunn on X]

Few – if any – have a better perspective of the Barkley and its unique place in the world than Kelly, making his next sentence all the more telling: “Jasmin Paris had the kind of performance that makes this arbitrary adventure have meaning so far beyond this yellow gate.

I don’t think anything at Barkley will ever top it.

I wrote back in 2018 that a woman could finish Barkley. But being possible & actually happening are two entirely different things, and I didn’t know if I would ever see it. Jasmin had all the right ingredients – incredible strength & speed, an unstoppable quiet resolve, master navigation, & amazing support from her husband Konrad. She failed in 2022 & 2023, but nevertheless, she persisted & gained valuable experience.”

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Never giving up

Talking through in more detail about how the race panned out – and how Paris’ hopes of finishing appeared to be fading – he added: “When the giant group of 16 in the lead half way around loop 1 started to spread out, she was not amongst the 6 of us back to camp first. Nevertheless, she persisted & caught us going up Rat Jaw in the afternoon sun.

“She seemed to start to struggle getting enough food down. Nevertheless, she persisted & kept pace with me, @ihorverys, & @ultra_damo until nearly the end of loop 3. She hit another low point & slipped back – something that at that point would have made it extremely easy to give up hope of a finish. Nevertheless, she persisted & joined @derajslc & Greig for the daunting & critical loop 4.

“When we crossed paths on loop 5 & I did the math in my head, the odds for her were very bad. After I finished & heard how far behind she was at the fire tower, the question was how long over the cutoff she would unfortunately be. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

‘Thank you Jasmin’

But while the rest of the world was desperately refreshing X / Twitter for news of Jasmin, Kelly and his fellow runners – whose joy can be seen on the already iconic photos – were there to witness something magical.

He explained: “As the last few minutes of hope disappeared, my oldest son was the 1st to spot her moving through the woods towards camp. Someone dismissed it as just a kid saying things. When she emerged, Jared & I started frantically looking between each other, our watches, & her willing her broken body up the road. @garyrobbins, who has the most heart breaking near finish at Barkley & returned this year to crew me, stood behind us.

“My daughters were there watching. Thank you Jasmin, for showing them what I never fully could.”

John Kelly start Barkley Marathons 2023 photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram
You can follow John Kelly on Instagram at randomforestrunner [Photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram]
Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

THE SBRX Show

In episode 1 of our new SBRX Show we sit down with ultra runners and coaches Kim and Jayson Cavill to get their take on the Barkley Marathons and triathlon & trail running gear reviews, training tips and more

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