The Greatest Ultramarathon Achievement Of All Time?

Is this the greatest ultramarathon achievement of all time as Jasmin Paris becomes the first woman to finish?

I believe it was Beyoncé who once asked the question, “Who runs the world?” And the answer was emphatically “GIRLS!”

In a sport that is still somewhat known as a pastime of middle aged white males, it’s the women in our sport that have stood head and shoulders above everyone over the last year in ultra-trail running. 

First we had Courtney Dauwalter ‘doing the triple’ at WSER, Hardrock 100 and UTMB last summer. Then we had Camille Herron smash so many records during the Lululemon FURTHER project recently, that they were literally making them up as she went, smashing record after record during the 6 day event. 

Black and white image of a man smoking a cigarette at the start of the Greatest Ultramarathon Achievement of all time?

The cigarette that starts it all. Image: David Miller

Which brings us to the events of the past weekend……Jasmin Paris, the first woman ever to complete the Barkley Marathons. 

This remarkable achievement was described at the finish of the race by photographer David Miller, as being the “greatest ultramarathon achievement of all time”. 

But it wasn’t a walk in the park for Jasmin who gutted it out to narrowly finish in a time of 59 hours, 58 minutes, and 21 seconds – meaning she only narrowly beat the 60-hour cut-off by 99 seconds! 

Jasmin is well known in the Ultra-running community as being as hard as nails. Until recently she held the course record for the infamous Spine Race. She has podium and top ten finishes at many major ultramarathons around the world. Not to mention a handful of records at the UK’s famous fell running rounds.

car number plates from different parts of the world strung up in lines in a black and white image for The Greatest Ultramarathon Achievement Of All Time?

Image: David Miller

This year’s race wasn’t Jasmin’s first rodeo. She was returning for her third attempt at the legendary event that had seen zero women finish in its 20 year history. 

The Barkleys Course

The course, at Frozen Head State Park Tennessee, changes every year but covers roughly ‘100’ miles, involving 60,000ft of climb and descent, which is about twice the height of Everest. 

The race, put on by Lazarus Lake, is as mysterious as it is alluring. With strange customs involved with the registration process and how the race officially starts. Laz blows a conch shell as a warning, then the race starts when he lights a cigarette!

There’s also a strict NO GPS rule, meaning that the usual Garmin’s and Suunto’s have to be left at home. Laz provides runners with a simple digital watch so they can tell the time and work out how long they’ve been running. This rule has led some previous runners to believe that the actual length of Barkleys could be more like 120 plus miles. But then again, it could just be the sleep deprivation and pain from the shin scratching, bush whacking course that is described by many as being ‘torture’!

Black and white image of a number plate with the word Barkley written across it

Image: David Miller

Female Finishers

Alice Morrison interviewed Lazarus Lake for RunUltra in October 2017;

With women recording better and better results in ultra races, I wanted to know why no women had finished and whether Lazarus thought there was a possibility of a future female completer. 

It is unlikely says Lazarus, given the statistics. “If you look at all the elite running events/records, our women are behind the men by around 10%. If you add 10% to the race, you are over the 60-hour time limit.”

When Kate Allen asked Jasmin about this quote during her interview in 2022 after Jasmin’s Fun Run, Jasmin said:

“In terms of what Laz said about a lady not finishing it, I’m pretty sure he said it to get the ladies riled up and wanting to do it. I think he would be really delighted; I think he’d be the most happy person if a lady did finish it. He knows that whoever is going to do it will require them to be really determined and focused and I think from that point of view, they’re not going to be the sort of person who would be turned away by Laz saying that.”

Black and white image of Lazarus Lake

Image: David Miller

GREATEST ULTRAMARATHON achievement 

I recently interviewed Sophie Power from the organisation SheRaces about women’s achievements in ultramarathon running and she very kindly put me straight on some facts. 

I had been led to believe that over a long enough distance, the gap between male and female runners got ever closer. Meaning that on an event over 100 miles, there was a good chance that a female athlete would outperform and beat a male competitor. 

But Sophie actually pointed out that this was a misnomer and all of the evidence that was being presented for this was based on race data. Which was misleading because according to SheRaces, women entering long ultramarathons were generally more prepared and well trained than their male counterparts. Women are also known to pace races more sensibly. Sophie pointed out that although runners like Courteney are winning big ultras like UTMB, she is still hours behind the male winner Jim Walmsley. 

Jasmin Paris with a red top on hiking up a hill using poles

Image: David Miller

This fact doesn’t diminish women’s accomplishments in ultra, but actually highlights achievements like Jasmin’s. In a race that is known to defeat the strongest male runners, Jasmin’s performance is nothing short of exceptional and I think David Miller was on the nose when he witnessed the greatest ultramarathon achievement of all time!

A woman collapsed under a yellow gate as she finishes a race for the first time. Her head is bowed towards her knee and many people surround her, applauding her extraordinary feat

Image: David Miller

The Legendary Lazarus Lake and the Barkley Marathons
Lazarus Lake and the Barkley Marathons

"In a race that is known to defeat the strongest male runners, Jasmin’s performance is nothing short of exceptional and I think David Miller was on the nose when he witnessed the greatest ultramarathon achievement of all time!"

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