Last updated: 15-Nov-18
By Luke Jarmey
Skyrunner Extreme Series World Champion, Bob Graham Round record… the list goes on. Jasmin Paris is a world class ultra runner with an impressive array of accolades to her name. We have a chat about all this racing triumph, but also a more recent endeavour, motherhood and how that’s affected her running.
Q. Thanks for your time Jasmin, let’s get the ball rolling with a bit about your background. Whereabouts in the UK did you grow up and how did you first get into running?
A. I grew up in Hadfield, which is a small town at the edge of the Peak District. The moors of Bleaklow were only a few miles away, and beyond that Kinder Scout. I also spent chunks of my childhood in the Czech Republic, which is where my mum originally comes from.
We have a country cottage there in Šumava National Park, and I have very happy memories of summers spent almost entirely outdoors there. I didn’t really start running until I left university in 2008.
I was working in a small animal practice close to home and a colleague suggested I go along to a local fell race. I loved every muddy step of it, and joined a club (Glossopdale Harriers) soon afterwards.
Q. A late start then! With some sports there’s a clear advantage to starting young. Do you think this exists in long distance running?
A. Well I was 24 before I started running, and I don’t think it has put me at a disadvantage, so my answer would have to be no. However, I do think that for technical off-road running (like fell running and skyrunning) it is an advantage to have grown up familiar with the hills.
My parents regularly took us to wild places from a young age and I did a lot of hiking with my brother in big mountains in my late teens/early twenties, both of which have probably contributed to my ability to move fast over technical terrain.
Q. What was your first race and how did you get on?
A. It was a short, low key race (4.5 miles, 400 metres ascent) called Wormstones, on the moors above Glossop. I think I finished somewhere in the bottom half of the field. I spent most of the descents on my bottom (I was running in road trainers), and was in severe oxygen deficit by the end, but I enjoyed myself tremendously.
Q. What attracted you to scurrying around the fells versus other forms of endurance running?
A. I just really enjoy being in the hills, and fell running means I can get out into them every day, in spite of a busy work life. I love the views, the changing terrain, the challenge of climbing and the joy of fast descents.
Photo credit: Loic Tregan.
Q. You were crowned the 2016 Skyrunner World Extreme Series Champion, including wins at both Tromso and Glen Coe. These courses are known for their technicality, is this something you feel particularly adept at?
If so, do you think this is due to your fell running background and training terrain in Scotland?
A. Yes, I really enjoy technical running and think it’s definitely one of my strong points as a runner. When I’m racing I usually make up time over complex terrain, and lose it on more runnable stretches, especially roads, which I really struggle to get enthused about.
Running fast over technical terrain requires forward thinking and rapid adjustment, and I relish the challenge of that. I’m sure my Scottish training helps, as does the background I have in hill walking (see above).
Q. With a UTMB 6th place as your first ever 100 mile race, and wins at both The Dragon’s Back and Fellsman; It’s clearly not just shorter distance fell/mountain running that you’re handy at. Do you have a preference between ultra and fell racing? And does your training differ much?
A. Until recently I have never had a specific training plan, and I can’t really claim to have tailored my running to a specific target race. In terms of preference, long fell races are what I most enjoy: the rougher the better.
It’s not just about the courses – I also love the people, and the low-key style of fell racing. There’s no major fanfare or media attention, it’s altogether simpler.
Photo credit: Jon Gay.
Q. On the topic of ultra-distances… we’ve got to touch on your incredible Bob Graham Round women’s record of 15h24min set in 2016! At more than 2.5 hours faster than Nicky Spinks’ already impressive record, this really was an amazing feat.
Let’s just start on your preparation, how did that differ to a normal race and had you run the Bob Graham before as training?
A. I trained quite hard in the winter of 2015/16, and knew I wanted to have a go at a fast Bob Graham the next spring. I ran every day (roughly 60-90 minutes weekdays, 3-4 hours on weekend days), and also cross trained by swimming and gym work (ugh!).
In February I ran a winter Bob Graham with my husband, Konrad, in relatively testing conditions (22 hours 28 minutes). In March we ran a faster round, over two days carrying light packs. We worked out afterwards that we had been moving at approximately 17-hour pace, which gave me the confidence for the real attempt.
Q. What was the hardest part of the attempt? Were there any points when you suffered mentally and thought the record wasn’t going to happen?
A. For the Bob Graham I actually had a really good day, and didn’t suffer too much (as opposed to the Paddy Buckley, which was super tough for me). The hardest part was probably the start of leg 4 (climbing back out of Wasdale), when I was feeling quite sick and had definitely slowed down. By then the record looked fairly comfortable though, as long as I kept moving.
Q. Support teams must have a particularly special role in these kind of challenges. What aspects of the support made the biggest difference?
A. I can’t overemphasise how lucky I was in terms of support in 2016. I am incredibly lucky to have a cracking group of talented friends, who all came together repeatedly that year to help me out. Good support runners not only carry your stuff (food, drink, clothes), they also help to navigate (especially when you start to be tired, and stop concentrating) and keep your spirits up when things get hard.
Q. You were only around 90 minutes off Billy Bland’s longstanding Bob Graham record and 2h32min off Kilian Jornet’s new record. Furthermore, your Dragon’s Back women’s win put you in 2nd place overall.
Relative to most other sports, the differences between men and women in ultra running is small and getting smaller. Have you any thoughts on why this might be?
A. Over short distances, the physiological differences between men and women make it inevitable that men will be faster. But longer races are more about stamina, for which the gender gap is much less pronounced.
Ultra running also requires a different mindset – specifically an ability to push through when times are tough – which I think women are well suited to.
Photo credit: Loic Tregan.
Q. A challenge unique to women is combining motherhood with running. Which of course you would have experienced with the birth of your daughter, Rowan, last year. How did being pregnant change your approach to running in aspects such as training, nutrition etc?
A. I actually really enjoyed training when I was pregnant. It was good to have a break after everything I did in 2016 (the three big UK rounds, UTMB, Skyrunning World Champs), both physically and mentally. There was zero expectation, and I put no pressure on myself in training or in races.
I was lucky to have a straightforward pregnancy, and so I was able to continue running until Rowan was born. My approach throughout was just to take it easy and not push myself beyond what felt comfortable. Since I was quite fit when I got pregnant, I was still able to do a reasonable amount.
Q. I read somewhere that you entered a fell race 10 days before giving birth! How did that go?
A. Yes, it was a local 7km out-and-back race to the summit of Tinto hill. My reasoning was that I could just turn around when the last runner met me on their way back if necessary. In the event there was a comfortable cushion of runners between the sweepers and me.
I walked/jogged to the top and took my time running down the descent. I think the summit marshals were glad to see the back of me though – they made it clear that they had no training in delivering babies!
Q. What advice can you give women who want to carry on running and even racing whilst they’re pregnant?
A. Listen to your body, and do what feels comfortable. If you are used to running, there is no reason to stop when you become pregnant. I had some lower back pain around six months (brought on by attempting to scythe our long grass!), which forced me to take a few weeks off, and towards the end I also started to have Braxton Hicks contractions, which forced me to walk during some runs.
I think back and pelvic issues are fairly common, but there are things that can be done to help, so it’s worth seeing a good physiotherapist. I felt quite sick for the majority of my pregnancy (to my disappointment the magic 12 week mark came and went with no improvement!), but running was oddly helpful, and I always felt more like eating once I’d been out.
Q. Moving onto life as a mum, how was your return to running after giving birth?
A. I started running again roughly four weeks after giving birth, but only very gently (a few minutes of jogging, then walking on alternate days). After my six week GP check I picked things up again, but it took several months for me to start to feel anywhere near fit again.
Four and a half months after Rowan’s birth I ran my comeback race, the first of the 2018 British Fellrunning Championship races, in Ireland. Thanks to the technical course and the foggy weather, I managed to finish 1st lady, which was a massive boost that early in the season.
Since then I feel I’ve been gradually getting back to where I was pre-Rowan, but it’s a slow process, I’m not there yet.
Q. How do you juggle regular training with looking after Rowan? Does she ever accompany you on runs in a buggy?
A. I am now back at work, so my training happens almost exclusively in the early hours. During the week I run for 1-1.5 hours a day, usually at 5am. At weekends I run around 3 hours a day, again around 5am. I finish work at 3pm, so have the afternoons to spend with Rowan, and sometimes we go for a buggy run, and on other days we go for a hill walk in the sling.
Q. Focusing on the mental side of it all, how has motherhood affected your perspective on running in terms of motivation and risk taking?
A. Having Rowan has been the most amazing thing; I really love being a mum. It’s true that my perspective has changed, and many of the things I used to worry about no longer seem important. But I still love running and getting out into the hills.
Since free time is so scarce, I’ve tried to improve the quality of my training, to make it count for more. In terms of risk taking, I haven’t noticed any major changes. I think my descending speed is currently a little slower than before, but that is probably more to do with the break from serious racing.
Q. Looking to the future, what’s next for Jasmin Paris?
A. I’m currently training for the Spine race in January. Beyond that, I’m hoping to get an entry for next year’s Hardrock – we’ll see if I strike lucky!
Thanks Jasmin and good luck for the Spine Race and beyond!
Jasmin in an Inov-8 Brand Amassador.