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British runner Jasmin Paris becomes first woman to finish Barkley Marathons, just 99 seconds before time limit expired

Felicity McCabe/Guardian/eyevine/Redux

British runner Jasmin Paris became the first woman ever to finish the legendary Barkley Marathons on Friday.

According to Keith Dunn who attends the race and provides updates on X – formerly known as Twitter – Paris finished the grueling course with a time of 59 hours, 58 minutes and 21 seconds; just 99 seconds before the 60-hour time limit elapsed.

The 40-year-old veterinarian was photographed collapsing over the finish line as she completed the race.

Paris was one of five finishers in the 2024 edition of the Barkley Marathons, with Ukrainian Ihor Verys finishing first, American’s John Kelly and Jared Campbell finishing second and third respectively and Greig Hamilton from New Zealand finishing fourth.

Verys, who finished with a time of 58:44:59, told Dunn: “Maybe you should add a sixth loop.”

Conversely, Campbell – who completed the Barkley Marathons for the fourth time with a time of 59:30:32 – said: “That new section is brutal. You are a bad man.”

Paris made headlines in 2019 when she won the 2019 Spine Race, becoming the first woman to win the 268-mile race as well as taking 12 hours off the previous record.

The Barkley Marathons has become famous for its grueling, near-impossible nature. It is thought by many to be the hardest, most brutal foot race in the world.

The famed ultramarathon, the brainchild of runner Gary Cantrell, takes place in Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park. The route was inspired by the 1977 prison escape of James Earl Ray, who assassinated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ray traveled only eight miles in just over two days after escaping Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary before he was recaptured, leading Cantrell to muse that he could cover 100 miles in the same amount of time.

The route is long and indistinguishable, the inclines are steep, and the terrain unforgiving, but that’s only if you’re able to navigate the opaque entry system and earn a spot on the start line in the first place.

The race consists of five loops of around 20 miles each, for a total of between 100 to 130 miles through brushy mountains with an elevation gain of around 63,000 feet. Athletes run the course over three sleepless days and nights – and there are no aid stations, phones or GPS to help with navigation. Getting lost – as well as falling and getting injured in the brush – is par for the course.

The ultramarathon is marked with unique unmanned checkpoints, each of which contains a paperback book. Athletes must rip out a page corresponding to their bib number and have all the book pages in hand at the end of each loop to prove they reached each checkpoint.

The races’ tough nature makes it a tough finish for many, with no finishers between 2017 and 2023. It has a dropout rate of 99%.

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