Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jasmin Paris About Her 2024 Barkley Marathons Finish

An in-depth interview with Jasmin Paris after her finish of the 2024 Barkley Marathons where she became the event’s first ever women’s finisher.

By on March 27, 2024 | Comments

Jasmin Paris (U.K.) made history on March 22 in the waning minutes of the 2024 Barkley Marathons, when she came around the final corner of the finishing road. No woman had ever finished four laps of five-lap race before, let alone the whole thing. After two previous attempts at the event in 2022 and 2023, Paris put in a final, determined sprint to the sound of everyone in the area providing every ounce of encouragement they could. She arrived at the yellow gate start/finish line in a time of 59 hours, 58 minutes, and 21 seconds, with just 99 seconds left before the 60-hour cutoff.

In this deep-dive interview, Paris talks about how her lead-up to this year’s Barkley paralleled that of the 2019 Spine Race, injury and chronic fatigue, the self-belief that got her through when many others would have quit, and the final hours and then minutes of the race.

Learn more about this year’s Barkley Marathons in our results article.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner - running

Jasmin Paris on her way to becoming the first woman to finish the Barkley Marathons at the 2024 edition. Photo: David Miller

[Editor’s Note: The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.] 

iRunFar: A huge congratulations to you, I hope you are so proud. How are you feeling?

Paris: I’m feeling pretty good. The swollen legs are still there, but they’re getting better. I’ve got a bit of tendinitis. It’s funny, the various injuries you pick up along the course. They hurt for a certain period, and then the next injury supersedes them. Then, when you’re recovering, those injuries that you’ve forgotten about because there was something more painful come back because they were still there underneath it, but they were just being overshadowed by something else.

iRunFar: You can only feel one at a time when you’re moving, but when you stop you feel all of them.

Paris: Exactly. So, I’ve got a bit of tendinitis. I bashed my knee at one point pretty hard. And obviously, the scratches, which are just itchy now. They look quite dramatic, but when they’re compared with everything else, they’re pretty superficial.

iRunFar: They do look gnarly. That’s the Barkley glow, isn’t it?

Paris: I took some photos of my legs at the end. I wore shorts for the first two or three loops, and then three-quarter lengths. But they’re pretty scratched up because briars are getting caught, and you push forward, because you can’t stop and remove each one when you get them. You just keep going until they get stuck, basically.

iRunFar: If you stop for each one, you’d never make it around a loop.

Paris: No, you wouldn’t. You have to stop for just the ones that are threatening to cut your throat.

iRunFar: Thanks for taking the time to do this. You have a full-time job. You are a full-time mom. And I bet your media requests are crazy right now.

Paris: Yeah, it’s insane. From all over the world. Canada and TV in Australia, it’s just bizarre.

iRunFar: But very cool, though. If I had to choose a representative for trail running and ultrarunning to speak with the masses and share the story of the sport, I couldn’t pick a better person.

Paris: That’s really kind of you to say.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner

Jasmin Paris touches the yellow gate and becomes the first woman to finish the Barkley Marathons, completely and totally spent. Photo: Howie Stern

iRunFar: I wanted to start with that sort of question. The hopes and dreams of the sport were riding on your effort last week, but I also think this was something that you personally really wanted to accomplish. I read your blog posts after your prior Barkley attempts, and I think it got in your bones, that you knew you could finish it and you wanted to finish it. What was it like to spend that time in that dueling space representing the sport, but also having this hot, internal fire?

Paris: It’s true. It was that hot, internal fire that was the primary driver. I think you need to really want this race to finish it. This year I just had a feeling, even a couple of months out, that I was going to do it. I can’t describe it. Things went well during training, and I felt a lot stronger.

I’ve done a lot more strength work than I had in previous years. I have no anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee. I tore it completely when I was 17 in a riding accident. I never had it reconstructed. That’s actually been okay until maybe about four years ago when I kind of slipped a bit, and since then, it was kind of a bit of a problem.

I had an MRI and the doctor basically said, at some point, you’re going to need a knee transplant. He said if you want to carry on running, I recommend you continue running and stick to soft surfaces and nothing “too undulating” were the words he used.

iRunFar: [laughs] “Nothing too undulating.”

Paris: That was what they said. And then they send you off. That was maybe a year and a half ago. But anyway, I did a lot of strength work, and it was amazing because my knee is better now than it has been for years. And I just feel a lot stronger in some ways as well.

Also, I had COVID-19 not that long before I ran Barkley for the first time. I don’t know if it was that, or if it was just a combination of having young children, and working hard, and everything else that happened during that period. I had this kind of chronic fatigue thing. It wasn’t diagnosed, I just was tired a lot. It sort of waxed and waned for the next year and a half.

I feel like it went away sometime this autumn, and it was amazing. I don’t know if it was a combination of really looking after myself a bit more, making sure I got more sleep, and eating well. So this year I just suddenly felt better, and I felt the training went well, and I felt just really positive about the race.

Basically, I went into it with the inner certainty that I could do it. Obviously, I then had to take the steps to make that possible.

I basically hung on as much as I could with the faster people in the first three loops so that I’d get a bit of a head start to be in a position for the last two loops where I actually could make it around time-wise.

I think it all came down to that kind of self-belief that I could do it. Because in the last loop if you look at the timings, actually I should have said, well, you’re not going to make it, even from hours out. But somehow adrenaline took over and drove me. And I never really lost the belief that I could make it until actually about the last kilometer when suddenly I was like, I’m not sure I can sprint up that hill. I had nothing left. I’ve never been that desperate to collapse down on the ground before.

In summary, I just had a really strong feeling that I could do it this year. Looking back, it’s amazing. I can’t really understand why I didn’t give up, given all the figures that I had in front of me to say that it wasn’t going to be possible. I still genuinely thought I was going to do it.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner - drinking

Jasmin Paris takes a deep drink at the fire tower during the 2024 Barkley Marathons. Photo: David Miller

iRunFar: Self-efficacy is such a powerful tool. Do you have a sense of where it came from yet? Was it from feeling physically better in the fall, coming around from that long-lasting fatigue? Was it just a sense of, okay, I know Barkley enough now?

Paris: It was a combination of those things. You know just sometimes when you’re running and you’re kind of fit, and it starts to feel easy and good to be going up a steep hill? That was the feeling I started to get in training again, and it’s been a while since it felt like that. It was like having a kind of secret weapon, because the last few times I’ve been to Barkley, that hasn’t been there. It was like going back to the times when I felt like that again. But this time I knew that I also had the experience of having done some seven loops on Barkley, largely on my own.

I don’t want to over-dramatize it when I say chronic fatigue. I’ve done lots of things in between, haven’t I? It’s subtle, but suddenly, it just wasn’t quite right. You just know your body, don’t you? And I just knew it was not quite ready. I just really wanted it as well. The knowledge that I didn’t want to keep flying across the world, I feel bad about that.

iRunFar: “This is my last carbon commitment right now.”

Paris: You get in your head. I’ve got to put a cap at some point because I’m not going to keep doing this every year. I’m not saying I’ll never fly long distances again. I’d love to do the Hardrock 100 at some point, so that was in my head as well. The whole family has to fit around it, and my husband comes away for 10 days. He misses ski touring trips. It’s been a big project for the last few years for the whole family.

iRunFar: That’s dedication. To rewind to the beginning when Barkley first got in your head, can you remember that now? Can you conjure up when you started hearing about Barkley and you’re like, “I think I’d like to do that?”

Paris: Yeah. I heard about Barkley quite a long time ago, and maybe even started following it a little bit. I was aware of it basically. And I was aware of there being loops in a forest. And the idea seemed a bit weird to me, why would you run loops in the forest?

It was after the 2019 Spine Race that Laz [the race director Gary Cantrell aka Lazarus Lake] said that he would like to see me come and race Barkley. Somebody said to me in those interviews after the Spine that essentially there’s an open invitation. So, I was aware of it at that point, but it still took time. Basically, it was when my son was a baby. Something just switched, and suddenly, I wanted to do it. It’s that sort of race where it’s taking on that challenge of you don’t know whether you can do it. I find that intriguing and tantalizing. But it did take a little while for me to want to do it.

It would have been 2021, when my son was still a baby, that I suddenly wanted to do it. That was a really exciting feeling. I was like, I have a focus, I know what I want to do. And maybe that’s one of those things that both times, with the Spine and with this, it’s been after when my kid’s been a baby, and I’ve been coming back to running. And suddenly, it’s almost like a seesaw. It’s almost like I rediscovered running at that point. It’s like you’re learning to be a runner all over again.

And you get that little bit of a rest from all the crazy racing pressure. And you reset, and you have to get back fit again. It’s nice to have a challenge to draw you back into it and give you something to aim for. Both times, after having a kid, I signed up for something that would take me out of my comfort zone.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner - after finish

After the completion of two Fun Runs in the past two years, the third time was the charm for Jasmin Paris and she finished the 2024 Barkley Marathons. Photo: David Miller

iRunFar: Is it fair to say that Barkley has taken you out of your comfort zone a couple of times?

Paris: Yeah. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That’s the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself. I’ve had hard races before but often they might have been hard because you had a bad day or whatever. This was just hard because…

iRunFar: …It was hard.

Paris: Everything went fairly well, but it’s just hard. I’m proud of myself for picking it up. Every time something goes wrong in that race, you have to be able to just start again in a way. Because you know that you’re going to get lost. Everybody gets lost. John Kelly got lost loads of times this year.

iRunFar: He knows it better than anybody.

Paris: I was with Jared Campbell. He’s finished it more times than anyone else. We still went wrong, you know? If these guys are going wrong, then of course I’m going to go wrong as well. So you know you’re going to get lost. You just need to be able to work out where you are and correct it before it becomes an unsurmountable error.

You know that you’re going to feel sick. You know that you’re going to be falling asleep on your feet. You know that you’re going to get scratched by briars. You know that you’re going to spend time thinking, why am I doing this? You know that you’re going to feel lonely.

You just have to get through it and say, that’s behind me now. There’s no point in worrying about it. I’m just going to keep going.

I think that’s what really gets people in this race because there’s always the option to drop out and then at some point, people do. It’s more the mental load. They can’t bear those continuous kinds of challenges.

iRunFar: The non-stop things coming at you.

Paris: Laz really loves that. He builds on that as much as he can. Everything he throws at that race, he does to increase that uncertainty for runners. The start time, when you don’t know when it’s going to start, so you go to bed, and you’re trying to sleep essentially a night, but you don’t know if you might at any moment get woken up. And it’s difficult, though, because sometimes you’ll wake up in the middle of the night, like, it’s going to sound…

iRunFar: Right this second. [laughs]

Paris: In fact, a car alarm went off this year, and everybody got up and dressed. That was about an hour before the actual conch sounded. So there’s all these kind of weird twists that he has.

This year, for instance, he had a touchscreen watch. And you didn’t know if you were going to be the runner that got the touchscreen watch out of the 40 watches he gives out. They’re all really random watches. Mine, you couldn’t see the screen that well, so you had to angle it at a perfect angle to see it. But he said this touchscreen watch, once you touch it, you won’t be able to tell what time it is because you’ll never be able to work out how to reset it.

It’s the sort of thing he loves. He loves to make people uncertain.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner - collapsed at finish

The sheer exhaustion of the effort was plain to see in Jasmin Paris at the finish of the 2024 Barkley Marathons. Photo: David Miller

iRunFar: Who gets the touchscreen of doom? For the people following along, there were milestones that people were counting up for you. There was finishing the Fun Run in the fastest time that a woman had done. There was you getting further on loop four than you had done in the past. There was you being the first woman to finish loop four, being the first woman to start loop five, and then to finish. Were you looking at those landmarks too, or were you living a totally different experience?

Paris: No, those were zero things for me. My aim was just to finish loop five. I wasn’t going there to do four loops. I was going there to do five loops. The only reason I thought about what time I finished loop four was how much time I had left to do loop five. It was actually afterward I saw the tweet about the fastest Fun Run. I was like, oh yeah I did the fastest Fun Run, didn’t I?

iRunFar: “I did a good Fun Run.”

Paris: Yeah. I was glad that I had done the three loops in 32 hours something, but only because that gave me almost 28 hours to do the last two loops. That was roughly what I wanted to try and have the last two loops.

iRunFar: What was it like for you to start out on loop five and to go into that territory that you’ve been thinking of? It’s like you can taste that the end is out there, but it’s still so far away.

Paris: In some ways, it starts to get easier because you know that you’re just racing the last time through this. That’s another thing about this course because it keeps going back over the same loop. When you change direction, you basically come down from a hill and then you have to go back up it again, and that’s demoralizing. Knowing that even if you desperately suffer on the loop, you have to go out and do the same thing again. But when you get to the fifth loop, you finally know that this is the last time you have to do this hill, and you’re going, goodbye meat grinder!

iRunFar: “Goodbye, hill!”

Paris: Hopefully, I’m never going to see you again.

Between loops four and five, I was in a bit of a state to be honest. I felt pretty sick, and then I couldn’t really eat, so I forced down a rice pudding. Somebody told me, “Jared is getting ready to go. It’s clockwise at the moment. If you go now, you’ll go clockwise.” I knew that’s what I needed to do. Timewise, it’s a slightly easier route.

At that point, I couldn’t even really stand up. I couldn’t eat anything. I tried to force down a rice pudding and then I basically threw it up again. At the same time, I was standing up and trying to get my stuff ready. Jared was extremely gentlemanly. He said he was ready to go but if I was almost ready to go, then it was my choice. If I want to go clockwise, he said I can go clockwise. That was so kind of him because he was clearly stronger than me and in terms of where his ability to do the anti-clockwise loop versus clockwise was. He obviously knows the course better than me as well. He showed that because he finished with what, 20 minutes to go. So yeah, he went anti-clockwise, and I went clockwise, and that probably saved the race as well. Hats off to him.

That shows the spirit of the ultrarunning community. It was a pleasure to share such miles on the trail with him and with everybody. I think if you share those kinds of experiences that we had, then you have this common ground that is very difficult to create in day-to-day life. You’ve been somewhere. You’ve pushed yourself in a unique way, together.

Jasmin Paris with Jared Campbell - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner

Jasmin Paris talks to four-time finisher Jared Campbell after the finish of the 2024 Barkley Marathons. Photo: Howie Stern

iRunFar: A unique form of intimacy. Did you sense the time urgency on loop five? Were you constantly trying to see the time on your watch, “I need to pass this spot by about this time.”

Paris: I was really aware of time. I made a couple of mistakes, one of which cost me probably 15 to 20 minutes.

iRunFar: Wow.

Paris: I knew that was a massive deal. When I was about six hours out, I had  a clear idea of how tight it was going to be. I think at that point, I realized it was possible but it was going to be really tight.

And certainly, for the fire tower, I knew how fast we’d done it in loop one, but then on loop one, you’re fresh. Loop one is like a normal trail race. But it’s not like that once you get to loop five, and I knew that was asking myself to go not that much slower than I did on loop one for loop five so I relied on the adrenaline to get me through.

iRunFar: It must have truly been adrenaline because it came down to about as close to the wire as it can be for a 60-hour race.

Paris: Yeah, I think it was. I still shudder to think of that last kilometer. It was so painful, and I was just like, keep running as long as you can.  A little kid on a bike said, “You can do it!” And this guy next to me was like, “Your arms! Arms! Pump your arms!”

iRunFar: Oh my goodness.

Paris: And he’s going beside me shouting, “Arms!” I tried to look at my watch and he was like, “Do not look at your watch! Arms! Arms! Keep going!” It was really clear that I couldn’t stop, and I was so desperate to stop. I’ve heard before, if you’re really desperate to slow down, then one thing you can do is to just go faster. I was like, I’ve got no choice, I’m going to just push faster.

I was just amazed because I would never have believed at that moment that I could go deeper than I was already going. I actually just got faster, and the gate was getting closer and I was just thinking to myself, get there. You either pass out or you’re going to get to the gate. I was so desperate not to have to do those five loops again. That scenario played through my head, that I wouldn’t make it and then I’d have to do it again.

iRunFar: The Gary Robbins scenario, right?

Paris: Yeah. And Gary Robbins was there watching, so he totally went through my head. The thought of doing those five loops again, I was just like, I’m going to run this to the point that I collapse, basically. And it obviously helps to have everybody standing there, and they went mad. There are not that many people there because it’s just this forest in Tennessee, but around the gate what they didn’t have in number, they made up for in excitement and energy. They were so involved in it.

It was an immense feeling, and really intense because it felt like they were the Barkley family they talk about. People who have been there have shared this experience. You have this common ground. The crew see what you go through. It was them cheering me, and was definitely special, and it definitely helped get me there. But I could hardly see them by the end. I was like just like, there’s the gate and everything else was a bit blurry. It was a bit of a dream getting those final gasps of oxygen.

iRunFar: It looked like real oxygen deprivation was occurring. In photos and video, the color was gone from your face.

Paris: Yeah. And when I went to lay on the ground it was not like, you just breathe hard for a moment. I was just breathing hard and that’s when I had to lay down because I don’t know how long I’m going to be breathing like this.

iRunFar: I love the anecdote about the fellow down the road telling you to pump your arms. That’s a metaphor for the whole experience, that you do so much of it alone, but you do it in concert with the other runners, the crews, the people cheering you. Those are little voices in your head.

Paris: Absolutely. Because of the changing directions you cross with people, especially in the very late last loops. You know, maybe somebody coming in from their Fun Run, and you are going out on your fourth loop. And it’s nice because that little instant you’re together and you share something. You give each other something to carry on with.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner - with husband at finish

Jasmin Paris at the finish of the 2024 Barkley Marathons with her husband Konrad Rawlik. Photo: David Miller

iRunFar: I love that. My last question for you. It’s a couple of days in arrears now. You talked about how you were intrinsically motivated to do this. Has the weight of what you accomplished on behalf of all of the women of trail running and ultrarunning and of just women in general, has that started to set in?

Paris: Absolutely. I knew that would be the case. I went there with this intrinsic desire to see whether I could do it, but it was definitely a thought that I was aware of, that if I managed to do it, then it would be a huge thing for women. That was definitely a component of it. It just couldn’t be the only thing. It wasn’t the only driver, and it wasn’t the kind of intrinsic desire that I had to do it.

This is the wonderful thing about it, it’s had this wonderful kind of ripple effect. For me, it’s about women in sport. To be honest, it’s not just women, but to encourage people to get out and do sport and have fun doing sport. And if they’re up for wanting to challenge themselves, then go ahead and take those risks and sign up for whatever that thing might be.

There’s a big problem with girls dropping out of sport at quite a young age at school. I’ve been told lots of times since the Spine about having inspired kids to keep up with football that they were nervous about doing with the boys, that type of thing. Those stories are really inspiring to me.

It’s wonderful now because I don’t need to focus anymore on this intrinsic desire to do it. Now, I can give all my energy to seeing others. And that’s why I’m doing the interviews. Maybe that’s now going to help spread this message about getting out there and having fun doing sport, believing that you can do it, and having a go.

I’m involved in the Green Runners as well, so there’s the dilemma of flying out to Barkley. I knew that my flying out to Barkley was going to be absolutely offset by all the talking I could do about it if I managed to pull it off. Using my platform to try and reduce our impact, our carbon footprint, and make our sport a greener place. I’m delighted to have a platform for that now too.

iRunFar: A huge, huge congratulations to you.

Paris: Thanks very much.

Jasmin Paris - 2024 Barkley Marathons winner - shoes

Jasmin Paris’ shoes at the 2024 Barkley Marathons. Paris wore the same pair of Inov-8 shoes all three years she’s run the event. Photo: Jasmin Paris

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.