Ultramarathon runner Jasmin Paris poured every ounce of energy into sprinting up the last hill of the Barkley Marathons, reaching the finish line just 99 seconds before the 60-hour cutoff. With each step, she edged closer to etching her name in history as the first woman to complete one of the world’s most grueling races.

What is the Barkley Marathons?

The Barkley Marathons consists of five 20-mile loops through Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee. Each runner has 12 hours to complete each loop, for a total of 100 miles. Over 60 hours, runners traverse a mountainous landscape, climbing 1,200 feet in elevation on each loop. The race has no marked trails, and runners must navigate the loops using a topographical map and compass. Throughout the course are books where runners are required to tear out a page corresponding with their race number. Since the first race in 1986, there have only been 26 finishers.

Jasmin Paris’s Journey

Paris’s journey to making history began in 2008 after graduating from Liverpool University. It was sparked by a race known as a fell race, held in the mountains of the UK with unmarked trails and treacherous terrain. Paris rose to the top of the sport and went on to compete in numerous ultramarathons, including the 268-mile Spine Race, which she won in 2019.

In 2022, Paris competed in the Barkley Marathons for the first time. Each year, she analyzed how to improve and prevent injuries on the course. In 2023, she incorporated strength training into her routine, running 60-90 minutes a day around her full-time job as a veterinarian, with longer runs on weekends.

“I did significantly more strength work this time around, which strengthened my chronically problematic (ACL deficient) left knee – it was 100% throughout and after Barkley, better than it has been for years,” she told Runnersworld.

The Message

While Paris made history as the first woman to complete the marathon, her motivation went beyond achieving recognition.

“I’m really delighted about the fact that a woman has finished it, but really, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” she told CNN after the race. “And I’ve never felt that being a woman was a barrier to that.”

Even though she never felt disadvantaged, Paris knew that finishing the race could inspire women worldwide.

“I was aware beforehand that if I managed to pull it off, I would not only disprove the belief (held by many) that a woman wasn’t capable of finishing the race, but that I could perhaps inspire women across the world, to believe in their capabilities and follow their dreams.”

Jasmin Paris covered 100 miles and climbed the equivalent elevation of two Mount Everests. For 60 grueling hours, she pushed her body and soul to the limit, conquering the seemingly impossible. And she did it.

Her story shows us that we all have the potential for greatness. Sometimes, all it takes is a spark to ignite the belief that we can conquer what others deem impossible.The question is, will you be the spark for your friends, family, and community? Will you be the one who ignites the fire within them?