Opinion: Jasmin Paris’s Barkley Marathons Finish Is a Moment of Reckoning for Ultrarunning

The trails will never be the same, writes our editor and accomplished ultrarunner Katelyn Tocci. And that's a good thing

When Jasmin Paris changed the history of ultrarunning at this year’s Barkley Marathons, she didn’t do so by gracefully breaking the tape.

Instead, she staggered to the iconic yellow gate at the entrance of Frozen Head State Park in rural Tennessee with blurry vision and aching limbs and grabbed onto it more out of desperation than triumph as her legs gave out from beneath her.

In what’s to become indeed an iconic image in the history of endurance sports, she hangs over the gate with a visible strand of drool hanging from her bottom lip. It was anything but “ladylike”—and that’s precisely the point.

Opinion: Jasmin Paris's Barkley Marathons Finish Is a Moment of Reckoning for Ultrarunning 1
Photo credit: Howie Stern

With courage and grit, she became the first woman to conquer the intimidating five loops within the 60-hour time limit. This trail ultramarathon, known as the “race that eats its young,” is notorious for being the toughest race in the world. Until last week, there were only 17 total finishers in history, all men.

This was not Paris’s first ultrarunning triumph; she has been smashing records for years. In 2019, she became the first woman to win the Montane Spine Race outright, a 268-mile ultramarathon in the United Kingdom. 

Not only did she shatter the previous Spine Race course record by 12 hours and beat all her female and male competitors, but she also took breaks at the checkpoints to pump breast milk for her newborn child.

As an ultrarunner myself, witnessing these special moments in women’s ultrarunning history is unforgettable. Watching Paris finish Barkleys and knowing the exhilarating feeling it leaves me with when crossing the finish line made me feel, in a way, united with her. 

Throughout history, inspiring women pioneers, such as Kathrine Switzer, have fought for recognition in the sports arena.

In 1967, Switzer registered for the Boston Marathon using only her initials, “K.V. Switzer,” because, in the 1960s, women were not allowed to run due to the common belief that women were simply incapable of running long distances.

During the race, officials realized she was a woman and attempted to physically remove her from the course. Even so, Switzer persevered and completed the marathon, becoming a trailblazer for women’s participation in endurance sports. 

Her actions helped challenge stereotypes and paved the way for greater inclusivity for women in athletics. 

Opinion: Jasmin Paris's Barkley Marathons Finish Is a Moment of Reckoning for Ultrarunning 2
Photo credit: David Miller

There’s footage from eight years ago of Lazarus Lake, the race director of the Barkley Marathons, stating, “The race is too hard for women. They are simply not tough enough to do it.”

Even though he plays the ruthless race director role and most likely made this comment to challenge women ultra runners even more, I’m glad Jasmin now can say, 

We are tough enough, Laz.

As a female ultra runner, I’ve encountered my fair share of chauvinism, particularly when I first began over a decade ago. 

The astonishment from onlookers when I clinched second place overall in a grueling, mountainous 100k race in Costa Rica and the comments and stares I (still) receive when passing men on the trail have been undeniable.

However, these experiences have never deterred or discouraged me. On the contrary, they’ve only made me tougher. I push my limits every day and relish the sense of accomplishment that comes with defying expectations. 

Bring on the comments. Bring on the stares.

The main takeaway here is not the race itself or a focus purely on athletic performance but the significance of Paris’s achievement as a defining moment for women worldwide.  

Unbelievably, women continue to fight for equal pay, fair representation, and maternity rights in and out of the athletic community. Paris’s accomplishment is a source of inspiration for countless women. Moments like these bring us together and one step closer to proving yes, we can.

Opinion: Jasmin Paris's Barkley Marathons Finish Is a Moment of Reckoning for Ultrarunning 3
Wikimedia

Reflecting on her victory, Paris humbly acknowledged this broader significance in an interview with BBC News, stating, “But I’m glad that I kind of did it for women worldwide as well – not just runners – but any woman that wants to take on a challenge and maybe doesn’t have the confidence. The idea that I might have inspired them to believe in themselves… that’s huge, especially all the young girls – you know how hard it is to keep young girls in sports.”

It’s important to note that Paris’s journey to victory was not without its trials.

It took three years of commitment and persistence to fulfill her dream of completing the Barkley Marathons. Yet, she refused to be discouraged, returning year after year with solid determination until finally seizing her moment on her third attempt, crossing the finish line with less than two minutes to spare—a remarkable demonstration of her perseverance.

Other women ultrarunners have attempted Barkleys, one of my all-time favorites, Courtney DauWalter, currently recognized as the GOAT by many. However, none have been able to accomplish what Paris accomplished this year.

My question is: What does Paris have that sets her apart from all of the other incredible ultra women out there spending hours in the pain cave and pushing limits? And could she please bottle some up and send it to me before my next big race?

Her story resonates far beyond the realm of sports, reminding us that success is born from perseverance and hard work. As Paris was quoted in the New York Times, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Barkley, it’s that you never know what you are capable of until you try.”

She is an example to follow for women everywhere, showing that with confidence, strength, and determination, we must continue to strive to reach our goals, whether it be working toward a promotion at work, crossing the finish line of our first 5K, or surviving long sleepless nights with a newborn child. 

In celebrating Jasmin Paris’s historic achievement, let’s draw inspiration from her journey and embrace the challenges ahead with the courage and confidence she has shown us. For in the pursuit of our dreams, it is through perseverance and resilience that we discover our true potential.

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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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