Only 15 Finishes in 35 Years – A Woman Finally Conquers the Sadistic Race Designed for Failure

In an unparalleled display of endurance, determination, and navigational prowess, Jasmin Paris became the first woman to conquer the Barkley Marathons, a race that’s as infamous for its failure rate as it is for the physical and mental demands it places on its participants.

The Barkley Marathons, set in the unforgiving terrain of Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, is not just a race; it’s a battle against nature, the mind, and the very limits of human endurance.

Paris’s historic finish, achieved with less than 100 seconds to spare, has shattered expectations and set a new precedent in the world of ultramarathoning.

Natural and Man-Made Obstacles

The Barkley Marathons is a 100-mile ultramarathon, but describing it merely by its distance does little justice to its difficulty.

The race encompasses a staggering 60,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss—that’s equivalent to

, all within the confines of a state park in Tennessee. The terrain varies from steep, slippery slopes to dense underbrush that can slow even the most experienced runners to a crawl.

The race’s inception by Gary Cantrell, also known by his nom de guerre Lazarus Lake, was inspired by a prison escape that occurred in the park’s vicinity. Cantrell famously mused that he could have covered 100 miles in the time it took the escapee to travel 8 miles, giving birth to the Barkley’s sadistic nature.

The Element of Surprise and the Test of Navigation

What sets the Barkley apart from other ultramarathons isn’t just the physical toll it exacts but the mental acumen it demands. The race begins with the whimsical lighting of a cigarette by Cantrell, a start time known only to him, which could be any time from midnight to noon. This unpredictability forces runners to be on constant alert, ready to begin at a moment’s notice.

The course itself is a labyrinth of unmarked trails, with runners relying solely on their map and compass skills to navigate. The race forbids modern conveniences like GPS, adding a layer of complexity and harking back to a purer form of orienteering.

Runners must locate hidden books scattered throughout the course and tear out pages corresponding to their bib numbers as proof of their journey—a task that becomes Herculean when sleep deprivation sets in.

A Race Designed for Failure

Cantrell has crafted the Barkley so that success is the anomaly, not the expectation.

The application process is shrouded in secrecy, requiring a written essay to an unpublished address, a testament to the race’s eccentric gatekeeping. Participants, once accepted, receive a “letter of condolences,” a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of the ordeal they’ve signed up for.

The entry fee is symbolic—a license plate, a piece of clothing, or a pack of cigarettes—further cementing the race’s unique culture.

Over the years, the Barkley has seen more than a thousand hopefuls at its start line, yet only a handful have finished within the 60-hour cutoff. The race’s design, with its brutal elevation changes, treacherous terrain, and navigational challenges, ensures that most will not see the finish line.

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Jasmin Paris: A Testament to Human Resilience

Jasmin Paris’s victory is not merely a personal achievement but a historic milestone for the Barkley Marathons. Her success shatters preconceived notions about the limits of endurance, showcasing remarkable resilience, strategic acumen, and an indomitable will. Completing the race in 59 hours, 58 minutes, and 21 seconds, Paris not only conquered the Barkley but also redefined the boundaries of possible in the ultramarathon world.

In the end, the Barkley Marathons remains the ultimate test of human endurance, a race that defies the odds and challenges the spirit. Jasmin Paris’s triumph will inspire a new generation of runners to face the Barkley’s merciless challenge, forever changing the narrative of what is achievable in the realm of extreme sports.


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