Jasmin Paris becomes the first woman ever to complete a Barkley Marathon

British ultrarunner Jasmin Paris made history as the first woman to finish all five loops.


The 2024 Barkley Marathons – one of the world’s most notoriously tough and secretive races – concluded on Friday, with a record five finishers, including the first woman finisher. Over the course of 60 hours (2.5 days), the group of 40, who were invited to take on the infamous ultramarathon at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, was whittled down on each subsequent loop until only five remained at the finish.

Ukrainian-Canadian runner Ihor Verys was the first to reach the finish in 58:44:59, making him the both the first Ukrainian and Canadian runner to finish the Barkley Marathons. Next across the line was John Kelly in 59:15:38 — his third finish in seven attempts — followed by Jared Campbell of Utah in 59:30:32. This was Campbell’s fourth Barkley finish, the most of any competitor ever. Greig Hamilton of New Zealand was the fourth to finish, coming in at 59:38:42.

But all eyes were on British runner Jasmin Paris who made Barkley history, becoming the first woman to finish all five loops. The 40-year-old finished in 59:58:21, making the 60-hour cut-off by just under two minutes.

Five finishers in one year breaks the previous record of three, which first occurred in 2012 and was tied at Barkley in 2023. There were seven runners that started the fifth loop this year, which is also a record.

Top British ultrarunner and RW columnist Damian Hall, who ran Barkley for the first time in 2023, came agonisingly close to a finish. Hall was unable to complete his fifth loop, returning to camp from the wrong direction with 59 hours showing on the clock. Raichon also failed to complete the final loop.

How did the race unfold?

The race’s official reporter, Keith Dunn, announced the start of the race on X on Wednesday morning, but, in typically dramatic Barkley fashion, there had been some confusion.

Proceedings typically begin by Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell blowing a conch shell to signify a one-hour countdown until the start of the race, but at 3:16am, a car alarm sounded at the Big Cove campground where the race hub is based triggering a false alarm.

All was resolved roughly one hour later, though, when Cantrell blew the conch and the 40 runners taking part were issued their cheap identical digital watches to time themselves on the course. No phones, GPS devices, or watches are permitted (save for those watches issued by Cantrell) and runners can only use a compass and rudimentary map to navigate the infamously complex course through the park’s backcountry.

The course consists of five roughly 32-kilometre loops in the woods, and requires runners to rip pages from books on the course to prove they’ve followed the unmarked route. There’s approximately 4000m of vert per loop, which amounts to a total elevation gain of 2000m – more than twice the height of Mount Everest – over the 160-kilometre course. Each loop must be completed in 12 hours to even attempt the full course, with the overall cut-off time being 60 hours.

As of 5am local time on Friday, seven runners were out on the fifth and final loop of the Barkley. They were: Ihor Verys, John Kelly, Damian Hall, Greig Hamilton, Jasmin Paris, Jared Campbell and Sebastien Raichon.

Only 17 runners had completed all five loops since the race started in 1986.

During loop five of the Barkley, each runner alternates direction and this is set by the first runner to set off on the loop, who can choose which direction they want to go.

Verys was first to set out on loop five and opted to go clockwise, followed by Kelly (anti-clockwise), Hall (clockwise), Hamilton (anti-clockwise), Paris (clockwise), Campbell (anti-clockwise) and Raichon (clockwise).

Clockwise is considered the slightly more advantageous option, and a video captured by competitor Harvey Lewis (who had dropped out earlier in the race) reveals how, Campbell, who had finished loop four 10 minutes ahead of Paris, had given her the option of taking the clockwise option for the final loop, which she accepted. A heartwarming display of genuine sporting camaraderie.

Kelly and Verys had been first to finish loop four, and came in close together in 45:46:32 and 45:46:36.

Then came Hamilton, Hall and Campbell, again with little time between them, in 46:15:43, 46:16:27 and 46:19:25, respectively.

Just shy of 10 minutes later, Paris finished loop four in 46:29:12.

Raichon had appeared to have finished loop four, but failed to follow the course near the end of the loop. After correcting his error, he finished the loop in 47:45:39.

Twelve participants had completed the ‘Fun Run’ – that is, three loops of the five-lap sufferfest, the most since the inaugural Barkley 40 years ago.

Jasmin Paris had led a group of four out onto loop three, comprising Kelly, Hall and Verys. They were followed shortly after (around 25 minutes later) by a second group made up of Raichon, Hamilton and Campbell.

It appeared Kelly, Paris, Hall, Raichon and Verys had tackled loop two together, having finishing in roughly the same time (around the 19:27:49 mark).

Hamilton, Campbell and Gauduin may also have teamed up for some of loop two. They had returned to camp in 19:52:36, 19:52:47 and 19:52:48, respectively.

Albert Herrero Casas and last year’s winner Aurélien Sanchez also came in as a duo, roughly half an hour later, in 20:26:04 and 20:26:20, followed by Tomo Ihara and Thomas Dunkerbeck in 22:08:53 and 22:08:57, who also looked to have teamed up.

Running solo, however, was Guillaume Calmettes. He had finished loop two around six hours after the lead group in 26:25:29, and needed to turn it around quickly at the gate to make the cut off. He had begun loop three with about three minutes to spare.

Last year’s winner, Aurélien Sanchez, began loop three but had dropped out. ‘I don’t know how I did it last year,’ he told Dunn.

Renowned US backyard ultrarunner Harvey Lewis had dropped out on loop two, having struggled with the new course design and been unable to find anyone to pair up with. ‘I spent most of the night alone,’ he said on Instagram after. ‘I attempted to sleep a couple hours next to one book hoping that someone would catch up that I could team up with for the new area but didn’t find a team until it was too late.’

Kelly Halpin, Hendrik Boury, Nicolay Nachev, Marco Jaeggi, Harald Zundel, Mark Lattanzi, Jim Mann had also tapped out on loop two.

Just 22 of the 40 runners made it to the start of loop two.

Who took part in the Barkley Marathons 2024?

Since the race is shrouded in secrecy (this is to discourage spectators and thus protect the delicate ecological status of Frozen Head State Park), runners do not announce their participation and Dunn does not announce the list of starters.

However, as the race unfolded, Dunn since revealed athletes’ names in his reporting on X.

This has included France’s Aurélien Sanchez, who was first to finish at the Barkley last year, and 2023 runner-up John Kelly, who also finished the race in 2017. Barkley veteran Jared Campbell – the only person to have finished the Barkley on three occasions – was also back this year.

Other participants included Big’s Backyard Ultra winner Harvey Lewis and Barkley Fall Classic winner Maxime Gauduin, from France, with both automatically qualifying for the event.

UK participants included RW columnist and 2023 Spine Race winner Damian Hall, who tapped out of the Barkley Marathons last year on the fifth and final loop. With almost 53 hours on the clock, Damian, who was making his Barkley debut, returned to camp having been unable to find the first book on loop 5.

Jasmin Paris – overall winner of the Spine Race in 2019 – also returned for a second year. Last year at Barkley, she completed three loops of the course and collected nine pages on loop four before the cut-off time passed.

Here’s an incomplete list of names, which we gathered from Dunn’s reporting:

  • John Kelly
  • Jasmin Paris
  • Damian Hall
  • Sebastien Raichon
  • Ihor Verys
  • Jared Hamilton
  • Greig Hamilton
  • Maxime Gauduin
  • Albert Herrero Casas
  • Aurélien Sanchez
  • Tomo Ihara
  • Thomas Dunkerbeck
  • Kelly Halpin
  • Harvey Lewis
  • Hendrik Boury
  • Nicolay Nachev
  • Guillaume Calmettes
  • Marco Jaeggi
  • Harald Zundel
  • Mark Lattanzi
  • Jim Mann

What happened at the 2023 Barkley Marathons?

The Barkley Marathons is like a bus: you wait six years for a finisher and then three come along at once. That was the story at the 2023 edition.

First to finish was France’s Aurélien Sanchez, who completed the five-loop course in 58:23:12. US ultrarunner John Kelly – who also finished the race in 2017 – was second in 58:42:23 and Belgian Karel Sabbe rounded out the podium, finishing with just six minutes to spare in 59:53:33.

It was the first time since 2012 that three people had managed to finish the course, and other records tumbled last year, too. A new high of seven runners started the penultimate loop. This included Briton Jasmin Paris, who became only the second women to start a fourth loop at the Barkley.

Fellow Briton Damian Hall, winner of 2022 The Spine Race, was among four runners to start the fifth loop – also a record – but failed to complete it, having become lost on an area called Chimney Top.

Photo: inov-8 / David Miller

Want to know more about the Barkley Marathons? Here’s our essential guide to the world’s toughest race….

What is the Barkley Marathons?

Only the toughest running race on the planet, that’s what. More than 6,000 people have scaled Mount Everest; another 1,800 people have swum the British Channel. But only 17 people have completed this gruesomely tough race in Tennessee, US. That’s how hard it is. And most years, no one finishes at all.

Created by founder Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell, the Barkley has become known as ‘the race that eats its young’. It involves five loops of a (roughly) 32-kilometre course and there is a 60-hour cut-off point.

The history of the Barkley Marathons

In 1977, James Earl Ray, who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr, escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in the town of Petros in Morgan County, Tennessee. Sixty hours later, following a huge manhunt, Ray was found – having travelled only 12 kilometres. Unimpressed, Cantrell, an ultrarunner, thought he could cover 160 kilometres in that time. And so the Barkley was born.

Who was the first person to finish the Barkley?

Mark Williams, from the UK. In 1995, Williams completed the course in 59:28:48. It’s one of the breakthrough achievements in ultrarunning yet little is known about the enigmatic Williams, who turns down interviews.

Howie Stern / inov-8

Field size and composition

Despite its growing popularity, the race consists of only 40 runners each year. These are mainly comprised of elites, but each year Cantrell does select one runner who he deems to have ‘no business being here’. Known as the’“human sacrifice’, the participant is given bib number 1.

How do you qualify for the Barkley marathons?

The application process is a bit of a secret. In theory, one simply has to send in an application by post, along with a non-refundable registration fee of $1.60. However, when and how is a well-kept secret – and there is no race website. Usually, though, the race takes place on the first weekend of April – although it sometimes happens in March (in order to protect its secrecy).

A brief look at the course

The course is overgrown, unmarked and exceptionally tough.

Oh, and hilly. The total elevation gain (60,000 feet) if you complete all five loops is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice.

Runners wade through thorns and briers, which rip clothing and legs to shreds. For that reason, runners tend to wear full-length trousers and tops. Fool is the runner who attempts the Barkley in a singlet and shorts.

This year, it appears the course has been altered to make it even harder, with two new sections.


How the race works

What better way to signal the impending start of a race than by the blowing of a conch shell? This happens between midnight and noon, usually on a Saturday, but it’s all at the discretion of the race director at conch-playing virtuoso Cantrell.

Once the conch is sounded, the race will begin an hour later. At that point, runners line up at a yellow gate at a campground within Frozen Head State Park. At the lighting of Cantrell’s cigarette – seriously – the race begins. Runners then have 60 hours to complete the race.

As they head off, runners must touch the yellow gate – and do so again upon the completion of each lap. Only then can they can go to their crew and recover (although anyone looking to finish will have to keep sleep to an absolute minimum).

Why is the Barkley marathon so difficult?

To complete the race, you must complete five loops of the course. To make things more difficult, the first two loops are done clockwise; the second two anti-clockwise; and the final one at the leader’s choosing (with subsequent runners, if there are any, alternating the route selected by the leader).

Each loop must be completed in 12 hours to even attempt the full course. If attempting the ‘Fun Run’ – a misleadingly named term for the completion of three loops – one is allowed a time limit of 13 hours, 20 minutes for each loop (40 hours total).

How many have finished the Barkley marathons?

Only 17 of the hardiest souls have completed the course. Jared Campbell has the most finishes – three – and now, only one woman has completed the Barkley.

  • Mark Williams (1995)
  • David Horton (2001)
  • Blake Wood (2001)
  • Ted Kaiser (2003)
  • Mike Tilden (2004)
  • Jim Nelson (2004)
  • Brian Robinson (2008)
  • Andrew Thompson (2009)
  • Jonathan Basham (2010)
  • Brett Maune (2011, 2012)
  • John Fegyveresi (2012)
  • Jared Campbell (2012, 2014, 2016, 2024)
  • Nick Hollon (2013)
  • Travis Wildeboer (2013)
  • John Kelly (2017, 2023, 2024)
  • Aurélien Sanchez (2023)
  • Karel Sabbe (2023)
  • Ihor Verys (2024)
  • Greig Hamilton (2024)
  • Jasmin Paris (2024)

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