First Woman Completes Barkley Marathons. What Is That Exactly?

It takes place in rural Tennessee and Sir Charles is not involved

The legs of someone who attempted the Barkley Marathons.
The Barkley Marathons: definitely not easy on the legs.
Preston Keres/The Washington Post via Getty

Approximately seven years after Gary Robbins passed the finish line of the Barkley Marathons six seconds too late and therefore did not complete the most difficult endurance race in the United States in the allotted time period, British runner Jasmin Paris completed the 60-hour ultramarathon with 99 seconds to spare. In the nearly four-decade history of the annual race, which covers around 100 miles and is held in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, Paris is the first woman to finish within the 60-hour time limit. She finished in 59 hours, 58 minutes and 21 seconds.

Conceived as somewhat of a mockery of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin James Earl Ray, who ran only about 12 miles in 54.5 hours after escaping from a nearby prison in 1977, the Barkley Marathons was extended from 55 to 100 miles in 1989. To finish the race in time, masochists must complete five loops of approximately 20 miles each around the park with a climb and descent of 54,200 feet while relying on nothing more than a pair of water stations.

An Alternative Way to Keep a Running Streak Going
Don’t fret a missed day. We prefer to monitor weekly mileage.

Unlike most who attempt the Barkley Marathons, Paris, who told the BBC she was “overjoyed” and had a “strong feeling” while training, was able to complete the race. She was correct and that feeling must have been quite strong as only 20 people have finished the race within the allotted 60 hours since it was extended to 100 miles.

“The final minutes were so intense, after all that effort it came down to a sprint uphill, with every fiber of my body screaming at me to stop,” Paris told The New York Times. “I didn’t even know if I’d made it when I touched the gate. I just gave it everything to get there and then collapsed, gasping for air.”

Started one hour after the blowing of a conch shell and founder Gary Cantrell, not to be confused with the founder and lead guitar player of grunge gods Alice in Chains, lighting a ceremonial cigarette, the race changes course every year and requires applicants to submit a $1.60 entry fee, along with an essay explaining why they wish to compete.

The subject of the 2014 documentary The Race That Eats Its Young, the Barkley Marathons requires participants to find books along the course and remove a page to bring to Cantrell at the end of each lap to prove their completion of the route. Paris, who first competed in the Barkley Marathons in 2022 and completed a fourth loop, was one of five runners to complete this year’s event. Fun as it sounds, we won’t be entering next year’s race…because of the essay, or course.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!