British Runner Becomes First Woman To Finish This Deeply Weird Race

The Barkley Marathons, allegedly 100 miles long, has only seen a fraction of its participants finish the race.

A British runner named Jasmin Paris became the first-ever woman to complete Tennessee’s oddball Barkley Marathons on Friday, finishing her fifth and final loop with just under two minutes until the 60-hour time limit.

An utterly exhausted Paris was pictured in tears on the ground with scratched-up legs after crossing the finish line. Speaking to BBC Scotland, photographer David Miller said that there “was a lot of anticipation” among the crowd who gathered to see if the 40-year-old would make it in time. Last year, she ended the race as the first woman to attempt a fourth loop.

“We heard shouting and a roar and it was people cheering Jasmin on,” Miller told the BBC. Paris was sprinting toward the end.

“She touched the gate and collapsed in exhaustion. It was the best thing I have ever seen, it was unbelievable,” Miller said.

The grueling annual event, inspired by an infamous prison break, began in its current form in 1989. Since then, only 20 runners have completed all five loops for a total of what is supposed to be around 100 miles.

The actual length can vary, with each loop stretching the length of about one full marathon (or 26 miles), according to a 2014 documentary on the race.

The Barkley is known in running circles and beyond for its strange traditions.

Runners are not told when the race will begin. Instead, they are called to the starting line with the sound of a conch shell, and set off when one of the co-founders, Gary Cantrell, lights his cigarette. A completed race consists of five loops, which are run clockwise and counterclockwise, but most people end up dropping out. Upon their return, a man plays taps on a bugle.

No GPS may be used, so runners have to memorize the race’s path, and also tear pages out of books corresponding to their bib number along the way.

While hundreds apply to run the race, submitting $1.60 as an application fee, only a few dozen are selected to participate. A letter of condolence informs them that they’ve been accepted.

“We don’t give the $1.60 back; we keep it. That’s my retirement plan,” Cantrell, who goes by the name Lazarus Lake, said in “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.”

First-time runners need to bring a license plate from their home state or nation, and repeat runners are charged whatever small item Cantrell could use more of.

“We charged socks until I had a lot of socks,” he said in the documentary.

An ultramarathon runner himself, Cantrell and a friend who goes by Raw Dog started the race as a mockery of James Earl Ray’s 1977 escape from the maximum-security Brushy Mountain State Prison. Ray was serving a life sentence for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Cantrell said that he saw how far Ray ran away from the prison — only about 8 miles in 55 hours through the Tennessee forest — and said he could do 100 miles.

“There is kind of a, maybe, a dark humor to all the things that go on,” Cantrell told the documentarians.

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