The Barkley Marathon

Jasmin Paris has entered the history books as the first woman to conquer the Barkley Marathon. Join us as we unravel the mysteries surrounding this secretive and legendary ultramarathon.

By Claudine D

On 23rd March 2024,  Jasmin Paris, a British mother of two, a veterinarian, and a research scientist, etched her name into the history books as the first woman to complete the legendary Barkley Marathon.

Known as ‘The Race That Eats Its Young,’ the race is renowned as one of the world’s toughest ultramarathons. Since this groundbreaking news, our curiosity about this secretive marathon has reached new heights and we’ve been left with countless questions: What is the Barkley Marathon? How did it start? How many people run it? And how many have completed it? How do you even enter!?

In our quest for answers, we got digging, and found out everything you need to know about this (frankly insane!) ultramarathon.

Jasmin night running by @HowieSternPhotos

The Origins

The Barkley Marathons were created by Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell and Karl ‘Raw Dog’ Henn. They were named after Laz’s neighbour and friend Barry Barkley. In keeping with Laz’s love for the macabre, the race was inspired by James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King. Ray made a break from a nearby prison in 1985 and made it a grand total of 8 miles into the Tennessee wilderness over 54 hours. Upon hearing this, Laz and his friends thought ‘we could do better than that’ and thus the Barkley Marathons were born.

So How Do I Enter?

Veiled in secrecy for 35 years, the application fee stands at a staggering $1.60. The Barkley is limited to 35 runners and usually fills up quickly the day registration opens. Applicants must submit an essay for consideration, and if accepted, the entry fee is determined by Laz. This year, it was Under Armour Undeniable Crew Socks (any colour!). Additionally, runners must bring a licence plate, which Laz strings up in the camp. Previous finishers can skip the licence plate requirement and gain race entry with a packet of Camel cigarettes…

Laz captured by Jeremy Liebman for Red Bull

What’s the Route?

Before the race begins, Laz hands out one ‘Master Map’. This is handed around all the competitors who can use it to make notes on their own map. The current course consists of an approximately 20-mile unmarked loop, with no aid stations except for water at two points along the route. Once a competitor has started a loop (noted by the time they touch the famous yellow gate after collecting their bib) they are not allowed to receive any assistance, other than from fellow runners, until they have finished that loop. Starting and ending at the Yellow Road Gate, runners must complete this loop five times, totalling approximately 100 miles. Loops two and four are taken counterclockwise, while the direction of loop five alternates after the first-placed runner’s choice. The cut-off time for the 100-mile race is 60 hours overall, or an average of 12 hours per loop, which averages out to approximately 13 hours and 20 minutes per loop. This also includes any rest/food time between loops.


'Good Luck Morons' cake provided by founder of the race Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell

Sounds Easy!

Depending on the start time, some loops are run at night. The staggering elevation gain and descent, totalling 54,200 feet—the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice—adds to the frankly insane challenge. All this and oh, you must complete the race in under 60 hours! As of 2018, unsurprisingly, about 55% of races concluded without any finishers. When a runner drops out of the race, a bugler plays ‘Taps’ upon their return to the start/end point.

How Do You Know When the Race is Starting?

You don’t… The Barkley starts any time from midnight to noon on race day, with one hour till race start signalled by blowing a conch. The race officially begins when Laz lights one of his beloved Camel cigarettes.

So how do they know if you’ve completed all loops?

In order to prove you’ve made it around the course, you must look out for the Barkley’s unusual checkpoints – books! Hidden beneath rocks, nestled in trees, and concealed within ravines, there are between 9 and 14 books to locate. Runners tear out the page corresponding to their race number as proof. Because of this, competitors are only issued odd numbers. If you don’t return with all 13 pages per loop you are not eligible to complete another loop.

Too Much?!

Does tackling the full 100 miles seem too daunting? Have no fear – Laz is here! He’s created a ‘Fun Run’ alternative where runners complete three loops instead of five. Many see finishing this Fun Run as a noteworthy lifetime achievement, while some simply aim to cross the finish line. In 2023, Jasmin Paris actually became the fourth woman to complete the 3 loop ‘Fun Run’ twice and only the second to start the 4th loop. Of course, she went the extra (40) miles this year, and completed the full course becoming the first woman to ever achieve such a feat! Fancy the shorter route? Don’t worry, you will still be able to see all the sights! From Meth Lab Hill to Rat Jaw, Bad Thing, and Frozen Head, the shorter route still includes the intriguingly named locations along the loop. Lovely!

Jasmin catches up with Laz after the final loop by @HowieSternPhotos

Meth Lab Hill

Laz captured by Jeremy Liebman for Red Bull

What Do You Win?!

So you’ve run for 60 hours on little to no sleep, what happens next?! A trophy? A medal? Erm… nope! You win nothing. But you do get to stop running, which let’s face it, is probably the greatest prize of all! Of course, completing the Barkley Marathons comes with a far more prestigious honour. You join an elite group of only 20 individuals who have conquered the race since it was extended to 100 miles in 1989. Now, let’s talk about Jasmin Paris. The British mother of two became the first ever woman to complete the race, crossing the finish line with a mere 99 seconds to spare before the 60-hour cut-off, and solidifying her place in history. Paris’s story embodies extraordinary resilience and unwavering perseverance, serving as a beacon of inspiration for athletes and women worldwide. Her journey motivates individuals to push their limits and pursue greatness. It’s a remarkable achievement, truly glorious in every sense. We hope Jasmin is having a well-deserved rest!

Finished it! By @HowieSternPhotos

Want to know more?
In 2014 directors Annika Iltis and Timothy James Kane created an award-winning documentary about the marathon- The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. This oddly inspiring, and wildly funny documentary reveals all about the sports world’s most guarded secret and stars Laz. If you’re in the UK you can rent it on Amazon for 0.99p

‘Pilot Field’ also released their 2023 Barkley Marathons Documentary on YouTube. Watch it here.

Stay up-to-date with Jasmin on X  by following her here.

Fancy taking on the Barkley Marathon? Even entering is a challenge shrouded in mystery. You will most probably find info on this unofficial page.  Additionally, we recommend checking out Matt Mahoney’s FAQ’s here.

Want some tips?! Read race legend Frozen Ed Furtaw’s book- Tales From Out There: The Barkley Marathons, The World’s Toughest Trail Race.

Want more imagery inspo? Check out photographer Howie Stern’s images from the 2024 race @HowieSternPhotos

We recommend checking out this 2014 documentary


Images of Jasmin by the amazing @HowieSternPhotos

Images of Laz (and title image) by Jeremy Liebman for Red Bull (via Red Bull content pool.)

As always, tell us what you think over on Instagram.

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