Ultra-running history was made when inov-8 ambassador Jasmin Paris became the first-ever woman to win the UK’s 268-mile Montane Spine Race outright.
The 35-year-old beat a field of 125 men and 11 other women – all from 15 different counties including the US – to obliterate the previous course record, set by male ultra-runner Eoin Keith in 2016. Jasmin’s incredible time of 83 hours 12 minutes bettered his time by more than 12 hours.
Having given birth to her first child, a baby daughter, 14 months before the race, Jasmin was still breastfeeding and expressed milk at race checkpoints.
She also deprived herself of sleep – using her experience of sleepless nights as a parent – to power-nap for a total of about seven hours during the race. This, coupled with her extraordinary physical fitness and mental strength, allowed her to steal a march on her nearest rivals.
The Spine Race, which was first run in 2012, sees ultrarunners complete the full distance of the Pennine Way trail in winter conditions, carrying their kit the whole way and sleeping only when they choose too. It is dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Brutal’ endurance race and includes around 37,000ft of ascent.
Jasmin was the first inov-8 ambassador to wear the brand’s new ROCLITE 275 shoes with graphene grip, using the versatile footwear throughout the race to speed over mud, grass, hard trail, rock and much more.
Why did you start running and how did you make the decision to take on longer distances and ultra races?
I didn’t take up running seriously until I’d left university. I have always done a lot of hill walking, and so the progression to fellrunning happened fairly naturally. It was during my first job as a small animal vet in Glossop that a colleague suggested I try a local fell race. It was only four miles, but felt very hard at the time! I loved it though, and after that I was hooked. I joined a local fell running club and soon discovered I preferred the longer, rougher races. I ran my first ultra about six months afterwards and loved it. Long races suit me, I enjoy having time to chat, enjoy the scenery, and discover new places. You don’t get that in a sprint.
As a vet and a mother how do you find time to fit in training?
I do all of my running in the early morning before work, usually at 5am. Even at weekends, I will leave while my daughter and husband are still asleep, so that I still get most of the day to spend with them. Some of my training overlaps with family time too - we do the park run on a Saturday as a three (my husband and I take it in turns to push the buggy on alternate weeks), and we do lots of hill walking with our daughter in a back pack, which is great strength training!
How do you sum up your spine race experience?
Intense, tough, immensely rewarding.
How have you found the media frenzy that’s followed?
The response has been incredibly positive, and I’ve been amazed at how many people have written to say they’ve been inspired. It feels like a lot of good discussion has come out of it, in terms of women in sport, motherhood, breastfeeding, and general inspiration. That’s the only reason I’ve agreed to do so many interviews, from a personal point of view I’ve never had ambitions to be a celebrity.
If you had to pick one thing from the experience that will live forever in your memory, what would that be?
Probably the last day in the Cheviots, which was stunning. One of those mountain days that you remember for the rest of your life. Sunshine, clear blue sky, and later thousands of stars. It is pretty remote towards the end there, and very beautiful.
What was inside the pack and how heavy was it?
My pack weighed 5.5kg at the start, which included 0.5l of water and 3000kcal of food. The remainder was the equipment on the mandatory kit list, which included a sleeping bag, bivvy bag, rollmat, cooking equipment, spare base layers, and warm clothes (in my case the inov-8 polartec alpha jacket).
Do you want your record time to stand as the ‘overall record’ or ‘women’s record’?
I think I’m just enjoying the fact that it’s currently both!
Your shoes – did you wear the same pair throughout and how did they help you?
Yes, I wore one pair of ROCLITE 275 G-Grip shoes for the whole race. I had a spare pair half a size bigger in my drop bag, in case my feet swelled up, as I’d heard this happens fairly commonly to people during the race. In the event my feet didn’t swell up until I finished, probably because I hardly stopped during the race! The shoes worked very well for me, giving good grip on the wet slabs and mud, whilst also providing good cushioning.
How did it compare to other races and how difficult was it as you were still breastfeeding your daughter?
It was a really tough race and dark for two-thirds of the time I was running. It was a completely different race than any race I’ve ever run before because it’s non-stop so you have the whole challenge of when do you sleep, and that becomes very tactical. Although my milk production diminished throughout the race, I did express at four out of the five checkpoints. The first night was the hardest for me mentally because I was away from my daughter, but as the race went on it got easier as I got used to being away from her. It was brilliant to be reunited at the finish.
If you could change one thing from your experience, what would it be?
I have no regrets about my race, I had an incredible experience from start to finish. Looking back, the only thing that makes me a little sad is that Eugeni (whom Jasmin had raced closely against during the race before making her break) had to drop out so close to the end with hypothermia. I’m very thankful for the fantastic team who brought him down safely to the finish.
And, do you think you could go back to the spine race another year and do it even quicker?
It would depend on the weather. This year the conditions were favourable for a fast time, with no snow and even a reasonable amount of sunshine to balance out the spells of rain and wind. The only thing which could have made conditions faster would have been a hard frost to firm up the bogs. If the conditions all aligned like that, it’s possible I could run it faster. But I don’t know that I’ll go back. I had pretty much the perfect race, and have no regrets or misgivings. I gave it everything, had an amazing time, and achieved more than I could possibly have hoped for.
What would be your best piece of advice to someone racing the spine race for the first time?
Thanks to the fantastic people at the checkpoints the race has a wonderful feel to it, everyone there wants you to make it to the end. So just keep eating, keep moving and try to enjoy the experience.
You wore the protec-shell jacket for much of the race. what did you like about it?
I really like this jacket. It feels much sturdier than my other running waterproofs, and performs on a level with a quality mountain jacket, but is still really light to carry.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to take on an ultra challenge?
Completing an ultra is actually a lot easier than most people think. It’s really just a case of pacing yourself (don’t set off too fast!), eating frequently (real food beats gels), and enjoying yourself. The mental component of long races is huge, so keeping a positive mindset will carry you a long way.
How do you fuel for a race?
I like to eat real food. Initially I can eat anything, filled bagels, salted nuts, chocolate. Further into races I find moist foods easier, baked beans and rice pudding are great when I’m struggling to get much in. Oh, and fruit salad is amazing when it’s hot.
What’s else do you have planned for 2019?
I’m going to run the Petite Trotte a Leon as a team with my husband Konrad. It’s another non-stop race, slightly shorter than the Spine, but with double the ascent. It takes place in August, so I’m looking forward to running a lot more of it in daylight, and enjoying the views of the Mont Blanc massif as we run. I also have some non racing running plans for the year, but I’m keeping those to myself for now.
How do you feel about becoming a role model?
It is a real honour and very humbling. I feel my greatest media achievement was appearing on the front cover on the Junior Week magazine - being used as a role model for the next generation is surely the ultimate accolade.