Less than a year after giving birth to her daughter Rowan, 35-year-old trail-runner and vet Jasmin Paris found herself entering one of Britain’s most gruelling cross-country races in January 2019.
The Montane Spine Race – an astonishing 268-mile route from Edale to Kirk Yetholm across the rugged uplands that form the backbone of northern England – would be Jasmin’s longest non-stop run. “It felt a little crazy,” Jasmin admits. “I had always vowed I would never do the Spine Race, but suddenly I had entered it.”
The Montane Spine Race was founded by Scott Gilmour and Phil Hayday-Brown in 2012.
The Montane Spine Race is a 268 mile / 420km race from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. Total ascent is 13,135m, total descent is 13,255m.
The current record for the Montane Spine Race is 83hrs 12 minutes and was set by Jasmin Paris in 2019.
Since its inception in 2012, which saw 11 entrants and only 3 finishers, it has enjoyed a hard-earned reputation as a truly epic challenge and a true test of racers physical resilience and mental fortitude. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s toughest endurance races.
Apart from the epic distance, the logistics of the Spine Race are formidable. First of all, it takes place over several days. “There’s a lack of sleep to cope with,” says Jasmin, 35, “and the question of when to sleep. Added to that, it takes place in the middle of winter, so two-thirds of the race is in the dark. And, of course, there’s the cold to deal with.” So why did she take on such a daunting challenge? Jasmin shrugs. “I was feeling a sense of contentment with Rowan, and my family life,” she says, “and I needed a new reason to get up at 5am each day to train.”
Jasmin’s subsequent victory made newspaper headlines 12 months ago – of which more below – but it was years in the making. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t walking in the hills,” she says. “As a family, we walked in the Peak District, close to home, and when we visited my mum’s home country, the Czech Republic. So when a colleague at my first veterinary job in Derbyshire suggested I join a fell-running club, it seemed like a natural progression. That’s when I found a new family of people like me; crazy people who enjoy running in the fells.”
Jasmin soon found that she loved “the sense of mindfulness that comes with spending time on my own in the hills”. Just as well. At its height before the Spine Race, her training reached.
Jasmin only had three hours sleep during the three days of racing/Credit: Mick Kenyon (Racing Snakes)/Montane Spine Race
100 miles weekly. “It can be hard getting out of bed, especially when it’s cold and dark outside,” she admits, “but once I’m running, especially in the hills, I’m happy. I like feeling light on my feet.”
Jasmin’s passion for running deepened after a career move to work at the University of Edinburgh vet school in 2010, following which she joined the Carnethy Hill Running Club, the largest of its kind in Scotland. There she met her partner Konrad, originally from Poland.
Soon she was racing in earnest. Early wins included the 2012 Wasdale Fell Race in the Lake District, a 21-mile route between eight fells, including Great Gable and Scafell Pike. In 2013, she was the first-placed woman in the Yorkshire Dales’ 23-mile Three Peaks Race, and took the first of five wins in the 17-mile Isle of Jura Fell Race.
Exposed terrain leaves Jasmin and fellow competitors battling challenging weather conditions during the race/Credit: Mick Kenyon (Racing Snakes)/Montane Spine Race
To anyone outside the trail-running world, the challenges posed by these events would be daunting, but tougher was to come: races that are astonishingly demanding.
In 2015, Jasmin took second place overall, and was first-placed female, in the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race – a 195-mile route from Snowdonia to the Brecons Beacons, over five gruelling days. In the same year she was crowned British Fell Running Champion.
Thereafter, the list of achievements is extraordinary. In April 2016, Jasmin completed the Bob Graham Round, the ambitious Lake District fell-running challenge of 66 miles over 42 summits within 24 hours; she smashed the women’s record by more than 2.5 hours, finishing in 15 hours 24 minutes. Success followed in the Ramsay Round near Fort William in the Scottish Highlands – 58 miles and 24 major summits in a fastest ever time of 16 hours 13 minutes.
By this point, Jasmin had already started racing in Europe. Competing in tandem, she and Konrad were the third-placed mixed pair in the GoreTex Transalpine Race 2015 (186 miles over the German, Austrian and Italian Alps, with a total ascent of 16,310m – nearly twice the height of Everest). And in 2016, she took first place in Norway’s Tromsø Skyrace – described as the world’s toughest high-altitude race.
If you think Jasmin is in it for the money, think again. She is an ambassador for Lake District outdoor gear firm inov-8, who supply her running kit for free. But beyond that and prize money, the rewards mostly come from the pleasure of running.
She is clearly hooked. Even when seven months pregnant in 2017 she partnered her mother in the ROC Mountain Marathon in Scotland’s Southern Uplands. “I was very aware that I was carrying my unborn child,” she says. “The medical advice is to continue with exercise up to a moderate intensity during pregnancy.
I always stayed within a comfortable limit. I actually ran on the day I gave birth.” Then, four months after Rowan was born, Jasmin was back on the podium, winning the opening race of the 2018 British Fell Running Championship. It felt “wonderful”
to be racing again, says Jasmin.
An unknown challenge
The Pennines were next. The result was no foregone conclusion, says Jasmin. “I went into the Spine Race wondering how well I could do, because it was an unknown for me. I was happy to win.”
Jasmin is typically low-key, but her victory was an eye-catching feat. She finished in just 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds – demolishing Irish international runner Eoin Keith’s record by more than 12 hours. Eoin came in second, more than 15 hours later. The win caught the attention of the media and briefly made her a household name. She appeared on TV and radio, and in many newspaper articles. Many focused on her as “still breastfeeding”. Jasmin was taken aback by the attention. She says: “I don’t think I did anything that others could not have done. The conditions were good for a record time. I was in the right place to do a good time. Of course, I did want to win and I became more competitive throughout the race.
Jasmin and daughter Rowan are reunited at the end of the race/Yann Besrest-Butler/Montane Spine Race
“And I did find some aspects hard – the cold and a lack of sleep. I only had about three hours over the three days of the race and I was hallucinating a lot. But I kept thinking of being reunited with Rowan and Konrad and the fun things we would do together. I also thought about nice food, such as fish and chips. That kept me going.”
On the topic of breastfeeding, Jasmin is matter of fact. She says: “I was expressing milk at checkpoints, not breastfeeding, and this was to prevent mastitis. The milk wasn’t for Rowan, because she had plenty already expressed at home.
“I felt like I was just an ordinary mum doing a sport that I love. I hope I might have inspired other women and mums to run more, too.”
How to start trail running
• Jasmin still takes part in Park Runs; these 5km events take place in hundreds of locations all over the UK, attract lots of families, have a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and are an excellent way to get the bug for running. Go along and check
one out: parkrun.org.uk
• It can be easier, safer and more fun to run with a group. To find a running group near you, with runners at your level, go to runtogether.co.uk
Combines mountain-running and alpinism on a 32-mile course with 4,750m of total ascent. Runners must climb the infamous Curved Ridge and traverse the Aonach Eagach ridge. skylinescotland.com/glen-coe-skyline
Lakes Sky Ultra
Lakes Sky Ultra is one of the most technically demanding course-marked races in the Lake District. The route covers 37 miles with 5,000m of ascent. lakedistrictskytrails.com
Billed as the world’s toughest five-day mountain-running race (pictured), the multi-stage route extends 196 miles with 15,500m of height gain along the mountainous spine of Wales. berghausdragonsbackrace.com
Cape Wrath Ultra
The eight-day expedition race weaves 248 miles through the Scottish Highlands, from Fort William, via spectacularly remote landscapes, to Cape Wrath. capewrathultra.com
Garmin Mourne Skyline Mountain Trail Race
Based in the heart of the Mourne Mountains, the 22-mile race, with 3,370m of ascent, is described as Northern Ireland’s toughest and most scenic long-distance running races. mourneskylinemtr.com