First female Barkley qualifier likely to inspire other women

Jasmin Paris recovers after becoming the first female runner to complete the 100-mile Barkley Marathons in under the 60-hour qualifying time last Friday in Tennessee.

      Bucks County long distance runner Stephanie Savastano knows exactly what Jasmin Paris had to go through to recently become the first female runner to complete the notorious 100-mile Barkley Marathons in under the 60-hour time limit.

      Savastano, a Perkasie resident, finished her first ultramarathon last year and even though she had already set a personal record with a speedy 3:09 at Boston, she found the extra mileage to be a different and somewhat unique challenge.

      Barkley has been around since the 1980s but until last Friday, no woman had been able to traverse the primitive terrain fast enough to beat the standard. The 40-year-old British ultra-runner crashed through the brush to cross the line in 59 hours, 58 minutes, 21 seconds.

      It should be noted only about 20 men have achieved this crazy time/distance goal, so runners of all levels took notice.

      “I think that whole Barkley thing is a little weird,” Savastano kidded during a recent telephone interview. “I guess that (single time standard for men and women) is what they came up with.

      “I kind of like the idea that it’s an equal playing ground because I feel that sometimes women are a little better at endurance. I watched a documentary where once you get past a certain point, men and women become equal.”

      Savastano referenced the exploits of Camille Herron as a perfect example. Herron took the overall title in the 2022 U.S. Track and Field 100-mile Championship in Nevada, beating the entire field and finishing more than 30 minutes ahead of the male second-place runner.

      So Savastano has the same emotions for Paris as she does for Herron.

      “I think it’s great, plus, she’s a mom,” said Savastano, 44, a mother herself, with a chuckle. “She has all that to deal with. It’s a struggle. I wouldn’t last an hour.”

      Barkley is quirky to say the least. Along the way, you have to find a book with your bib number in it.

      Now that the barrier has been broken, expect more women to follow in Paris’ footsteps. She showed it can be done, that it is humanly possible, and that alone should be an attraction point.

      Ultimately, it’s the training which offers the greatest challenge. Having to run between 100 and 200 miles per week, for months on end, can exact quite a toll on the human body. Trying to stay injury-free might be the greatest determining factor in completing the backwoods course through the hills, steams and ravines of Tennessee back-country.

      “Of course, we should make a big deal of it,” said Savastano, who has a victory at the Rehoboth Beach (Delaware) Marathon on her resume. “Hopefully more women will be invited and attempt to finish the course.”

      In a way, it could be like when Kathy Switzer broke the gender barrier at the Boston Marathon in 1967. She had to run as a “bandit” that year in order to finish the 26.2-mile course and had to shake off a race official or two who tried to yank her off the course.

      Switzer did prevail and within several years, women were flocking to enter Boston.

      Barkley doesn’t have a sexist attitude but now it would seem more women want to see if they can add their names to Paris’s on the accomplishment list.

      “Now, not only will another woman want to complete it but complete it faster than she did,” said Savastano, who also has a Bucks 5K Series title to her credit. “I think it’s great.”

      One other amazing thing about Paris’s feat is that she’s 40. It took a “masters” runner to finally get the job done.

      At 44, Savastano said age really shouldn’t factor into the equation. After all, she just set a personal best at Boston last year.

      “I think the masters thing might be a little unfair,” she said. “Because the older you get, the ‘tougher’ you get. Especially as a woman. And having kids. I think your mind just gets a little more hardened.

      “Like, I’m much tougher mentally than when I was 27. I think running, at least my running, is 90 percent mental. If I wasn’t mentally into it, I don’t I would be able to do anything.”

      Once a woman has been through childbirth and those crucial first years of child-raising, ultra-long distance running doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

      “You’ve been through so much tough stuff and you had to keep going – there is no quitting with parenting – so the marathon could be easier,” Savastano said. “With a race, it’s going to be over in hours.”

      Savastano continues to take on new challenges herself. After that sensational performance at Boston, she set a personal best in the half-marathon and the 5K. In September, she won her age group in the Lehigh Valley Parkway 50K Ultra (roughly 31 miles).

      “I think I’m going to do that again this year,” she said. “I was stuck in traffic one day, got an email and decided I would do it for my birthday, as a gift to myself. I really like training for that. You don’t have to worry about pace, just build a solid foundation.”

      She also plans to run Boston next month and a new PB wouldn’t be a surprise. The sky’s the limit for women runners, as Paris demonstrated at Barkley last week.

      >Passing of a legend

      The Bucks County running community was saddened recently to learn of the passing of one of its own legendary figures, Dick Patterson.

      The Doylestown-area resident was a great runner and also gave back to the cause through efforts like the original organization of the Bucks 5K Series, which began its 2024 schedule last week. He was the Series director for decades.

      The 5K Series recently announced its plan to award the new Dick Patterson Trophy to the male/female winners of the overall competition.

      >Race calendar

      Saturday, April 13

      Be Kind 5K, 9:30 a.m., Buckingham. Bucks 5K Series. Contact www.runsignup.com
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About Wayne Fish 2426 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.