Last week, The Student sat down with Jasmin Paris, a Vet and PhD student at the university and most recently, the winner of the incredibly challenging Spine Race, to discuss her recent win, her research, and life as a new mum.
On 16 January, in a record-breaking 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds, Jasmin Paris claimed victory in the epic Spine race, a mammoth 268 mile run across the Pennine Way. She was the first woman to do so in the race’s history.
Having “started running ten years ago,” Jasmin told us that her love of running stems from a “love [of] being in the hills, the outdoors, and the mountains.
“I loved the feeling of moving fast, the freedom of it and the feeling when you’re fit and you can go on forever.”
Jasmin’s first taste of fell running came after leaving university while working as a newly qualified vet.
“One of my colleagues suggested I go to a fell race. […] I thought, oh this is fantastic, I really want to do it. I wasn’t very good but I thought it was amazing that people were running down hills for fun. I joined the local club and after that, I was hooked.”
Fast forward to the present and Jasmin’s penchant for fell running has gone from strength to strength, culminating in her breathtaking win. The competitive aspect of the race itself was a big motivator for Jasmin, “part of it is actually being in the race.” But she also muses that a big part of what kept her going throughout the run, especially in its toughest stages, was her baby daughter; “I thought about the kind of things she does that make me laugh, I thought about what we could do together the first day after I came back and how we could spend it. Those kinds of moments distracted me.”
In the aftermath of the race, Jasmin’s win garnered a great deal of publicity, an aspect of racing she didn’t wasn’t really prepared for.
“I think it’s sort of snowballed. It’s gone from running media to mainstream media and I definitely didn’t expect it.”
But despite this, Jasmin can see the positive side to her newfound notoriety. She discussed her status as an inspiration to women, especially those with young children. “It seems to have got a lot of people talking about women in sport and breastfeeding […] and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been happy to go on with it.”
Jasmin recognises that her gender is a big factor in this widespread media attention. “I think maybe it’s a good time for this with the #MeToo movement. I don’t think a man would have got the same publicity. I have a very good friend who was going to do the face this year, and if he had it would have been a really close race, we’re pretty well matched, and we joked because I think he might do it next year but we don’t think he’s going to get the sort of publicity that I did.”
Even though the media seems surprised, it may not be that her 12 hour lead over the next male finisher was unusual, “I can say that with endurance running, the gap between men and women narrows and I think potentially even closes […] with short runs, I think that undeniably there’s different physiology that makes men run fast. But I think that gap sort of disappears. Whether it’s partly mental and women are better equipped mentally to deal with that, or it could be that there’s actually something in the physiology of women like that women have more fat.”
Although endurance running is not segregated by gender, Jasmin doesn’t think this should be the case for all sports, “I think it would be stupid to have women racing against men on the 100 metres, women would never get anywhere near the men. If you want to encourage women in sport, you also need to really think about sports which men and women can compete in at an equal level and those which they can’t. You can’t encourage women in sports if there’s never any chance of them getting anywhere or even placing, there’s not really much incentive there for women to do sport, or for girls to do sport?”
In fact, it is that assumed equality of fell running that made Jasmin fall in love with the sport “The reason I do fell running is that there is no way to make a sport elitist when everybody lines up on the start line together, men, women, old, young, elite, super slow and everyone begins together. There is no difference between you at the start or at the end.”
Despite her love for the equality in the sport, Jasmin doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist, “I never considered myself any different in terms of what I have been able to do. Obviously, I want gender equality and that’s where I’m coming from. I’m not involved in any activism.”
Jasmin was never just a runner. She is a scientist, a woman, a mother, and a lot more. She is outspoken about her journey as a running mother and documented her pregnancy on her blog in a series she coined ‘Adventures of the Bump.’ She wants to encourage parents to find a hobby that makes them happy. Something beyond just feeding or changing nappies all day, “It’s just a really positive thing for me because it’s a chance for me to have some ‘me’ time. I love my daughter and she is the most important person in the world to me, but it’s good to have this thing that made you happy before. Ultimately, it will probably make you a better parent.”
Jasmin also applies this advice to balancing studies alongside hobbies or parenthood, which she manages to accomplish extremely well; “if you find a hobby that you love to do then you’ll make time for it. You end up sacrificing little things for it. We don’t have a TV at home, for example. During the week it is kind of like train, work, care for our daughter. I sleep less than most people so that makes it a bit easier.”
Jasmin’s high-level commitment to running was sustained throughout, and following her pregnancy. Even though she “had a quite straightforward pregnancy,” Jasmin was “in a bit of shock because [she] was at quite a high level before and when [she] came back [she] was quite slow again.”
She found motivation by signing up for Spine Race and despite some injuries, in a few months, she was back to where she was before.
Nonetheless, Jasmin is not overly eager to turn her profound success into anything more than a hobby. “I have a career; I’m doing a PhD and I’m a vet. I don’t need a second career. I don’t like having to compete in huge races all the time. And if you get better, it’s likely that the race organisers will pay for your flights and accommodation. [But] I like competing in a race where if you win you’re just gonna get a homemade cake.”
And so, keeping her running ‘low key’ (as low key as being a national champion can be) is what works for Jasmin as she balances working at the Easter Bush veterinary school in Edinburgh and nears completion on her PhD.
“It’s studying acute myeloid leukaemia, which is a type of leukaemia, and I’m studying it at a cellular level. It affects cats and dogs. I identify new drugs to treat that. I then ultimately want to do some research and some clinical work, so kind of split myself between the two.”
Since her win, Jasmin Paris has been heralded as an inspiration for women in sport. But she’s also a brilliant student, vet, mother, and a really nice person.
Image: Tabby Carless Frost