Print Edition - 2019-01-23  |  The Guardian

Jasmin Paris’s amazing feat gives new meaning

  • The achievements of the winner of the gruelling Montane Spine Race are truly awe-inspiring
- Rebecca Nicholson

Jan 23, 2019-

Last week, Jasmin Paris won the Montane Spine Race, for which the word “gruelling” seems horribly inadequate. Like Diana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64 or Serena Williams winning her 23rd grand slam, there are some feats of human endurance that scramble the mind and running 268 miles along the Pennine Way is one of them.

But these triumphs go beyond personal victories. They should lift our collective spirit, because sometimes people are incredible and how wonderful it is to be reminded of that.

But Paris’s achievements stack up like stones on a beach (please don’t stack stones on a beach, it’s terrible for the environment). She was the first woman to win the race, which, like the gripping new series of SAS: Who Dares Wins, pits male and female competitors against each other equally. She broke the course record by more than 12 hours. She did two-thirds of it in the dark. Towards the end, having slept for only three hours out of 82, she said she began to hallucinate, seeing trees doing a morning workout in the woods. At four of the five checkpoints, she stopped to express milk, because she is still breastfeeding her daughter.

And she achieved all these astonishing things while on a week-long break from writing her PhD thesis. And I thought I’d had a good few days by completing week three of Couch to 5K.

Paris’s story is remarkable. On the same day that I read about her, agog with admiration, Ironman UK announced a brand new race: Iron Girl, a 5k fun run, which would be open to women aged 16 and over (a liberal use of the word “girl”, to my fragile, fun-sponge snowflake sensibilities).

The backlash was inevitable, swift and largely very funny: female Ironman competitors wrote that perhaps they’d like to change the name of the main competition to Ironboy, that a quick 5k would leave them just enough time to pop back and get the dinner on for their breadwinning husbands.

To Ironman’s credit, they listened and, recognising that perhaps offering “girls” a fun run might be a bit on the patronising side, last week, of all weeks, they changed the event: “[It] was in no way intended to diminish the achievements and capabilities of women,” they wrote. It will now be a 5k night run, open to everyone.

Jasmin Paris is probably exhausted, but I imagine that she could do it in her sleep.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt the pure adolescent thrill of desperately waiting for an album to come out, but over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing Sharon Van Etten’s new singles on repeat and on Friday she finally released her brilliant new record, Remind Me Tomorrow. Bus journeys I could have skipped have become urgent and necessary, just so I can listen to it on headphones, on repeat, staring out of the window, picking over the lyrics.

It is shaping up to be so good that once I would have almost certainly written out the words on my pencil case in permanent marker.

Performing its best song, the anthemic, Springsteen-esque Seventeen—a conversation between her younger self and the woman she is today—on a US chatshow, she looked like a cross between Mick Jagger and PJ Harvey. It is her fifth album in 10 years and it seems set to be a creative highpoint. Van Etten has long been a songwriter who conveys a sense of intimacy and pain and while self-reflection exists here, it is also confident and strong, full of the joy of feeling alive.

Asking artists to talk about their work can be a futile game; the most sensible ones, frustratingly and often correctly, will tell you the work should speak for itself. Last week, Bridget Riley unveiled Messengers, a new permanent work at London’s National Gallery, which consists of purple, orange and green discs painted directly on to the walls.

She explained what she hoped it might inspire in people: “I want to make the viewer feel alive, to have a kind of joy in feeling alive. I just hope that they give you pleasure.” In despairing times, or times in which falling into despair might seem all too easy, I felt grateful for the rousing simplicity of the sentiment. Perhaps the additional context of what felt like a grim and unprincipled week in politics made it resonate all the more.

On Thursday, the Pulitzer prise-winning poet Mary Oliver died, at the age of 83. Across my Instagram feed, people shared her work. Over and over again, I read lines that implored people to live eagerly, hungrily and to embrace what we have before it’s gone. I have too often heard people sneering at the mass tributes we take part in when someone public and admired dies, but I was moved by people sharing Oliver’s poems, usually implying that they had a story to tell, but chose not to, instead letting her words act as a cipher. Those beautiful closing lines to The Summer Day appeared most often: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” This has become one of those inspirational quotes, painted prettily on to scenic backdrops, but its ubiquity has not dimmed its power. It provided, as Riley had called for, another kind of joy in feeling alive.

Published: 23-01-2019 09:04

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment