April 27…Each Lap A Journey

“O my, that wind that first day battered us.”  For those who spend every waking hour trying to run as far as you can, a discussion of the weather is not just a casual conversation.  Bad conditions are not just a matter of adding a layer of clothing.  For multi day runners the weather is crucial and may, and often does impact dramatically on their performances.

A bad weather day can set off a series of tumbling dominoes that affect your performance and eventual outcome.  The significance of both hot and cold, and wind and rain is extraordinary.   The Ultimate consequences of which may be, of not just missing a few additional miles, but also causing (almost) intolerable hardship and suffering.

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Dipali jokes about her windy and cold first day of the 6 day race.   “Nobody knew who anybody was, because they were all covered up.”  At which point she pulls her face scarf  up over her nose, leaving very few recognizable bits of face remaining.  That seems like a long time ago, and by the board at least,  a little more than 300 miles back down the track.

In this her 18th year at the race  Dipali has seen just about everything that nature has had to offer.  As we are running on the far side of the course we pass Shirley Kolakovich who is running her first 6 day race.  I ask Dipali about her first experience in running a multi day.

“My first race was 1991, the 7 day race in Flushing, and o my……. I was clueless. I did not know how to do these races.” (laughs)

She uses quite a few uncomplimentary adjectives to describe her attitude at the time. She sums the experience up by saying, “I was really bad.”

Her spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy heard about her discomfort and offered her the option of making a strategic exit from the event but also tactfully queried her,  could she not keep trying and in addition….. try laughing.

She admits, “I didn’t want to laugh.”

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An earlier race

But as she recalls now with a big smile and a sweep of her hands, the moment she started laughing she was able to simultaneously release all the tension that she was hanging on to.  She says now that first race was simply so new and so hard that she didn’t understand what the whole event was really about.

“It just shows that if you put determination into something, and practice meditation, that you can really do extraordinary things in your life.” The span of her career so far, and all her achievements in this world of distance running are amazing.

The lake is off to her left, the sun, at least for now is bright and high in the sky over hers shoulder, and…… there is no wind blowing. “Every lap has a story, and each runner will tell you that each lap is a journey.”

She also says that one of her strategies is to simply feel childlike and play around a bit.  “That child like spirit gives me energy.  I am very determined out here as you can see.  I don’t waste time even for one second.  It does make you happy.  It brings an energy.  It brings a force.  But you  have to believe in yourself, and you have to believe in that force.”

Dipali is currently leading everyone in the 6 day race.  She says her real competition is looking back at what she did last year here.  “I did 475.  I am thinking abut that.  I am not thinking about anybody else.”  She says the goal of self transcendence for herself is always the main motivator.

We pass the New York worlds fair unisphere and start heading back to the camp.  She says the past 24 hours have been particularly hard.  She will not make 70 miles for the day but she is not dejected.  The race always has a way of teaching you a lesson, on not just the need for, but also on all the infinite varieties on the theme of humility.

She remembers a time when she was able to run mileage every day in the high 80’s.  She reflects upon this long long period of running excellence that shows no sign of ending, with tremendous gratitude.  “It is not me.  I am just being so blessed with this opportunity.”

Her hands sweep open.  “I can only thank Sri Chinmoy for making these races such an important role in our lives.”

Click to Play Interview:

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April 26…Really Beautiful Experience

“I just had a soccer match behind my tent as I was trying to sleep.”  She confesses that she got a bit grumpy which just may be why she is out now on the loop pounding out another mile….”But its good.”

Holding a multi day race in a public park will always have its short comings.  Sarah Barnett has been running now for 7 days straight, noisy kids are probably well down on her list of the inconveniences and annoyances that she has had to endure.  Despite the relentless wind, the cold, and a day of endless rain Sarah has been superb.  She not only leads the ladies 10 day field with 469 miles she also, for good measure, is 10 miles ahead of the leading man.

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I ask her about her ideas on competition.  “If we are still living in the desire life than we are fighting to win.  We are all human.   That is the name of the game.  We all set out to train hard and do as well as you can.  But in the end it is kind of empty.  If that is the only thing you are running for.”

“There has to be some deeper purpose to it I guess.”

I suggest to Sarah that since she has run a lot of these races, she probably has as good an idea as anybody on what that deeper thing is.  “I think it is like an inner silence, that you don’t really have in your regular life.”

“I always feel that I can come into the race with different life issues.”  Than she has 10 days of silence, excluding soccer playing children, to really reflect and appreciate all the aspects of her life.  This provides her ample opportunity to pray, and sing spiritual songs…….(jokes) “and running, eating and sleeping.  Then things just simplify.”

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“Everyone here tries and have a spiritual outlook…..let God’s will be done. Then you are happy.  In the big scheme of life it doesn’t really matter who comes first or second.” (laughs)

She thinks it is hard for people who are not running to understand this.  With all the runners, no matter their mileage, they all share the same struggle. “We are all pushing our bodies to the limit.”

Sarah describes that the combination of everything creates a powerful experience. “It gets you out of your ego.  If you are just concentrating on yourself alone, it is really boring.  It gets to be too much.  You have to laugh with people.  It is a unique experience.  That is why I keep signing up for the next race…. and the next race….. and the next race.”

“It is a really beautiful experience…… as well as suffering and tiredness.”

* Click On Picture Below…. and then again on next … to Play Interview:

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April 25…Teaches You A Lot

“It will take a lap or 2 and I will get running again.”

Greg Ellis is typical in many ways of all the runners out here competing in the Self Transcendence races.

At the moment he is moving slowly, a pace just a notch up from amble but not quite power walking.  He has however been on the course for much of the past 2 days and has just come off a break.  But what he also has to deal with in addition to cold windy New York weather is the fact that just 2 years ago he had a hip replaced.  A fact that he does not embellish or say in order to draw sympathy.

“When I go long mileage it gets inflamed and starts to affect everything else down my leg.”

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Gregg lives in Georgia and this is his first trip to New York.  Earlier I had joked with him about site seeing instead of running for 6 days.  He confesses now, “Earlier this morning there was a lot more things that looked more interesting.  I had a low point.  Then the sun started coming up and I started feeling better.”

“I expect that.   You get extreme highs and lows in these kind of events.  I was used to it and ready for it.  They can be tough sometimes.”

Gregg says that by learning to overcome the kind of adversity he experiences in multi day racing he tries to transfer to other life experiences.

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“Ultra races definitely teach you a lot about yourself.  You learn that you can go beyond things that you once thought were impossible, and things you couldn’t even fathom.  I can do a lot more than I think I can do.  It is very empowering when you finish one of these races.”

We talk about the older runners in the race.  “They are an inspiration to me.”

Gregg says the experience he is having here is quite different than any other race he has taken part in.  “It is amazing.  You can feel, the love, the warmth, and the peace here. It is just a whole different feeling.  It is a perfect title for it…Self Transcendence.”

Click To Play Interview:

Other runners included….John Geesler, Shirley Kolakovich, Wai Law, Rimas Jakelaitis, Mahasatya Janczak, and Steven Battle

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April 24… What You Do Here

He has held the lead for 5 days and shows no sign of easing his pace in the still long journey that lies ahead.  He is after all only half way to his goal.  There are still 5 more days to go.  In some ways a 10 day race would look easy compared with what he has already accomplished in a race he ran each year consecutively for 7 straight years, just a few miles away.

Atmavir Spacil completed the Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race in the allotted time each year that he competed.  But last summer 2014, was a year off for him.  But now as you watch him gracefully running the loop here in Flushing Meadow, it would appear that there is a lot more competitive running left ahead for this 36 old runner.

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I mention Gerogs Jermolajevs who is twice his age and at the half way point of the race is just 48 miles behind.  “We like each other.”

“Sri Chinmoy had great respect for him.”  (He won the 2700 mile race in 1997)…..”He is like a legend.  Because of his age he is really inspiring younger people, and he is also pushing the age limit.”

I ask Atmavir if he could see himself doing this same competitive running when he is 72.  “Actually this thought came to my mind.”  He admits that as he pondered this, and admits that at first he was a little scared, but then realized…..”come what may.  Why not.  I love multi day races.”

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Atmavir, originally from the Czech Republic is now currently living in Ottawa.  He says that one of the reasons he decided to run the 10 day race even though in about a month he will be taking part in the 3100 was because so many of his friends had decided to take part.  “There is such a family here.   There is such a spirit of oneness.”

He also describes how fleeting a moment victory really is, even for professional athletes.  “What counts is what you did here.”

Click to Play Interview:

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Into The Night

The race throughout the 24 hour cycle has many faces and moods. At night the glare and noise of the city retreats somewhat and it becomes a still and much calmer world.  Yet still a place where so much is still happening and being transformed.

Click to Play Film:

 Dancing Healing Hands

Her fingers press firmly and confidentially into the muscles high up on a runner’s leg. Her hands in almost constant motion glide here and there in thoughtful sweeping gestures. Rarely at rest her fingers kneed deep into thick stiff muscle and then gently stroke away the knots and lumps and all the stubborn agony.

Tatjana has been doing this almost non-stop for 4 days now. Her face a bright calm radiant canvas, which has witnessed numberless aching stories. All performed on the stage of her wooden massage table at the back of the canvas medical tent.

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In any other venue those who arrive before her healing fingers would be called patients, but to Tatjana they are all brave selfless runners and they are her family. For she, like all who come here inhabit, if only briefly a very unique world which is simply called The Self Transcendence race

She has actually seen very little of the race in some ways. Long long hours have consumed her time while here helping others. She jokes that she is seeing the race through the bodies that lie in an almost constant procession, stretched out before her on the table. But this is not a struggle or a burden for Tatjana. She is enjoying this amazing experience and would wish herself to be in no other place.

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Tatjana first heard of this strange hard challenging world from her father. Omsk in Siberia is almost in another universe and yet he found his way here to New York in 2006 and to this race in Flushing Meadow Park.

Asked to describe her Dad upon his return, “he was like from another planet.” She does not know how many miles he ran but she says that he was transformed.

Eventually Tatjana moved to Moscow and the dream to one day come herself, and run in the race lingered, in a not too secret place within her heart. Injury prevented her from participating this year but in January she saw clearly that she could perform a different kind of role and still be part of it. While meditating she realized that she should come and help with massage.

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“If I can’t make the race as a runner than I can make the race as a massager.”

She doesn’t really remember how many runners she has seen so far. But she has noticed in herself a kind of transformation that surprises her. She is able to work almost non stop and not get tired…….”almost.” (laughs)

“It is a good experience for me as a runner in the future.”

It is cold outside and it is late. The runners will drift in and out throughout the night and most likely Tatjana will still be here. When her table is empty she will go off to her own tent and grab a handful of hours rest. She knows that before the sun comes up again, another aching body will wish to be an attentive audience to her dancing healing hands.

Click to Play Interview:

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April 23…A Life Of Self-Transcendence

The new family of 6 day runners have made themselves at home here over the past few days.  Tents have been put up, last minute snacks have been stockpiled, and the chores, both mundane and important have been  put out of the way.  Things that the runners wish they had done, or training miles that got lost due to snowbanks and lethargy have been cast aside.   Eventually every little nuisance or concern just drops away, once the runners head out onto the course at noon.

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4 long days have already passed for those who started the 10 day.  The long grind is now fully engaged.  The finish line still so far off when you consider, that half way will only amble into view at noon tomorrow.

But the appearance of the 6 day runners is clearly important.  Even before they started,  the fresh enthusiasm and energy of the new runners was felt and appreciated by all who make this grand endeavor their world for many days and for many more miles.

All the great plans that each runner came with is either followed to precision or, if it does not fall in the safe ground in between, then simply shatters under the onslaught of the struggle to just keep going.  Relentlessly moving forward no matter whether or not it is cold, windy, and wet.  No matter whether or not the sun burns or the long dark nights steals away your enthusiasm.  No matter that the path gets harder to follow and your inspiration tries to escape to a warm sleeping bag and a pillow, that is so inviting it feels like the promise from heaven itself.

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But though our dreams are sometimes fragile our highest prayers can yet reach for mountain peaks far above and beyond what we can imagine.  Some runners might be saddened when they arrive at a place that was far short of their distant goal.   There are also those who are also surprised to reach out to and arrive at a place that exists even beyond what they thought was there for them to take. Each runner comes to the Self Transcendence race with a hope, and a foundation of purpose.  Where they end up may be somewhat less important than how they bore the weight of getting there.

Dipali may be one who comes to this race with more history, more promise, more dreams than anyone else.  This will be a staggering 18th time that she has stood upon its starting line and courageously run within its imposing boundaries of 6 full days.  Her philosophy, which she learned from her late spiritual teacher is what inspires her to train and compels her to come back to this challenging event.

“I feel that this race is big for me because I train hard, because I feel inside my heart and soul, I feel that my life is about self transcendence.”

She wants to feel gratitude with every step she takes.  She wants to never listen to chattering thoughts, such that age becomes a barrier to achieving any goal.

“So every time I come out here I feel that if I can one step further it inspires myself and others to take up this challenge and come out here and do what I do.”

Click to Play Interview:

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April 22nd….The One Mile Loop

It is a very precise and accurately measured piece of road.  For many years trying to find the ideal course in Flushing Meadow park seemed like an endless quest.  Yet just a few years ago this particular configuration seemed to be, if not perfect, than at least an ideal set up for the large number of runners who wanted a safe, flat, place to run for 10 or 6 days.

This short film is the easiest way to experience the course in its entirety.  Obviously the harder way, getting a number and taking part will provide a much more satisfying challenge.  Than you can see and experience for yourself its scenic length hundreds of times.  Yet the one mile loop, like the race itself, is not for tourists or those who are just curious.

Taking part in any of the Self Transcendence races provides the runners with an opportunity to discover their own limits, and in so doing attempt to reach out beyond what they think is possible.  Reveal within themselves, in a tangible way, that the great adventure of life is not just about reaching a goal with the physical.  That once we attempt to go beyond our limitations that we can realize, soon or latter that we are in fact limitless beings.

Click to Play:

It will be 30 years ago this week that the first real great Self Transcendence race took place, not too far from here, organized by the Sri Chinmoy marathon team.  It was America’s first 1000 mile race and the runners had 16 days in which to complete the distance.  It was so new that whoever won the race would automatically set the American record.

12 runners stood on the starting line that day May 1, and what was not surprising to his students, was the presence of Sri Chinmoy himself, the founder of the marathon team.  He was 53 years of age.

3 runners managed to complete the distance before the cut off.  The winner Don Choi, who won in 15 days and 6 hours said, “The immensity of this race is so great, I can’t comprehend it yet.”

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Sri Chinmoy’s comments on his race:

Originally I wanted to run seven miles every day during the 1,000-mile race. I felt that if I tried to do 13 miles, I would not be able to continue. But at the end of the race I had completed 208 miles — an average of 13 miles a day for the 16 days of the race.

Three people completed the full distance: 1,000 miles! Here is the proof that there are a few things the mind cannot understand — when the soul operates through the heart or through the vital. To run 1,000 miles is beyond the comprehension of the mind; the mind cannot imagine it!

Perhaps now people will be inspired to sponsor 1,000-mile races.

By the first week of August I do hope to complete my 1,000 miles. I am going on, going on. God knows if I can do it!

— 17 May 1985

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April 21st… I Run For God

Nearly 20 years ago Georgs Jermoalajevs won the Self Transcendence 10 day race with 727 miles.  It was 1996 and he was 49….. (it is tempting but not accurate to say ‘just 49).  Back then his steps were light and strong and his face beamed with a radiance that shone brighter than practically every other runner I have ever met. His capacity for multi day running seemed limitless.

Georgs

He was someone who looked as though he was simply born to run long distances.  There was a naturalness about his ambling stride, and he seemed to be most at peace, when he was moving forward, which he could do for days and days at a time.

Both time and life itself, in the past 20 long years, that have stretched out between then and now have diminished some of his outer mechanics.  But he still bears the same brightness and sweetness that is indistinguishable from the lithe powerful figure who once tirelessly ran these New York one mile paths in competition.  This essence he has maintained, this essential life ingredient remains undiminished and still vibrant on his face and in the way he shuffles relentlessly around the loop.

His hair now as pale as a drifting cloud.  Lines etched deep across a still bright glowing face that has witnessed many challenges that most lives in this world of joy and turmoil that we all share and of course seek out the swiftest path to take us through it.

In 2 days he has run 144 miles and if you look at the 2 young man who have kept ahead of him it makes some kind of sense.  But when you look back at the long long list of other young men who are gathering up behind him, it just makes no sense at all. How is this possible?  How can a man twice the age of the rest of the field do so incredibly well.

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In that summer of 1995 Georgs was hungry for as much competition as he could find.  He came back to New York that June and ran the inaugural 2700 mile race in 40 days.  The next year it would become the 3100 mile race.

Georgs had a few astonishing years after that.  In 1997 he set the world record for 1000 miles for age 50.  After that life and ultra distance running, at least his coming to New York no longer connected. He tells me that for a time the most he competed was in one 26 mile marathon a year.

Something changed.  Something in Georgs’ life shifted, and in the ways of all astonishing things, 72 year old Georgs Jermoalajevs has found himself once again back at the Self Transcendence race.  He, not unlike the Phoenix bird has risen up from the ashes of his past and has found new life and purpose on this one mile loop in flushing Meadow.

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“I am very glad to be back.  It is my biggest dream.”

He tells me that he has a new expression that sums up his life now.  “I run for God.”  He says that many people identify with this philosophy.  He says in particular at home in Latvia people like it.  “Great words.  People in Latvia agree to use them in their own life.”

Vera helps with some translation and when Georgs describes the atmosphere he says a word that neither of us recognize.  Then Vera says, “aura.”  Yes, yes, he says.  He spreads his arms out to gather symbolically all the runners out on the one mile course.  “Very good aura together.  We make this aura very special.”

Click to Play Video:

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April 20th…A Perfect Day To Run

The conditions at the race for most of last night and now, for most of the day, can only be gently described at best as challenging.

For several million New Yorkers, April 20th rolled in as a cold and rainy day, accompanied by generous gusts of wind.  A day which glowered in grim contrast to the glowing Spring day which immediately and brightly proceeded it.  For several million residents of New York city the unrelenting weather conditions were a damp inconvenience, that only briefly set back the inevitable triumphant return of Spring back to this now grey dull city.

For the 50 runners of the Self Transcendence 10 day race however there is no escape and no way but not to confront head on a day in which most of us would rather duck and hide and grab a warm hot coffee (sugar optional). Mileage must be completed no matter how ferocious is the weather.  Particularly when as the days slip past the miles do not get any easier.

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Telling the story of just how bad it was here today is not easy.  A small comfort for the journalists whose toys and technology do not mix well with such conditions.  But for the runners there are no safe excuses if the course floods, your tent gets wet, and every article of clothing has suddenly become drenched, and nearly impossible to make dry once more.

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April 19th….The 10 Day Race Starts

Under the best of possible conditions the Self Transcendence 10 day race started.

Before the start there was still lots of preparation going on.  Rimas sets up his tent.

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Budjargal from Mongolia is relaxing because soon he will be running

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Runners pick up their race numbers from Sahishnu.

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Others find time to relax in all kinds of ways.

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