The Self-Transcendence Ultra Classic….Ottawa 35 Years On

There is not very much about the very first Self-Transcendence 24 hour race held in Ottawa that anyone now associated with organizing the race can still remember.  The kind of exact records and details associated with nearly every current day race have somehow slipped away. It was after all 35 years ago.  A time when hard drives were what you did when you got in your car and went from Halifax to Vancouver.

No one today even knows which track it was held on, or the exact date in May when a brave band of runners appeared on starting line of a 400 meter track to do something that the world had rarely seen before. The little that we do know however is still pretty impressive.  Starting in May of 1981 the Ottawa race has an unbroken streak, except for one year, that now stretches back 35 years. It just may be the longest continually held 24 hour race in the world.

For the past few years the race, which now also accommodates a 6 and 12 hour event, has been held in the Louis Riel dome.  49 participants came to take part this year on September 26.  The winner of the race will be the Canadian 24 hour champion.

One thing that makes the research a little easier on the history of this race is that the indisputable fact that the great Canadian/Scottish Al Howie was one of the runners that first year.  He not only won but he also set Canadian and North American records at the same time. His distance for the 2nd race in 1982 was even greater.  He ran an astonishing 150 miles and 395 yards (241 KM) which pushed the record out even further.  He was so intent on improving himself when he came again, that in the 3rd race in 1983, he ran all the way from Winnipeg to Ottawa as part of his training.

Al Howie, an icon of endurance events would run a lot of miles and engrave some serious running history at the event for its first 5 years, and for a lot of other years afterwards in ultra races all around the world.

What becomes clear when you attempt to gaze backwards across the many years, is that something so unique and challenging 35 years ago is now dwarfed in comparison to some of the huge distance races that are being held elsewhere. Multi day running, though still not commonplace, is no longer shocking when brought up around most runners today.

Picture taken In New York

Picture of Sri Chinmoy and Al Howie taken after a race in New York

Sri Chinmoy, the founder of the marathon team saw early on that distance running would become much more common all around the world.  That people would use the challenge of long races to test a runners capacity in every way.  He first asked the members of the group in Ottawa to put on their first 24 hour race in May of 1981.

Long-distance running gives us a real feeling of accomplishment. We can run 100 metres forty times during the year and not feel the same sense of accomplishment as when we run one marathon. But speed and endurance are both important, especially in the spiritual life. If one has only speed, then one cannot ultimately succeed; we need endurance because the goal is quite far. Again, if one has only stamina and no speed, then it will take forever to reach the goal. Only if someone has both qualities will he be able to make very good progress in his spiritual life and achieve something really great in life.

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The Dinesh Band… A Good Milestone

“Something is wrong here…… I have to check this out.”

In 1987 when a 18 year old Dinesh walked into a well known Concert hall in Munich(Circus Krone) to listen to a Sri Chinmoy Peace concert for the first time he was mystified.  It was a place he had already seen many rock and jazz concerts.  There was nothing about what he was about to see though that would in any way compare with anything else he had ever experienced before.


“It was very unforgettable.  Usually you have a huge stack of amplifiers onstage.  But there on the left and the right you had just a small stick and on the top you had a ridiculous small p.a..  I came in and said, what is this?  (laughs) It was just too small for this hall.”

“I was not interested…. or I did not know about meditation and yoga, but from the musical point I was interested.”


When Sri Chinmoy walked on stage and meditated before a hushed audience of nearly 2000, any doubts Dinesh may have had vanished.  He immediately recognized what he calls Sri Chinmoy’s authenticity.  Dinesh says that the more authentic a musician is than the more he is liked.  “That is what people are searching for.  Something that is authentic, something real.  In Guru’s case he was completely real.  There was not a single percentage of ‘show’.”

“I had no idea what to expect.” As the concert proceeded and Sri Chinmoy moved from instrument to instrument Dinesh realized that Sri Chinmoy was not performing for applause and appreciation but for a completely different reason.  “He had a program that he wanted to do and he did it.  That is what impressed me most.  There was no in between.  Either you liked it or you didn’t like it. I was like wowwww!!!”


Click to Play part of rehearsal:

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Self-Transcendence Swim-Run ……..Harriman State Park 2015

September 13, 2015


Eventual winner






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No End To Our Inner Progress….47 Mile Race

Question: Did you ever run ultra distance?

Sri Chinmoy: My longest distance was 47 miles. I did it twice. Now I no longer do it, but every year about three hundred disciples of mine from all over the world come here on my birthday and run 47 miles. Being the spiritual father of the family, it gives me tremendous joy when I see my spiritual children run 47 miles. The number 47 is very important to me because in 1947 India got its independence. With this run we are celebrating our inner freedom.

Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy answers, part 29, Agni Press, 2001

On Sri Chinmoy’s 47th birthday on August 27th in 1978, the 47 mile race first began.  At the time the distance seemed impossibly long, monumentally challenging, and at the same time just the kind of thing that Guru would do to inspire and motivate we his students.

37 years have now passed and the race continues to be one of the jewels of each August celebration in New York.  An event, that by starting at midnight, at the very tender beginning of what is a most sacred day, becomes a unique gift for each who takes part.

One that is received and offered up simultaneously.  The runner receives something by taking part while at the same time bringing forward from within themselves the very best of who and what they are.

A fortunate few have run each and every year since then.  Garima on the right won the inaugural race in 1978 in 8:00:44.  She also won the race in 1981 when it was 50 Miles.


Dipali ran her first race that same year.  She was second back in 1981 and this is now the 30th time she has run the race.


The start August 27th 1980


Photo by Shraddha 1980

The start August 27th 2015


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World’s Largest Tennis Ball Mosaic….Love And Serve

It was big, it was colorful, and it was a fitting tribute to Sri Chinmoy, who so loved playing tennis.   The gigantic tennis ball mosaic, made from 10,084 balls, was of course much much more than record breaking.  It was a true piece of art, it was a collaboration, it was a soulful offering, and if nothing else it was good old fashioned fun.  All those who witnessed its brief display, or took part in the many hours of its construction will have their own list of enthusiastic adjectives.


The creation of the tennis ball mosaic started off weeks earlier as an inspiration managed by Ashrita, who happens to have something like a devoted affection for setting new Guinness book records. Doing a spectacular new record on Sri Chinmoy’s birthday is a tradition that he has been orchestrating now for more than 10 years.

Many, almost impossibly huge things have been hammered, glued, set afire, poured, and blended together each August 27th.  Each one is a fantastic project requiring lots of effort  but at the same time each new Guinness record is uniquely conceived out of an artful blend of vision, whimsy, love, and devotion.


This August 27th would have been Sri Chinmoy’s 84th birthday and for ideas and inspiration Ashrita consulted with Papaha.  That both loved tennis and each had had the opportunity to actually play tennis with Sri Chinmoy may have played a not small part in coming up with the idea. That the completed piece would than be displayed on the very ground that Sri Chinmoy had played so many games was also no coincidence.

Playing Databir

Playing Databir

The spiritual message of tennis:
Love, serve
And finally surrender
To the Supreme in the winner.
The loser who cheerfully
To the Supreme in the winner
Becomes himself a real winner
In the inner world.

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Jai Hind Part 2…..An Adaption of Descent of the Blue

We don’t know exactly when this picture was taken but of course we know where.  Most likely it was taken shortly before Sri Chinmoy left Pondicherry to come to America in 1964.  In it we see a young man paying homage to his late spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo.   With his head bowed and his hands folded he stands in front of the Maha Samadhi in the very heart of the Sri Aurobindo ashram in south India.


Question: You had a teacher?

Sri Chinmoy: I had a teacher in those days. Sri Aurobindo was my teacher. I was at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for twenty years. But then, when I became fully aware of my inner realities and existence, the Supreme became my Guru. At first, Sri Aurobindo was in the physical body, then he left the body in 1950. But once I got my inner illumination, then I found that the Absolute Supreme is the only Guru — your Guru, my Guru, everybody’s Guru. Only the Lord Supreme is the Guru of the entire world.

Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy answers, part 34, Agni Press, 2004


It is now late August of 2015.  Hundreds of students of Sri Chinmoy have come to New York from around the world to honor their late Spiritual master Sri Chinmoy.  It is a gathering that has been going on now for decades and continues to inspire all those who come, even those who never had the opportunity to meet their teacher in person.


Yet the spiritual life is filled with many wonders and mysteries that cannot be entirely observed, only felt within and experienced in a way unique to each and every seeker. Kaivalya Torpy once received a phone call in February of 1999 from Sri Chinmoy, asking him to produce a full length version of the play he had written about the life of Sri Aurobindo.

‘Descent of the Blue’ was a play that Sri Chinmoy had painstakingly worked on for nearly 2 years while living in the ashram in Pondicherry.  Eventually it was published serially over a period of 4 years between 1958 and 1962.


When Kaivalya was asked to produce the play in 1999 it had never been performed in its entirety.  At the time of his phone conversation with Sri Chinmoy he was asked to take as many hours as necessary to perform the play and also to include as many of his students as was necessary.  He was very enthusiastic about seeing the play at last reaching the stage. “I want a nice big play”, he told Kaivalya.

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August 4: You Are Guided By Your Heart

“All I can say is that this race you don’t do alone.  You are never alone out there on the course.  You have so many hopes and dreams and inspirations of everybody, who is following the race.  It is just amazing how even though you are not really in contact with humanity.  You are not in contact with newspapers and whatever.  You really feel how the race is somehow percolating out there, and inspiring people.”

The sound of Nirbhasa’s Finish:

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“Life is hard for everybody.  Everybody is running their own version of the 3100 mile race.  Everybody has their own difficulties.  Definitely I felt that if I could inspire even one person to stick it out one more day.  To never give up.  To just push your way through the tunnel.  Than that is somehow really worth it.


“Nirbhasa you did something remarkable, you finished the race on your first attempt.  You have become the first Irishman to ever finish the race.”


“I think the race is really Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy in action.  The mind can’t really comprehend the distance. It can’t comprehend the enormity.  It can’t even comprehend doing a full day, never mind, it is just trying to get to the next break.  That is about as far as the mind can handle.  It is only when you live in the heart, and only when you have tremendous eagerness.  A tremendous feeling of being in the moment, and just being happy, and letting it happen.”


Click to Play Nirbhasa’s Speech:

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Sahishnu announces Nirbhasa’s time and data.


“Finishing in 8th place in a time of 51 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes which is an average of 60.1 miles a day or 96.8 km.  He is now ranked 32nd on the list of 38 finishers.”

“We are so proud of you.  It is so hard to do this race.”

Click to Play Speech:

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*It is with the deepest respect and gratitude that I thank all those who have followed the race here along with me these past 52 days. 

No matter whether your visits were long and rambling or that you came for just a quick click now and then.  I hope you have felt even an iota of the enormous blessing that this race is to me.    That you are drawn even one step closer to your own perfect perfection……..Utpal

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August 3: There Is Only One Power

“I would like to thank the race directors.  The undying enthusiasm from morning until eve, for so many days.  Unbelievable.  The cooks, unimaginable.  Better and better from year to year.  I don’t know how they do better but they do better every year.”

“I wish to thank the Enthusiasm Awakeners.  I would like to thank my family, Alakananda and Atandra.  My fellow runners they are the best people in the world, and of course my deepest gratitude goes to my Guru, Sri Chinmoy.  The one power behind every body and every thing.”


Stutisheel speech:

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“Ladies and gentlemen, Stutisheel Lebedev finishes in 7th place today.  His 9th finish in 11 attempts.”

“Stutisheel finishes in 50 days 12 hours and 52 minutes.  Which is an average of 61.34 miles per day or 98.72km.  He is ranked 16th all time.”


“Stutisheel is the consummate athlete because he is involved in every aspect of the sport.  He has written books about his experiences.  He has helped other runners.  He helps to get them organized so that they can do well. He keeps a blog to show the reality of this race.  But only he can experience the reality.”

“He has done this race and covered almost 28,000 miles.  It is a staggering amount.  I think he could go another 1000 miles right now.  Thankyou for your inspiration it is wonderful.  It is glorious, please come back again.”


Click to Play Speech:

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August 2: It Is All Grace

“I just want to say that standing here with this record is really hard to believe.  It is hard to believe because I had doubts until the beginning of this race.  Because I always felt that I was not strong enough.  That I am too weak and too tired.  But there were always good persons who said, no, no!”

“You just have to come to the starting line and everything will be okay.  Good that I listened to her.  So I registered very very late.”

“It is hard to believe because you cannot capture it.  Because it is all grace.  It is all grace, grace, grace.  That I could do it at this age (56 years old).

“So what more can I say than gratitude.  All gratitude to the great Sri Chinmoy Marathon team, because they are working so hard.  Very very hard, and still they are all very nice.  I admire this really very much.”


“Than of course I want to thank all my helpers.”

“You can be a good runner and you can accomplish nothing.  You always need a team.  Otherwise you will do nothing.  Than of course I want to thank Nirjharini and the great cooks.  They also working very hard.  I also want to thank the counters and those who came around, and of course Parvati and the Enthusiasm Awakeners.”


“They give us so much joy.”

Click to Play Speech:

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“Surasa Mairer from Vienna what an extraordinary performance.  3100 miles in 49 days, 7 hours, and 52 minutes.  You averaged 62.84 miles per day, or 101.1 km a day.  The fastest women’s time in history. You move from 26th to 21st place.  You have gone 6 hours and 38 minutes faster than the previous record held by the immortal Suprabha Beckjord.


“I really thought that Surasa’s career had peaked in 2001 and 2002 when she set numerous records.  She vanquished her opponents in every race for the women and sometimes the men.  She has such a sweet child like nature about her.”

“I remarked when she finished her first 3100 mile race at the awards ceremony I said, I only wished that she was 10 years younger.  Just to see what she could do.  Now I am the one with the egg on my face.”

“She has done something extraordinary at age 56.”


“I must say she runs with lightness, with power, and with determination.  Like all the great champions.  They run not only because they can but they feel as though they are running towards the greater horizon. We all become better as they better themselves.”

Click to Play Speech:

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August 1: Good to Have Goals

The practical world has lots and lots to offer us.  It has countless comforts and many many remarkable things but it is missing something that is most significant to all of us.  The practical world does not have dreams of transcendence.

photo by Alakananda

The practical world has boundaries and dimensions that can be measured and recorded and kept safe.  Human beings need to have firm structures in order to pursue the things that matter to them.  But spiritual seekers feel the call and pull of the divine world that exists within us all. A realm of light that has no dimensions or boundaries.


The practical world doesn’t want or feel the need to look within.  The divine world however is compelled to express itself continuously in the outer world in and through those willing to transform themselves.  In this same process the outer world is as well transformed.  In so doing, the divine creation evolves into the perfect perfection of what the creator intended.


Today 37 year old Atmavir Spacil from the Czech republic completed the Self Transcendence race for the 8th time.  He came in 5th and his time was 48 days 7 hours and 13 minutes.  He did something that no practical person would do.

He won nothing.  His name will not appear on the news tonight and other than the few hundred people who follow the race, most of the world will not even know what a remarkable thing he has done here today.


His distance over 8 years (24,800 miles) is enough to take him around the world.  Atmavir has run now 45,192 times around a school in Queens New York in a time span that would take up a full year of his life.  What he has done and what he actually has accomplished cannot be explained or understood by the practical world.

Spirituality expresses itself in and through him with each of the countless steps, laps, and miles that he has completed here.  Is the world changed by it in ways that we can see and understand?

Only our hearts can feel and understand this.  Atmavir however has no questions of this as he crossed the finish line of Self transcendence yet again.  As he truly sits down for the first time in many many days.  A large cake is placed upon his lap and he promises to the few happy souls gathered around and about him, to come back next year and do it all again.


Click to Play the Sound of his finish:

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