June 30: Extend Your Limits

“There are 2 constructions going on at the same time.  It is only for the strong.”

Stutisheel, and all the other runners are going to have endure an extraordinary amount of distraction for the next 2 days.  Construction on the school, with its unique hazards of scaffolding and trucks, was an anticipated feature of this years race.  This morning the other shoe dropped.  Large equipment rolled up the street just after dawn and work men starting tearing up the asphalt.  There will be not even one quiet, dust, or odor free place on the course for the next 2 days.

For a veteran like Stutisheel I am curious if it bothers him, all the commotion.  “It is still shocking, no matter how many times you have did it before.  Of course you can say it extends your limits of everything.  Of accepting, of transcending, of patience, of everything.”

“From the outer point of view it is what it is.  I feel though that we (the runners) have enough power to dive deep within, and not be distracted so much.  This is the case when you are really in the heart.  When you are in your own inner world.  Than it is not a distraction.”

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“I love to say, the divine earthly and divine always go together.  You cannot escape anything.”

“I believe we have enough inner power, enough inner strength to come through all our difficulties.”

When asked if everything is going as usual for him.  “There is no usual race.  Every race is unique.  Maybe your previous experiences can help you a little bit.  To avoid some bold mistakes.  Otherwise you cannot predict what will happen.  You just need to be receptive and never give up.  All the usual things that save your life.”

“There are things that do not change from race to race.  For example the full moon, and I am already walking.”  Stutisheel seems to be adversely effected by the moon.  Yesterday he managed 60 miles and finished the day with 1010, but he has been walking much of today. He laughs, “nothing new in this. I believe there is a special experience behind this.  Outwardly I have difficulties when the full moon comes.  I don’t feel that I am fighting with it or having negativity.  But otherwise I admire the beauty of the full moon.  It is something I don’t know, but am just trying to go through.”

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I mention how much he seems to be enjoying the companionship of Galya on the course.  “I have been waiting for this for 5 years.” On some mornings if they are running together they have been telling jokes to the Enthusiasm Awakeners singing group.

Galya: “heh Stutisheel, I suppose sometimes that you think that I am a perfect idiot.”

Stutisheel: “O no, no.   Nobody is perfect.”

“Always something new.”

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June 29: Divine Food

“I am making a very special thing.  It is a juice made of carrots and apples.  It is full of vitamins and it is very good for runners.”

Klara says this with such enthusiasm and warmth that I almost think for a moment that I have stepped out of the every day world and entered a sweet, wonderful, new reality.  Like Nirjharini herself, who has crewed the kitchen at the 3100 mile race for 11 years, this little kitchen I just walked into is like nothing most of us have ever seen before. And yes the food is divine.

It is not the stoves, sinks, and refrigerators that separates it from the from the mundane every day kitchen.  What makes me feel that I have entered some bright portion of heaven, is instead the warmth and love and patience, that permeates the spotless room.  It is a consciousness, for lack of a better word, that also seems to be part and parcel of every single aspect of the race.

The 5 girls who make up the core team of cooks work astonishing hours and create dozens of unique individualized portions.  Keeping the runners charged and fulfilled  for all the 18 hours they are on the course.  This all means that there has to be a very strict schedule from 5am and than on until 9:30 pm.  The runners themselves each have such unique needs and restrictions.

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Nirjharini is giving me the grand tour, which I confess also included, a very large and very cold green smoothie drink.  Over on the far side of the kitchen, with her hands thrust deeply into a refrigerator full of greens, is Mandra.  She is doing so in order to make more of said delicious green smoothie, as a large portion of it disappeared mysteriously during the first minutes of my visit to the kitchen.

Mandra works as well in a restaurant back in her home in New Zealand.  She first came 5 years ago and had a very nice experience.  “It is like a oneness family.  Everybody looking after each other.” She says she is not an expert cook but finds working here a wonderful opportunity to learn from others.

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The runners she says all have special needs and those needs change. “Nirjharini is  wonderful at making things possible.  We have a wonderful setup so we can do just about anything.”

The 2 girls who are not here right now are Karnayati and Hastakamala.  Of Karnayati she says, “she is most wonderful and I am extremely grateful to her.  She makes sure that everything is clean.  She is an amazing dishwasher.  It takes a lot of time.”

“OOOPS !”

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“The food preparation really has to ready be on time.  The runners are really hungry.  Every 2 hours the food has to go out.”

“Hastakamala is here for the 2nd time.  She is wonderful. She is also a very nice cook.  I find we have a very great team this year.”

Compared to her cooking job in Norway, “here we make a lot of small and different things.  You have to pay attention, and than there is the packing up.”

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“The whole race is wonderful, but when I see them finishing.  I am just so happy for them.  But for myself I could do this the whole year.  I love it.” Before leaving Nirjharini added that the most important ingredient that she, and all the other cooks try and add to each recipe and dish is love.

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June 28: To Watch Such Dedication

Sahishnu becomes animated as he speaks about the heavy rains that swept across the area last night.  He and Sandhani have long had the jobs of watching over the race during the dwindling hours of evening.   At midnight they put the race to bed and will not find their own beds for many hours after.

To demonstrate the force of the rain and wind, he stretches out his arms and than sweeps them forward.  A gesture that conveys the full breadth and depth of the deluge that had to have made the race for much of the late night even more than the challenging experience it already is.

It was estimated that about 3 inches of rain fell in the period leading up to midnight when the race shut down for the day.

“It was miserable and still someone like Ashprihanal, Galya, and Atmavir can go over 70 miles.  It just shows you their athletic brilliance at the same time under complete control of the various elements.  It was thrilling to watch.”

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Photo by Jowan

“Also the 2 girls.  Surasa and Kaneenika they were just pushing and pushing.  They had to change their outfits every 10 or 15 laps because they were drenched to the skin even with their hi tech stuff.”

Photo by Jowan

Photo by Jowan

“It was amazing to watch such dedication.  There was nobody out.  There were no pedestrians out anywhere.  There were no crowds.”
“This is only 2 weeks in.”

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June 27: Every Day A Miracle

“Every day out here is a miracle for me.  I am just going to keep going as far as I can. Hopefully it is enough to finish.  If it is not than every day has been great.”

This morning when I ask Grahak how he feels his first reaction is a very large sigh.  For most of the last week his mileage results have been stellar but the physical concerns that he brought to the block have refused to go away. He says this morning at least he has been experiencing some mental turmoil.  Frustrated that the easy flow of pain free running has not yet made him a consistent friend and companion.

“I have got some real problems.  I am trying to sort each one out, one at a time.”

“I have a bit of a sore calf but it is getting better.” Then as if it was an every day occurrence he mentions he had a fever the night before.

This morning he took many laps before his noticeable limp went away.  “I am having real problems with a hip injury.  I knew I had it before I came.  It is really playing on my mind a bit.”

Quite often Grahak has a unique facial expression.  I ask him about it.  “I guess that is when I focus inwardly.  The more I do it the better.”

Photo by Jowan 2007

Photo by Jowan 2007

Other than a very low mileage count on day 2, Grahak has maintained very high numbers for nearly the entire 2 weeks.  Yesterday he ran 62 miles.  His total for 13 days is 870 miles.  “I am making the mileage.  But I don’t think I will get to the same standard as my last race (5 years ago).  I have to adjust with that and deal with that, and do the best that I can.”

I mention to Grahak that I have noticed that when runners in the race have challenging physical experiences that they often are inspired to focus on themselves and the race quite differently.  “I think you notice people using their determination more.”

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Grahak mentions about Ashprihanal and Atmavir and how they are making the race look easy.  “They have the perfect bodies.  They are like the sub 2:30 marathon guys.  It is not easy for them but they can do very well.”

“I have been noticing people who have to really dig deep.  It is harder for them, to try and make the cut off.”

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Grahak has spent some time back at his home in Perth Australia working as a corporate trainer.  I ask how people he meets in an office building could understand what he is doing here in Queens NY on a hard little piece of sidewalk every day.   “I think for people can understand that we have a goal and we traveling towards it as best as we can.  Hopefully I can make it. I just have to surrender to whatever happens.  Hopefully that inspires other people.”

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June 26: Everybody Has A journey

Each of the 12 runners here has their own unique vision of what the race means to them and their own distinct voice in expressing what it is they see and feel and experience here.  Building this vision and this story with each new lap and each new day they run around the course.

Every word or thought that they might share has incredible value and potency.  Already each runner has run close to, or already exceeded 700 miles.

This is the 7th time Baladev has run the 3100 mile race.  This morning he has been singing some of Sri Chinmoy’s songs.  He carries an mp3 player often, “I am listening a lot.  When you sing you need to use more energy.  You need to be in the mood to sing.  But I am listening often during the whole day.”

“Sometimes I am listening to a song and I feel as though it is inside me. You are the song.  When you feel that you are the song, it is amazing.”

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“Without music there is no life.  Music is like water.  Without water we cannot live.  The same is music. The earth doesn’t exist without music.  The answer is easy.  Water, music, everything is God, and we cannot live without him.  Everything is simple.”

“Running is special because all parts of our being must cooperate together when we like to go forward.”

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“There are many, many, many parts inside of us, If they are not working together…..how can we run?”

“It is not a race it is an inner journey.  Everybody has a journey.”

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June 25: Just Go Forward

“I am good.  A little bit slower this morning. I just go without ever pace I am able to do.  The main thing is to just go forward.”

Nirbhasa says this with the same cheerful lightness and enthusiasm that has categorized everything he has said and done for more than 11 days. In that period he has run further in time and longer in distance, than this 35 year old jack of all trades from Ireland has ever done before in his life. He, like all the runners in the 3100 mile race though still have a very very long way yet to go.

Last night when he left the course to grab a few hours of sleep he went home on his bicycle with the scoreboard showing 710 miles beside his name.  His previous best of 702 had been accomplished more than a year ago at the 10 day race in Fushing Meadow.

Nirbhasa calls pushing beyond his previous marks of 10 days and 702 miles as, “they are nice little milestones along the way.”

“The main thing is to stay in the moment.  At this stage it is still quite early.  If you think about what you have left to do.  It is kind of too much.”

I mention to Nirbhasa that both he and Kaneenika are venturing into new realms running the 3100 for the first time.  The two of them had run the 10 day race for a few years.

“It is a completely different race.  The surface is one thing.  On the very rare occasions when we have to go out onto the road here.  If feels like you are running on rubber. The concrete here is very unforgiving.”

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“The format is also a lot different.  You have to condense all your running into this 18 hour time frame. 10 days you can kind of get your head around it.  When you are going to start and when you are going to finish.  A race like this you can’t think too much about the finish line you just have to keep going.  You have to take it day by day.”

“In general I am having a nice experience.  I am not really worried too much about mileage.  I am going forward at whatever pace I can and somehow the miles come.  You just have to stay grateful and happy the miles kind of rack up almost by themselves.”

“In the first 2 or 3 weeks you are still kind of in the training wheel stage.  It is important not to push too hard, not to blow a tire.”

“I certainly have targets and goals and little kind of way marks for achieving them.  Essentially you have to make sure that your own inner attitude is up to shape.  If that is taken care of then that means you can stay out here and let the miles happen.”

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Nirbhasa also says that he feels aware of his late spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, the founder of the 3100 mile race, in a very tangible way at the race.

“Not only around the course but also in the whole organization, that is set up around the race. It is very much like a family feeling.  Everybody is kind of looking out for each other.  The kitchen staff are doing such a wonderful job.  I think they are working harder than we do, to make everything ready.  There is such an atmosphere of self giving, of concern.  These things you feel really permeate the race.”

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June 24: Inwardly Happy

When Kaneenika started running this morning at the 3100 mile race she was taking her first steps into uncharted territory for her. Many times she has run the 10 day race in Flushing Meadow but for her today is the start of day 11.  A new milestone in an exemplary and distinguished career of this 45 year old runner from Bratislava Slovakia.

When I approached her to speak this morning I asked if I could run a lap with her.  She laughed, “I have run many laps.” As of this morning she had run around the block 1088 times in the previous 10 days.

I first ask a typical and quite possibly a rude question.  Is she happy?  From the vantage point of the sidelines Kaneenika has been radiant every day since she started.  Her face brightened almost always by a gentle clear smile.  I add as well to that question that it has to be hard to be as happy as she appears to be.

“It is always like that during these races.”

I am curious just how different it must be for her here rather than the one mile loop in Flushing Meadow where she has run for so many Spring races.  “I have been feeling it since day 3……..or maybe from the beginning of the race.  Even though I have had experiences from the shorter races.  This is just so different.”

“I never really wanted to do this race before.  Believe it or not.  It just happened last year, that I got the inspiration.  It was quite strong.”  She admits that at first she tried to ignore the feeling.  “But then it came again.”

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Late last year Kaneenika called one of the race directors and told him of her interest to run the 3100. He said at first, that there were already 20 applicants.  Her name would be put on a list and she would be notified when the decision had been made.   Elated she said….”Okay, fine.”

In February she received a call.  “When I received the decision, I was really happy.  Inwardly happy.”

From then and until now she says all her planning and preparation fell into place.

“The course here is really giving me a hard time.  My feet and legs are trying to adapt.”

Her goal from the start, “has been to do whatever I can do.”

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“I feel such oneness from everybody.  It is definitely a big family.  It goes far, with all the people who support the race.”  Kaneenika tells me she has received many messages of support.  Even from some who she is not familiar with at all.

“I was really honored when I was chosen as one of the runners.  I am very grateful to Sri Chinmoy for creating this world.  This is like a world inside the world.”

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June 23: We Can Dive Inside

Last year Vasu set a personal best in this race by breaking his previous record by 1 hour and 15 minutes.  In fact in each of his 3 previous races he transcended himself each time.  For we impatient voyeurs on the sideline, a handful of minutes extracted from 47 plus days of struggle seems almost incomprehensible.  A blink, a mere wisp of time and space, a fragment that our minds can barely hold to, but is still one which we can so easily measure and calculate.

To Vasu however, that 75 minutes was pure bliss, something that revealed the eternal.  That absolute act of self transcendence is at the core of why he continues to strive and struggle so hard, each and every time he comes.  That fragment of time for Vasu represents a kind of perfection of transcendence.  One that has inspired him to come again and again.  To seek out a glimpse of heaven in the hardest race on earth.

“On the physical plane I am having some problems with my knee.”  Vasu reaches down and points to an area just below his left knee.  His feeling of late is that even though it has been so bothersome that he has had more than 4 days of difficulties he believes the source of the problem is a mental one.

“I think this is my mind.”

His idea for a cure is a simple one.  For nearly all of us his strategy is easier said than done. “I need to be more in my heart than in my mind.”  Vasu says that it helped when he started listening to some recordings of Sri Chinmoy’s music.  “It became a little bit better. Now sometimes I can run.”

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As we are talking he is moving well.  Yesterday he completed 66 miles.  He has a 9 day total of 598.

“Sometimes it is very painful and I cannot walk.  I would take rest.  But now it has become better.  I can run a few hours.”

A friend also showed him some exercises.  “It helped a little bit.  Nicolai did massage and that also helped.”

Vasu describes the best help he received took place 2 days ago on Father’s day.  He felt as though he received some extra grace or compassion.  He is not sure exactly what.  He was able to run a little more.  He ran 63 miles that day compared to 58 miles the previous day.  “It was even more than the minimum.  Before that I could not do it for 3 or 4 days.”

I ask a hard question.  Does Vasu get unhappy when he experiences these tough times.  “Not exactly.  Sometimes I receive more inwardly.  When I concentrate on my heart I feel love and the presence of Sri Chinmoy.  More than the usual way, when I run.”

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I ask Vasu if he loves the race.  “I think everybody loves this race.”  He accepts and appreciates all aspects of this great struggle.  “Without the hard part we cannot feel good.”

“During the hard we can dive inside.”

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June 22: My Soul Running

“I am having a good time this year, but I still remember the 10 day race.”

Atmavir has had a long and remarkable history running the 3100 mile race.  Starting in 2007 he ran 7 straight years.  His best performance was in 2009 when he ran 45 days and 3 hours.  Last year he decided to take a break.  In order to prepare for this year’s race, he ran the 10 day race in the Spring.

He had a good performance but in the later part of the race he got sick.  A real wake up call to the whimsical reality of what can happen to expectations and performances in multi day running.  “Everything changes,” he says. “You need to change your approach.”  He knows that one moment you can be doing well and then have a sharp reality check delivered by surprise.

“I don’t have real ambitions this year.  Maybe that is why I am doing so well.  I am personally surprised by myself.” As of the start of day 8 he is in 2nd place with 597 miles.  He ran 70 miles yesterday. “I was really happy about yesterday.  It was extremely difficult weather for me.”

Over the years heat and humidity have been his staunchest foes.

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When asked about how it felt to miss participating last year.  “It was kind of sad for me, I was crying when the race started.  I was really missing the race.”  Atmavir has been staying in Ottawa and came at least 4 times last summer to visit the race.  “But I think it was very healthy for me to take a break.  I think somehow it helped me a lot, in many ways.”

This year he says, “since day 2 I feel as though I have been running through my soul.  I don’t feel my body most of the time.  It is a really beautiful experience.  I don’t feel as though I am putting in too much effort.”

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Atmavir also feels as though the extensive scaffolding has been helpful by shading much of the course.

“I feel as though most of the time I am observing.  I also like running alone, it is precious time. Time is passing so fast.  Already it is one week gone.  I can not believe.  It is amazing.”

I ask him if he seems to be getting stronger each day.  He says he feels that each day he is going more deeply within himself.  “We are getting more strength from within.”  In the beginning he believes the first few days are more mental.  For him though, “From day 2 I felt as though my soul was running.”

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Dr.Kumar’s advice to him was, “let your body run and you meditate.  I am just happy to be here.  For me it is the greatest opportunity to make spiritual progress.  I have experienced it many times.”

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June 21: New Things To Transcend

“I really would like to come back.”

I had just joked with Suprabha that Ashprihanal is going to tie her record of completing the race 13 times.  She laughs as she says this, but her comment is not far from the range of the possible.

Suprabha has continually defied our notions of strength and determination.  A wisp of humanity that seems surcharged with boundless energy.  Its source, clearly not linked to her slim petite physique. Yet when you listen to her soft gentle words, as she speaks about her time spent so long upon this road you can begin to sense the origin of her unique and special gift.

Suprabha has always dedicated each of her steps, her laps, and her miles to the divinity within.  An inspiration and a source not lost on any of us who have watched and appreciated her running year after.  Clearly  Suprabha has forged a unique connection to some form of higher power for many many years.

In those 13 summers she ran the race she completed 40,300 miles circling the block.  When asked what kind of mileage she is putting in now she confesses, “it is really not enough.”

Suprabha’s running since she last participated here in 2009 has not been without challenges.  In March she went with some friends to run the Chico half marathon.  The place where her late spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy ran his first marathon. By doing some extra loops they actually ran a full marathon.  “What a beautiful course.  I just loved it. I had a really nice experience.  That is sacred ground the way this is sacred ground to us.”

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Suprabha lives in Washington but visits the New York area often.  “I always come around this way and do a few laps.  I think it will always be special to me this course.”  As she says this she points at different spots that Sri Chinmoy had over the years stopped and encouraged the runners.  “He also walked it and ran it.  It is very special.”

It seems now that Suprabha has been participating in ultra races for many many years.  She doesn’t recall that she ever had to make the decision herself whether or not to be so closely involved with the sport.  She says she feels it was decided for her.

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When asked about the suffering involved in being a part of something so hard.  “The amazing thing is that, and this is true for me and I imagine for other people. After the race is over.  I don’t remember all the difficult things.  They all kind of fade away.  I only remember the good things.  The victory at the end.” The struggles and pain she said are not what she took with her when she left the race course.

I ask Suprabha if she ever felt she could have run the race by herself.  “O no, it is a whole team effort.  You don’t even have to talk to everybody.  There is a feeling of family.  We are all in it together.”

She also feels that Self Transcendence is not really related to time and to numbers on the board.  “It is something else.  There are always new things to transcend.  Whether it is your time, or your consciousness or being happy. There are so many things we can transcend.”

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