A Grace Race

She is not just the leading woman in the 6 day race, Dipali Cunningham 51 from Melbourne Australia is the leader overall.  In so many ways it is this race that is the focus for her of an entire years worth of training.  Unlike many of the other  top runners, who test themselves at many different events during the year, this is it for her.  There may be a marathon here and there but in no way does any other event take center stage in her life quite like the Self Transcendence 6 day race.

One might think that this could cause undue pressure and tension in an elite athlete such as herself.  Just one single big race is a remarkably slender window of opportunity to perform at your peak in comparison to the great possibilities  of other competitions over an entire year.  Regardless, when ever she takes center stage in Flushing Meadow park she seems to always find just the right ingredients. Both inwardly and outwardly she somehow manages to offer up a memorable performance.  Her preparations seem perfect.

“Last year I had a grace race,” she says.  For those who were able to be here and watch the event unfold it was an extraordinary performance by Dipali, who set a world record, and by Pam Reed who set an America one.  The two women were intertwined for 6 long days in a epic battle in which there were no losers.  Instead each saw only admiration and appreciation of the other and with this inspiration it drew them both to new performance heights.  “I think between us both, as women, we pulled ourselves to the highest level of running,”she says.

She knows that Pam had come to Flushing Meadow in order to break her world record.  Regardless Pam was able to see first hand the stuff that Dipali was made of.  “She saw in me that even at 50, there is something in me that still wanted to transcend.”  This determination and strength she feels all comes from the influence and inspiration of her late spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy.

In the women’s competition this year she is alone.  I am curious how it is possible to come back here with the same enthusiasm as last year.  She says, “I came out here again with the same feeling of self transcendence.”  She is honest in that she would love to better her performance from last year.  She also is very aware that the numbers on the board adamantly refuse to bend. They are intractable and will only shift with each hard fought mile.   On her first day she reached 101 and knew she needed 105 or better to break the record.

This is her 31’st multi day race.  For her every race has had its own unique surprises and blessings.  “This race I feel like I am learning a lot more about humility.”  She is adamant in describing her achievements as not being due to her own efforts.  The credit she believes perhaps coming from something inner working through her.

At the end of our conversation she seems quite pleased that perhaps the boys in the race may be getting a little more inspiration from herself and Kaneenika (who is also leading the 10 day) than they expected.  “We will see what happens.”

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The rain over the past 2 days has been relentless.  The course, always vulnerable to accumulating puddles now has several bodies of water on it that could be given names and should offer a ferry service.  Crews have been working tirelessly to keep the course clear.

Never enough can be said about the volunteer medical staff.  Generally a quick chiropractic adjustment can get most problems sorted quite quickly.  On this Sunday afternoon Thomas is keeping track of booking appointments with Mitch, Meghabhuti, and Gaurish.  The current wet conditions of course had their impact on feet and there is real concern that bodies, as much as possible stay warm and dry.

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Mitch Proffman recently moved near by and likes to come by a couple of times a day.  He is a runner himself and likes to come and run with the runners in the morning.  He is a full time chiropractor and he is able to relieve just about any and all aches and pains with an adjustment.

“Most of what I see is a huge amount of blisters, shin splints, and severe muscle ache and spasms.”  Most of which is not the usual fare at his practice.  It may happen from time to time he says but not to this degree or intensity.

“I love this race,” he says.  “None of the men and woman who come in to get adjusted ever very rarely complain.  I have done 3 marathons and I know the pain and the discomfort you feel.  I always said after 13 or 14 miles I was ready to go home.  And it is amazing that they go day in and day out.  They run 50 or 60 miles and they don’t complain, and they are always very happy and humble and that is why I love this race.”

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Gaurish is also a full time chiropractor and healer.  He says that while here however there is little time to do the in depth work he normally is able to conduct in his practice.  Mostly for him it is a quick adjustment and away they go.  Asked to what unique things he finds when he is working on runners he says, “if they have a similar consciousness they often have similar injuries.  So it is really a mind game they are working with.”

In his practice he has the luxury of being able to work at length with his patients.  For him healing is an art that requires time, patience, and being able to establish a real connection with his patient.   Here there is little time available and also the waiting list can be long for his services.  He has 6 1/2 minutes at best and at the most 10.

“So if there are an issues with fear and anxiety they will hold stress in certain patterns.  Might be conscious aware of it might not.”  He says that inevitably those who are most relaxed and at peace tend to have the fewest difficulties of all.  In this kind of event which is so challenging he believes that it is for most a do or die situation.  “Either you break through or you break down.”  Ultimately it is a decision the runner has to make for themselves.  If they are able to overcome this than it is possible to really transcend.    “The more you are willing to let go the more the more transformations you will experience.”

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Late on Saturday night I couldn’t help but notice that Alex Swenson had 147 miles on the board.  One more than his previous best over 24 hours.  The unfortunate thing was that during the 4 hours I was there, through and into Sunday morning, there was no Alex out on the course to ask.  On Sunday afternoon he was there and moving as fast as always.

He tells me that he had a calf problem going into the race.  “It pretty much kicked me to the curb and I pretty much gave up and I slept for 10 hours.  Then the medical folks (Kausal…Dr. from Italy) got me back out here.  This of course threw his schedule completely off.  The passing of his old previous greatest mileage he says had particular significance because of the struggle to accomplish it.  “I had to go through that valley in order to get to the other side.”

He is also hopeful that this experience does not visit him again.  He tells me that he is feeling terrific and he is running well.

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On Sunday afternoon David Holt 41, from Pepperell MA.,says he is falling apart.  He was happy with the early part of the 6 day race but now things are not going well.  It is his first multi day and after day one he has entered into brand new territory.  Some of the usual torments of multi days have paid him visits.  There are blisters shin splints, and finding it difficult to sleep.  “That cold rain and wind took some of the wind out of my sails.”

His last big race was the 24 hour race in Quebec last year, this race he describes, “is a whole new adventure for me.  I always wanted to do it.”

His expectations are to be still moving at the end of 6 days, and hopefully make 400 miles.  Though a little disappointed with some of difficulties he is experiencing he says nonetheless, “the organization is fantastic. The people are fantastic. I have always known it has been a great organization.”  He feels that it is this genuine help that is for him and the other runners helping to push them on.

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There is a strong Kiwi presence here on the course which is unusual in itself but what may be even more re- markable is that the lives of 4 New Zealand girls are joined in way that is more than just that they share a love of running.  The 2 girls entered in the race, Sophie and Prasasta are receiving help from their own sisters.

“I am like an ordinary person,” says Prasasta Armstrong, 28, from Christchurch New Zealand.  With no mulit day experience whatever she says, “I just got a feeling to do this race.”  Her longest race prior to this was the marathon.

3 years ago her sister Ujjwala did the race and she helped her then but the feeling to come herself did not occur until much later.

It did however continually pop up in her thoughts.  “Then it grew and grew.”  She seems to be in a constant state of delight.  She moves well and seems joyous but says, “this is the only time I am doing it.”  I am unconvinced.

Her goal is to complete 50 miles a day which she seems to be on track to do.  One of here surprises it seems is that she has yet to receive any injuries.  “It’s a miracle.”

Her sister Ujjwala is a terrific help for her.  Besides running the race herself she has helped Suprabha in the 3100 for 4 years.  She is also not letting her take it easy and seems to be able to give her encouragement at just the right times.

At one point during our conversation we pass Barney, also a New Zealander who is hobbling along in the 10 day.

She is surprised to find a joy in feeling a oneness with nature, even if it is to most of us, just a little sliver of green carved up by expressways.

If you were to look for somebody who seems to be enjoying the race more than anyone else you would have to point to Prasasta. She confesses ultimately that, “Maybe I will have to do it again if I want to have this experience.”

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It may be her first multi day race but Sophie Anderson, 32, Auckland is doing a whole better than just okay.  The board declares that the moment that she is in 4th place.

She says for her that the 6 day race has been something that she has wanted to do for 10 years.  It seems as well that the race is everything that she could have imagined.  “It has been lovely.” Despite having a few problems with her feet the previous day she says, “I am happy.”





She came into the race with some trepidation about how difficult it might be but her surprise is that none of this has really manifested itself.  “I am surprised that I can keep running. I feel really good.”

It is for her more than just running miles.  It is while here on the course that she feels a close connection to her late teacher, Sri Chinmoy.  For her, being part of this and trying to do your best is the way one can best identify with his message of self-transcendence.

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There are family teams here of another kind, husbands and wives that is.
Sometimes you just need to pull of the track and fix a blister on your own and maybe just have an old fashioned stretch.

Inspiration

I need

To run my Race.

Aspiration

I need

To win my Race.

Realisation

I need

To feel God’s Grace.

Excerpt from The Dance Of Life, Part 13 by Sri Chinmoy

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