Sri Chinmoy’s long distance running life started in a simple and spontaneous way. On June 1 1978 while visiting in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park where he had just planted and dedicated a Peace tree. It was a typical late spring day, overcast and coolish. A not untypical San Franciscan day. After the formalities of the Peace tree inauguration he invited the small gathering of his students to go out and run with him in the park. They did not run far and they did not run fast but it was something new and it was a clear sign that a great shift in life in the Sri Chinmoy center was about to take place.
After the run, and still slightly out of breath, he invited all who were there to come and run the New York city marathon in the fall of the year. It was an invitation that would spread out far and wide, to all of his students everywhere. Running the New York city marathon became a tradition that continued for many years until 2002, when the marathon team then sponsored their own race in August during the yearly celebrations.
There were of course many recent events in the year leading up to June 1 1978, that had given us strong clues that distance running would become the next big thing in the center. The Liberty Torch relay had crisscrossed America just 2 years earlier and Canada’s Oneness Heart had traversed the country from coast to coast the summer before. From these events Sri Chinmoy’s students had received a small sampling of what running could accomplish both within and without. He was obviously inspired to provide even more opportunities for the young men and women in the center so that they might find opportunities to excel and transcend themselves in sport. No one realized of course that Sri Chinmoy the sprinter would soon become a distance runner himself.
What no one knew, on that cool spring day, was that an even greater opportunity for progress was soon to arrive. It would come even before most could even digest fully the significance of running the 26 mile marathon in New York.
A few of us had been fortunate enough to be just slightly ahead of the pack. A handful had run the 1976 NYC marathon and an even greater number, including myself had run in 1977. But a little more than a month after this recording was made, and probably less than a month before his 47th birthday, Sri Chinmoy offered us all a totally surprising and unprecedented invitation. Starting at midnight, on August 27th, when his 47th birthday was to begin we were all invited to run in a 47 mile race.
Many years have passed since we all heard this news. It is a distance now that is minuscule when compared to the thousands of miles that are now run regularly in many of the marathon teams scheduled events. At the time however it was such a formidable number that even the young, trained, and very fit runners could not really comprehend how it could be done. To make it even more interesting it was to be run on a course that started on the gritty cinder track of Jamaica high school and then meander around the outer block with its bumpy sidewalks, sharp turns, and the formidable Margaret Tietz hill. It was an unbelievable challenge and most had no idea what to expect. It was after all almost twice as far as a marathon. It was hard to even imagine if we could make it to the track for that last victory lap and still be able to grab the flag and make it through to the finish line.
No one can truly comprehend the totality of a Spiritual Master. Safe to say his task is to be but pure guidance, compassion and love for his disciples. He never forces anyone to do anything beyond their capacity and, he has a clear insight of what course will take us most directly and speedily to our goal. We may not ever understand him, but we do have the obligation of understanding and developing fully our relationship to our spiritual Master. This comes in many ways and over time. Principally through spiritual practices and disciplines is it gradually and steadily nurtured and obtained. Over a life time it slowly evolves and blossoms. Each day more and more is revealed but most of us have a limited capacity for serious and lengthy meditation. To transfer sedentary meditation to active distance running is another matter. It is a unique way to occupy the mind and body with the challenge of long distance while simultaneously allowing the heart to come to the for.
What I, and most of us discovered that first night we ran the 47 mile race was that this race would be like no other. It was a unique and dynamic spiritual act in its own right. True it would be hard, long, and difficult but the reward we all gained over the hours on the road were immeasurable. For many it was but one long sustained meditation. An opportunity to see that even in the most difficult things in life, our teacher, Sri Chinmoy, was in fact acting in and through us. By simply letting go of our limitations he would open up our inner unbounded capacity and we would be able to see, that in fact. nothing was impossible, if it was truly inspired from within.
But there was something more about running throughout the long dark night of the 47. Every moment you could not help but be aware that it was our Guru’s birthday. That whatever inner connection you felt or held in your heart for your spiritual teacher was almost always constantly present with each step and with each additional mile achieved on our way towards the goal. You could not help but be conscious of all the countless things that he had done to inspire your life, for the love and affection he provided, and the guidance and care that can only come from one who has accepted a deep and personal responsibility for your spiritual life. In other words it was impossible while running to not be aware of just how lucky we all were to have a true teacher, and be offered a unique and golden opportunity to help in our inner growth. And to add to all this, on 2 occasions he himself ran the full distance running with us over the course of the long dark night.
I am not sure at what moment I really understood what the 47 really meant to me. The first race was 32 years ago. I seem to recall however, that even from my first step that took us all forward, about 12:07 that night, that for me this race would be my gift to Sri Chinmoy. There was nothing I had that he needed or wanted. He was all about giving to his his students. In return the least I could offer to him was my absolute best effort and my heart’s dedication in this 47 mile race. A gift that I gave for quite a few years and is one that many still find able to give even today.
47 mile photos by Bhashwar
It is late and the final moments of day are swiftly passing. Midnight looms ever closer with its own special thrill and excitement. The first thing most notice, despite the lateness of the hour is that no one is sleepy, no one is tired, the expectation and wonder of it all is fast approaching.
Remarkably there are many runners here who also ran the marathon just 2 days ago. Teekhnata ran a 3:56 marathon.
For many this will be the first time they have run this distance. 19 year old Antara-Prarabhat remarkably ran his first marathon 2 days ago in 4:25. Now he will run his first 47. Vilupti recently had her 47th birthday. She could think of nothing better to honor her Guru than to run the race for her first time.
Kaneenika also ran the marathon 2 days ago in 3:51.
And yet the goal remains the same for everyone.
Then as midnight at last draws close it becomes so wonderfully still and tranquil. The invocation is sung as it has always been done. The air is still cool and fresh. A perfect night to run. A perfect way to become.
From the very start it is abundantly clear that Vajin is going to have an exceptional night. Unlike many of the other runners he has passed up running the marathon in order to concentrate solely on the 47. Last year he ran a personal best and set a record for the second best time ever run on the course, 5:27.
From the start he runs strongly and it appears likely that if all goes well he will transcend himself. What most hold their breath about is if he will in fact be able to surpass the great record set by Virendra exactly 30 years ago tonight.
For Dipali this is her race as well. She has spent practically every birthday here doing this same thing for nearly 30 years. She seems to have always been victorious no matter her condition. She will take the lead for the women from the moment she rounds the track and heads out onto 168th st.
Sometime during the night Granantan, who had run a 2:41 marathon 2 days earlier has to take a bathroom break. When he gets back on the course he is running just a little bit slower with the hope of Vajin catching him up. I think it must be a great opportunity to do an interview, since now he is running at least a little slower. In case you are wondering, he was still plenty fast. At that time he still had hopes of being able to complete the double and finish the 47 as well.
Prasasta, Vajin’s wife is his handler over the course of the long night. She waits patiently for his arrival each lap with coconut water and an energy bar. She is very excited when we talk about 2 hours into the race. At this point Vajin is running on his own as Granatan had to briefly leave the course.
“He is on pace, he is doing like 7:30 minutes (per lap).” They have calculated the time necessary in order to break Virendra’s record. In the second half he can slow down to an 8 minute per lap pace.
“We just came together. It is definitely nice to have someone with me.”(Dhavala) 2 days ago both Dhavala and Jayasalini had run the marathon. Their finishing times were within 4 minutes of each other. Extremely close. Now, almost from the beginning of the race they run side by side in an extraordinary act of oneness between two of the top competitors.
Jayasalini says it all, “I just love to run together. It definitely helps, and it is much easier to keep up the speed, and you feel oneness.” Before the race Jayasalini tells me that someone had come to her before it and had told her how important the 47 mile race was to Sri Chinmoy. They suggested that one could achieve inwardly all the necessary progress that was needed over the 2 week celebration just by running the race.
When I ask the two girls if they have talked much during the night they both laugh out loud. “We are friends.”
When asked what they were talking about Dhavala says, “she told me all about the 10 day race.” More laughter.
They also both feel that being in the race is an opportunity to give back something and to be grateful. They also recognize that there is tremendous energy available to all who participate and that for the rest of the night they will try and simply go with it.
“It is an incredibly special race.” Uddipan has run the race at least 5 times before. “It is an utterly sacred race. It is an experience. Not really a race. People who go hard out and race it only, I don’t think they get the whole thing. It is a total blessing on your entire life.” He also feels that it is the best possible way to give something deep and significant back to the teacher on whose birthday the race is run.
On his strategy, “you have to run within yourself. Run easy for the marathon See where you are at timing whys, at the marathon. You have just over another 20 miles to do and see what you got left. The race really starts for me after the marathon (26 miles).
Part of his strategy in being able to stay within is to chant prayers, which he had just done for an hour and a half. He also has one of Sri Chinmoy’s songs which he sings to himself as he runs that gives him strength and as well a rhythm to match his foot steps.
Lots of preparation goes into preparing food for the runners. This year Sugandha has a small army of cooks helping her prepare food at the Smile of the Beyond. Quantity is important, but most importantly not short cuts are taken when it comes to quality. There are many hungry folks out there all night besides the runners. The helpers also spend many long hours there as well.
“I feel happy.” The appearance of first time runner Vilupti at the race this year is a surprise of everyone but her. “I just turned 47 about a month ago, so I am running the 47 to honor Guru for my 47 years. In January it came to me that it was my 47th year, and I wanted to do something special, because the year sounded so special.” She admits that she is not a great runner. Instead she finds that participating for her is a humble offering to her late teacher for all that he did for her. “In gratitude for everything.”
2 days ago Garbitashri ran a superb marathon. Her time of 3:02 gave her the best time of all the other women runners. Her closest competitor, Dhavala, was some 13 minutes back. Late in the evening she passes Dipali for the overall women’s lead in the 47 and then an injury appears. She comes limping up the street and meets Tarit. She asks for advice and he gently suggests she call it a night. The race is over for Garbitashri a great champion.
“I am trying to enjoy myself, and it is not too hard to do. The 47 gives me a chance to give a response back to self doubt. In a very tangible way.” For Jeremy self doubt means telling him things like you are not prepared or ready to run such a distance.
He is has run the race 3 times and has had much different experiences each time he has run. He says that running the race 4 years ago was his first ultra distance race. “It was difficult and I had some rough spots. I had to pray a lot, and gut it out. The finish was really tearful for me, as I was so happy to have made it through.”
The second year he was more confident but there is always new experiences to be gained in each race here. “The experience was much more in line with what I felt deep inside my capacities were. I had been a strong marathoner but was fairly new to ultra running.” He is relaxed and comfortable as we run together. He tells me that Sri Chinmoy and his disciples have left a lasting impression on this race and on the course. “There is definitely something special here.”
“Tonight I just want to experience cheerfulness. It is my only goal.”
“For me it is so nice, because I haven’t participated in this race for many years.” Suprabha has the best possible excuse not to have run the race in a long time, as she has spent 13 summers across the street running the 3100 mile race. This year she was not able to run and so has run the marathon and as well the 47. She says simply, “I am happy to be here again.”
Her running partner for a good deal of the race is Palash. She likes it because, “it feels completely sacred.” She tells me that at this point she has no idea of even what lap she is on. Her hope is purely to make it to the finish line and be able to complete the race holding the banner. “It is always a real thrill and a highlight of the whole year, and a privilege.” For her the race is a unique experience in being able to offer herself on this most auspicious day. Her Guru’s birthday.
Then again having willing helpers giving out cups of water all night is wonderful too.
Pratyaya has been race directing since the beginning. She has been helped by many others who have continued from year one as well.
Vajin will have a transcendent race. Last year he broke the second best time by several minutes and this year he manages to take off another 12 minutes of his own record. His official time is 5:15:06. I had a chance to speak with a very elated Vajin and friends shortly after his finish. He modestly calls his effort last night, “a step in the right direction.”
“It was a very intense experience, but at the same time a very rewarding experience. Specially right at the end, the last few laps. There was so much encouragement and support out on the course. It was really in the last few laps that the mind had really had enough running at that intensity and speed for so long. So you really have to get in touch with yourself.”
As he is speaking his best friend Granantan is massaging his legs. “We do much of our training together, and he very kindly entered the race after running the marathon and getting second place in that. He has got real oneness, that he could come out and run together.” He also is very glad to have his wife Prasasta at the track helping out all night. “It was really nice have her here this year. She is great support for my running and for my training.”
“The race is great, it is such a long journey. Just getting to the starting line, and getting in your best shape as possible is not a one day, one week, or one month thing. It takes real dedication for such a long period of time to get into shape and run 47 miles as fast as you can. It is like at the end of the day the journey (training) is so rewarding the race is like icing on the cake. It is like a celebration. It is so nice, because your training is so solid and then you come here and race. And then there is all the people here. There is such a beautiful sense of oneness and support from all your brothers and sisters from all over the world. It is such nice thing to share something that I have worked so hard at.” As well he hopes that his love of the race and commitment to it can inspire others.
It was 30 years ago tonight that the record for the race was set by Virendra. “Last year I was like 17 or 18 minutes away, which is a long way.” With his 5:15 he feels very grateful. Over the years no one has been within 30 minutes of the 5:09 record. “It is nice to show people that it is still possible. That is what we all are looking for is progress. So it is nice to see things moving in the right direction, and hopefully, in the next few years we see someone run under that time.”
“I am very grateful that I was able to run under 6 hours.” Tim’s time of 5:57 is remarkable. That he ran a personal best of 2:50 in the marathon places it in the category of an extraordinary achievement. It is a time that in most other years would have won this race but his fellow Kiwi Vajin’s incredible effort has sky rocketed that place out of most mere mortal’s grasp.
Of his night he says, “I am very happy. I felt quite good, there was a lot of encouragement which really helped me a lot. I had a good helper, he was keeping me on track.” I tell him how amazed I am that he was able to do so well in both races. “I think when we put the effort in, the help comes.”
The presence of one young runner on the course is also especially remarkable. 19 year old Antara-Prabhat will look back upon this summer as one of many firsts. 2 days ago he ran his first marathon in 4:24. Tonight he is running as well the 47. His proud mother has been there most of the morning encouraging him. As the sun grows bright he seems to run even stronger than before. Of his racing, his mom says, “he didn’t even properly train for it. He told me a month before the marathon. I am going to run the marathon.” She asked him if he had been doing any long runs, “well I ran 10 miles yesterday. I guess he did one 15 mile run since then.
If Vajin’s finish was not amazing enough than the appearance of Jayasalini and Dhavala crossing the line hand in hand to win the women’s race had to be a first in terms of oneness. It is hard to recall ever seeing anything so extraordinarily beautiful as the 2 girls circling the course as one for the 6 hours and 41 minutes that it took them to complete the distance.
Jayasalini, “we supported each other so amazingly. Only in oneness could we complete it.” As they speak with me the figure of Dipali strides onto the track. You can hear the girls and in fact everyone on the track cheer.
She is just 3 minutes behind but it is the first time in many years that the race has not been hers alone to win. Her face clearly reveals that she had nothing else left to give tonight. “I felt like I gave 200%. My body was definitely very weak, in the last 10 laps” In those last laps she had a profound sense that not only was she sharing birthdays with her late spiritual teacher but also that she was making a deep and heartfelt attempt to offer the results of her race cheerfully and self givingly. “I feel so grateful, just to finish. I am so proud of everybody who does this race. It is not easy.”
There are so many powerful transformative experiences to be had here. To discover unity in which usually there is only competition. To find joy in ways in which, on the surface, joy is not easily found. The 47 mile race has been touching people and transforming runners for 32 years. New generations will discover their own joy and meaning in coming here and circling the track 40 times. It is a unique day of opportunity for all who have attempted to follow in the spiritual, and the very real foot steps of Sri Chinmoy.
Tomaz is exhausted. Tonight he ran the 47 in 6:44. Two days ago he also ran a 3:08 marathon. It is also the first time he has run the 47. He didn’t have any expectations of what would happen here. “I just started running and let’s see what happens.”
First I had a lot of joy and happiness and speed, than suddenly I have some problems.” He will be back and run again next year.
They are the ones that defy age. They have run here for 32 years and show no sign of giving up any time soon. Arpan’s feet bother him so much he runs in plastic clogs. His time will be 8:13. Gaurima runs with more joy and energy than can be contained within 2 running shoes.
Vilupti perseveres throughout a long remarkable night. She simply has had no experience at running this distance and yet she continues. Continues through nausea, through a Himalayan ordeal of woes, and yet finds victory in the waning minutes of the race. Her time of 9:52 is a great achievement for someone who suddenly found themselves at age 47, and coming face to face with a race of that same distance.
If she had limitations during the race she simply refused to listen and give in. Once again proving that we are always much much more than what appears to be. How so seldom we dip deep into the well of our true capacities and attempt to really offer what we have and what we are.
For Vilupti, if not all who have run here tonight, they have shared not just a long road through the dark night but also they have been one with a golden bright opportunity. They had a chance to feel the presence of their spiritual teacher in their hearts like in no other way. To draw inspiration, to draw strength and to draw his love. In return they only had to give of themselves 47 miles of running in his name. To offer this simple gift in return for something priceless beyond measure.
“My Beloved Supreme, I have some gifts for You. My first gift is my soulful cry. My second gift is my fruitful smile. My third and special gift is my oneness-heart. My fourth and extra-special gift is my gratitude-fame.”
“My child, I am all gratitude to you, and I have also a gift for you. This is My gift: I need you infinitely more than you can ever imagine. With you I started My Vision’s journey; with you I shall reach My Reality’s Satisfaction-Goal.”Excerpt from Everest Aspiration Part 3 by Sri Chinmoy