Finish Line: Each New Day, Each New Mile

There once was a time, not too long ago, when how fit and strong you were had a much deeper significance in our lives than it does today.  It is a relatively short journey back along our evolutionary ladder when in fact if you were not fit or strong, or perhaps extremely cunning you simply wouldn’t survive.

It was back in the age, when if you wanted to eat dinner you either had to chase it down or till the earth and make it grow. Also in that time, when danger came along, you had better be able to out run it, or you would be diner for something much fiercer and stronger than you.

The 6 & 10 Day Self Transcendence race finally came to an end today.  It was a breezy overcast day with alternating showers mixed with tantalizing glimpses of bright sun.  By all accounts it was a wonderful event in which nearly every one declared that they had a wonderful time.  One can hope that if there were a few abstainers from this view than we can predict that there perspective just might mellow a little with time.  That maybe in a few weeks, when the aches and blisters are all gone they may reassess their opinions and declare it a great success.  Everyone I spoke to at least said they had a great time here at the Self Transcendence race.

Most likely there were moments when it felt like it would simply never ever be over.  That 10 days or 6 days is an eternity when you are trying to run as far as you possibly can.   In the great scheme of things this amount of time is nothing.   Perhaps though, what each of  the runners achieved here may in fact be much more precious than they dare to even realize.

The race was not covered by any big news network and though 17 countries were represented here it was barely a blip on the global news radar.  It was of course pretty important to me and also to many others who have tried to follow the events taking place here.  As monotonous as it might seem there were ever evolving dramatic changes taking place here, on a moment to moment, mile to mile basis.  For me it least it was a place of dreams and hopes.  It is simply almost impossible for a non participant to adequately recognize all the toil and effort that goes into it, with a just an added dash of suffering thrown in for good measure.  The reward for all who worked so hard here  is negligible, that is when you consider just how much effort was sacrificed over this brief but intense period.

No one’s survival was ever at stake, no danger lurked behind any bushes, and food was always available, without the need for a spear or a plow.  The real value of all this individual effort however is another matter.  There were, from time to time, moments of ego and pride that surfaced and helped push a runner out of bed and back on the road.  Perhaps chasing a glory that only they could see, and maybe they caught the golden ring and maybe it slipped away, but still something was gained in all this mysterious incomprehensible action that is masked by our human frailty.

For beneath our goretex running suits and anatomically correct shoes is the real us.  Something that we all hope we can draw closer to, even though we may not understand nor clearly see exactly what it is.  There is an inspiration that comes from our heart and continues to push us onward.  It is not bad to believe that maybe, just maybe, we can make at least a little progress each new day and with each new mile.  For in our present age running is no longer just about physical survival but can be about something deeper, soulfully illumining, and much more profoundly transcendent.

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Day Ten: Much More Than Running

Luckily I have done these before, and I’ve gotten through a lot of pain and problems.  I knew that if I tried to enjoy the race as much as possible and be cheerful and move forward than I wouldn’t have to worry about the pace.  Then eventually my body would pick up.”  A couple of days ago when I was at the race, I saw someone coming towards me that I simply couldn’t recognize.

The figure that was moving along was so hobbled over and bent out of shape  that I thought I was looking at some crippled old man.    I was wrong, it was Arpan.  He tells me that a quadricep problem in one leg and a hamstring in another had simply stopped working.  His forward momentum looked more like a crawl than a walk.  I couldn’t tell who it was until he was practically right in front of me.  I was shocked.

In many areas of life when the obstacles appear to be insurmountable it is advisable to stop and simply retreat for safety.  In ultra distance races the usual guidelines that we apply to normal human activities simply no longer apply.  Logic and common sense are our dear friends most of the time, but when we have them as our constant companions, we can only go so far.

Our relationship with our own negative qualities never ever has an upside and when we put all our trust in our mental faculties the definition of our world becomes constrained and limited.

We are all aware at times of the higher possibilities that we all have within us.  Whether because of timidity, or simply plain fear, we sometimes simply fail to even attempt  to reach and attain a lofty goal that is clearly beckoning us. In a multi day race there is very little room for hesitation or for for fear.  When failure attempts to stand in our way we simply have to find a way to go beyond it.

First thing this afternoon I find Arpan walking along side of Shashanka and they are having a great time together.  They are now well into the final day of the race and it is now clear that Arpan did the right thing by simply pushing on through the pain.  He tells me that he might just run again soon.  “I am just conserving my energy for the last 12 hours.” He has seen his original goal of running 100km a day, now down sized, to hopefully an average of 60.

Shashanka has also seen a readjustment of his own goals.  “One was to smile more than last year, and that is not easy especially when you are hurting.”  In this regard he has definitely succeeded.  He says that despite having to adjust his goals, it was worth going through all the pain, the fatigue, and all the nameless torments that a runner become intimately acquainted with here.

For him running  these races is not just a good thing it is a necessity.    “It is always beneficial.  Because in whatever state you are, you are always making progress.  You are having all these experiences.  I had 4 days that were very hard.  It is the name of the game.  It is about much more than running .”

Arpan says, “you are challenged to be happy, when inevitably things are going to be tough physically. When you are hurting and things are not going right, and you learn how to be happy through that.  Then it is easier to be happy in real life.  It is a real valuable experience whether you do good or not.”  He says that despite not getting all the miles he would like, he still deeply appreciates the experiences that he was able to have here. Both vow to train more before they do it again,  “You can’t fool your body in this race.”

“Tomorrow at noon we are gone.  You know you get happier towards the end, but during the race you have to find happiness no matter what happens, and that is the real challenge.  It is really beneficial.”

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Day Nine: The Fire Within

Multi day races have been with us a long time.  There are some records that show it was a sport as early as the late 18th century and certainly it continued on, well into the 20th. There was a time when it was considered a popular spectator sport.  It was something every body could identify with, because for just about everybody, walking was the only way you were going to get anywhere.  You were probably very lucky to have a horse in the early days, and to have the capacity to cover great distances on foot was practical.  It was also probably pretty entertaining for those who couldn’t make it so far.

Eventually it became a real spectator event, and sometimes people would come by the thousands to watch, and perhaps make a little wager now and then.  Well there are no bets on the outcome of the Self Transcendence race here in Flushing Meadow.  No world records are likely to be broken and yet some pretty wonderful things are happening here just the same on a regular basis.   Though mostly they are very personal and very private experiences happening from time to time to each and every runner.  The little miracles that make such a difficult challenge as this so rewarding to those who undertake it.

Many helpers flow in and out of the camp at all hours of the day and night but you would hardly say there were any spectators.  It is a happy place but it is also a busy place.  The runners are trying to do their best and the many helpers are trying their very best to make this experience as perfect as possible for them.  I have heard stories of multi day races in which there are in fact very few helpers at all, particularly at night.  Technology in these races is used as best it can to keep score and track all the data.  There isn’t much high tech equipment at the Self Transcendence race.  It is very much about people working and sometimes playing together.  Achieving goals that aren’t virtual but are real.  All happening both outwardly and inwardly, creating true experiences that just might change your life.

It is really nice to know that there are so many people all over the world who are trying to follow what is happening here.  Thanks to the internet you can pretty much see who is trying to tap into the race from afar.  In Denmark there are a lot of folks following Lars and in Australia there are those who are routing for Martin, Sarah, and Dipali.  There is one red dot in the middle of Russia that really has me baffled.  Many of these people are more than icons on a map.  They are family and friends and fellow runners who just couldn’t come, but are really interested in what is happening here.

The Self Transcendence race is only a click away via the internet.  All the results are available every day, hundreds of photographs, and yes blog posts.  As I look at those dots, I sometimes like to imagine the faces of those who are staring into computer screens to watch.  I have a hope that for all you who take the time to visit via the internet that you remember how wonderful it is to just to stand on a great green field of grass here, blazing with golden flowers and feel the runners pass by.  See their brilliant smiles and sometimes,  if only briefly, the other side.   Expressions that come from a place that exists on the distant shore away from joy.

There are fires burning in the hearts of all who run here.  It is powerful and it is inspiring, and I hope that maybe just maybe you too might really feel that Self Transcendence is taking place not just in a breezy park in Flushing Meadow.  That maybe you can identify in a way in which it is real for you as well.  That in your identification with those who are trying so hard you become much more than a little red dot far away.  That you too feel the fire within.

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Day Eight: Treasure Every Second

For much of  humanity the only thing that really matters in their lives are the numbers.  We can try sometimes and define who we are by what we have, what we know, and yes, by what we do.  This simple math can reveal rudimentary aspects of our lives but certainly not the totality of who we really are.  The 6 and 10 race is an extraordinary place to find and reveal aspects of your being that perhaps you didn’t even know existed.  Peel back the exterior bits of how we generally see ourselves.  Then you can confront the tigers lurking within.  Maybe as well become better acquainted with the glowing core within each of us  and ultimately allow transformation and self transcendence to become the real goal in our lives.

Happiness for most people is of paramount importance.  Normally you would be hard pressed to equate happiness with endurance events like what is happening right now in Flushing Meadow.  Yet on so many faces of those who are running here, you can clearly see their joy being expressed, sometimes even constantly.  You know they are in pain, you know they are fatigued, you know that there are nagging little demons crying out for them, to if not stop, then to at least slow down.  Yet the runner does not listen.

Jayasalini Abramovskikh is a 30 year old runner from Moscow.  For the last 8 years she has come to Flushing Meadow to run in the Self Transcendence races.  This year she is again running the 10 day race ,and though I am not certain of this she may be one of the happiest people I have ever met.  “Only being happy can you run well,” she says.  “You can even do much better mileage, staying happy.  Otherwise nothing.”

Jayasalini started the race 7 days ago with a whopping 84 miles on her first day.  She is not only averaging 68 miles a day, she is also currently is in a neck and neck competition with Sarah Barnett.  As we run along together Sarah in fact rolls past us as if we were standing still.  She takes no notice of this at all.  It is clear that for Jayasalini her happiness is all about focusing on who she is and what she must do here over 10 days.   Nothing could steal her joy away quicker than to be worrying about how her competition is doing in the race.

When she realized how many miles she did on her first day she thought, “wow that is really a lot. But everybody does their own race.  You cannot compare yourself with others.  You can only improve yourself.  This time I never look at the board at all.  This is one piece of self transcendence for myself.  I said if I do not look at the board for 10 days it will also be transcendence for me.” Read the rest of this entry »

Day Seven #2: Don’t Give Up

“The biggest challenge I thought, as I looked at the weather forecast is the weather.”  We are running together in the pitch darkness of the night.  The first tender hours of Sunday have barely begun and for the moment the conditions are still and almost perfect.  At this point Dipali has been running for a little more than 36 hours.  “It was freezing when we started, and when I came out at 3 am this morning it rained right up until about 2 in the afternoon, and I mean it rained.  I think we are doing pretty well,” she says, and laughs lightly.

The course change this year means it is no longer necessary for the runners to somehow navigate a loop that sometimes required great ingenuity on the parts of the crew and runners to make it work at all, and even though it rained heavily yesterday, no pontoon bridges or kayaks were necessary.

She tells me that she will run for 2 more laps and then take a break for a couple of hours.  “I have just done 40 miles since lunch time.  I didn’t take any break.  I just ran the straight 40 miles.  It is kind of what I do.  I don’t know if I can come out tomorrow morning and do another 40.  I already feel fatigued from the cold start and the rain.”  She had a bad flu just before the race and says she was concerned that she would even be able to do it.  “I was very weak, and decided to do it.”  She admits to still feeling some of the weakness of how the flu affected her.

I actually prefer this time of night, after 9 o’clock, when most of the runners go to bed.  And I actually indulge in the quietness.  Everybody has kind of gone, and there is just a handful of people.  I find it very peaceful and I stay out here to about 1am.  I probably won’t be resting for very long.  Maybe a couple of hours off the track and then I will be back out again.  That is just years of practice.”

“It is 20 years to the month, in May, that I did my first 7 day race,  1991 in Flushing Meadow.  I was pretty clueless.”  At the time she says the furthest she had run was 47 miles.  She was so enthusiastic that she says she blasted the first 100 miles.  This torrid pace however set her back so much she says that she could barely run for days afterward.

Dipali Cunningham now at age 52 is tremendously knowledgeable about distance running and has achieved numerous victories in her races and on occasion, has not only won the women’s division, but been the leader overall as well.  With all her success she ultimately gives credit to her late teacher Sri Chinmoy, who she feels taught her the inner lessons that she could apply not just on the road but in her life as well.  “The inner courage, the inner determination, and the wisdom.”  The race is incredibly difficult and she tries to always focus on the positive.  Use the opportunity of running to not only add up the miles but find the route that will as well lead to her own spiritual progress.

“I always say it is a surrender of the whole being.  It is a profound experience on every level.  She appreciates so much that when she started running these races 20 years ago there were just a handful of people in them.  Now she is amazed that there are more than 70 very enthusiastic runners out here in the race.  All of them she says, “finding their dreams and goals.”

“These people inspire me.  They are bringing me this newness freshness, that you don’t want to disappear in your own consciousness.”  She has after all done 32 multi day events in 20 years.  This year, in almost a complete change to her usual schedule, she ran a 24 hour race in Ottawa in the fall.  “I was really inspired to try it, and I had a great time.  I couldn’t believe how it was so different, and yet I feel that I can improve at it.  That next time I can do more.”

Then for a moment she recalls how Sri Chinmoy used to come to this same park and train, often in the middle of the night.  She imagines she says, that in her quiet moments she can still envision him out here on the course.  Even though it has been 30 years since the park last felt his footsteps, as he ran through the night.  “We can’t forget these things, they are immortal.”

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Day Seven: Other Side of Dreams

It is simply my favorite time to be at the race.  Right now, it is either very late at night, or early in the morning, take your pick.  The air is absolutely still, and a soothing warmth has ebbed back into the camp.  At 2 o’clock in the morning New York is still a very busy place.  Cars continue to dash by on the freeway, but there are many fewer at this hour.  Planes don’t scream in and out of La Guardia.  The constant rumbling stress and urgency  of the outer world has receded into the night’s gentle shadows.  For now, the world in Flushing Meadow Park is just about the runners, making their methodical way around the course.  Chasing after very real dreams that don’t come as easily to those who sleep.

Sometimes you hear their steps before you can actually see them emerging out of the darkness.

Where so much of the world is sleeping around them, for many of the runners, this is a luxury they can ill afford.  Some stagger off the course and into tents or dorms for rest, for a nap, or perhaps you might call it just a break.  But it is never the all embracing deep slumber most of us succumb to when the weight of night falls around and about us.  You see them set their clocks, so that alarms will go off in a few hours at most.  10 days or 6 days seems like such a grand and luxurious swath of time, but it isn’t.  Precious minutes lost to sleep mean miles snatched away when the whistle blows at the end.

Nobody might really notice if you have let a mile slip away here and there from your daily total.  But you will know.  You will, as soon as the results are posted, recognize a nag and torment of the, ‘if I had not slept so long.’  Some of course at this Self Transcendence race move relentlessly and with a kind of precise efficiency.  That is the veterans and the record holders of course.  Experience has taught them clearly, when the mind and body simply no longer tell the truth.  When aches and fatigue cry with such alarm that they can scarcely be denied.  But these are voices that need to be reckoned with, just  as you would answer a small tempestuous child.  Somewhere within the heart of each runner, they know what they can and must do.  Reach beyond the limitations that seem so real.  Push further, add another step, and still another, until hopefully you push beyond all the things that hold you back.  Emerge on the other side of dreams into the sun bright light of your heart’s reality.

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Day Six: Character Building

This is my first time in New York, and I am next to a freeway with winds, and rain which made an interesting night, but it was all character building.”  It is shortly after noon on Saturday and Martin Fryer has been running in the Self Transcendence race for a little more than 24 hours.  Despite the horrendous conditions he is running with shocking ease and fluidity.  At times the rain cascades down around us and creates a splashing mess on the road.  Martin barely acknowledges  the tumult and slaloms skillfully around the puddles.  His only nod to the inclementness  is to that he simply tugs the strings to his hood tighter and doesn’t miss a step.

Of all the runners here Martin Fryer is clearly the one everyone would like to keep their eye on.  It is not just his speed, and the lightness of his steps, it is also apparent that he just might keep up this fabulous flow and momentum, all the way to the end of day 6.  It is unfair to heap this kind of pressure upon anyone in an event that is just starting.   Yet Martin’s demeanor is also as light and hopeful as his footfalls.

The story of Martin’s entrance into the ultra world began with a move to Sydney where the club he joined there, the Sydney Striders had several ultra members. “Someone took me under their wing, a mentor, that was in 1997.  By 2004 I tried my first 24 hour race which I won and did well in and I thought I had obviously found a niche.  And a terrible niche as it is,” and he offers a light self mocking laugh.  “There is something very pure about these events.  What I have learned has made me a better person and a better runner.”

He is very serious about how participating in long races has transformed him.  “I think one of the big lessons I have learned over the past few years, I think early on I tried to control everything.  I think the last few years I have tried to run more organically, and realize you have to let go and surrender.  It makes it much more joyful, and I have had better results as well, so that was nice icing on the cake.”

“I think you have the potential to try and control it, but I have found you reach a point, what I call analytical thinking.  But after several days in these races the parameters all go out the door.  That is when faith and intuitive thinking become so much more important, and you realize that you are released from that, and all the analytical loops that you been caught up into, when you can’t control the parameters.  It has made a great lesson for me and the rest of my life too.”

I ask him what has drawn him to come so far from his home in Australia.  “Just the name of this race, Self Transcendence, I mean, that is exactly why I am here.  I know it is going to be ugly at times, but you need to expand your mind and uplift yourself, and to work through it.  It is a great metaphor for your whole life.  You are going to have tough times, but if you have the faith, you will come out through the other end of it.”

“I know outsiders find it all very strange and quirky.  They often see us all as a bunch of eccentrics.  But I think outwardly they see changes in you, and they go ‘gee, maybe they might be on to something.’  I guess it is all the ultimate karma yoga.  Just working every day, going around and around.”

Despite an impressive resume of Australian and Commonwealth age group records in several distances Martin has never completed a 6 day race.  He attempted only one before and had to pull out due to injuries.  He has come here with a wide spectrum of goals he hopes he can accomplish.  The top ones he describes simply as the, “big hairy audacious goals.”  Which translated into real numbers is 900km (485miles). “The bottom goal is to finish, so I have been a lot more careful in day one here.  Just sort of looking after myself.  Trying to run a bit more easily.  I think one of the things I have learned, from the first one I did as well was, I went in with the wrong attitude.  I came in with just a purely competitive attitude.”

He describes that for him how a light bulb came on, after being in his previous attempt and making it to day 3, and being stung by injury.  “O now I get it, so that talking to people and sharing the experience.   So this time I feel much happier about it.”

He tells me as well that he is not focusing on his competition what so ever.  He has made a decision not to look at the board.  “You need to run your own race.”

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Day Five: Start Learning About Life

“I am probably still a rookie in this game.”  Maybe it is the very nature of multi day running itself that allows very talented runners like Lars Christoffersen to be able to be so humble.  Even the very best can achieve little if any fame in this most challenging of endurance sports, and, if you are looking for a fortune, you will never find it at the end of the long 6 day road.

A great breath of fresh life was suddenly blown onto the course today at 12 noon, when 33 eager runners spilled out onto the course to join the now well seasoned, and maybe more than a little weary, 10 day runners.  In the great scheme of things the 6 day race is still the gold standard for most multi day runners.  The race that began here today has attracted some of the best in the world.  The best ones, like Lars, look as though they are somehow a different breed of humanity altogether.  Perhaps there is some different wiring of their genetic code or a drop of immortality has been somehow transfused into their make up.  He for example runs with an effortlessness and smoothness that gives you the impression, almost as though he is gliding.  Certainly the engine under the hood is the same as everyone else out here but you can’t help but get the impression, that Lars and the other super talented runners are like speedy bright sports cars,  while the rest, and this is not uncomplimentary I hope,  are more like comfortable and reliable family sedans.  With perhaps just a few bangs and dents.

Lars had done just 2 6 day races prior to coming here.  His first was in Sweden just 3 years ago.  He tells me, “it was a pretty good race but it was raining 5 out of the 6 days.” I remind him that those kind of conditions pretty much described the race here last year.  Currently the forecast is predicting some wet conditions over the next couple of days.

I ask him if his entry into multi day running is the typical one in which a runner just finds the marathon distance too short.  “He says, “my story started with a diet.  I was too heavy.  I was smoking 20 cigarettes a day.  I was over 100 kgs.”  It was on his 30th birthday that he suddenly realized that he needed to change his life immediately.  He just didn’t like the looks of where his health was heading.  Talking it over with his wife, he said, “okay I have to change my lifestyle.”

He decided that he would just run, “because that was the easiest way to loose the weight.”  With this new training regime he lost 15 kgs. in half a year.  He was impressed with how quickly his weight dropped and at that time he ran his first marathon in 3:45.  He tells me that his experience in the race was pretty hard, but just the same he thought, “if I can do this maybe I can do more. I heard about a 6 hour race and I think.  Let me try that.”  That race was in his home town in Denmark.  Surprisingly, “I broke the course record the first time with 72km.”  With this run, the door opened wide to the world of multi day running.

It was just 3 weeks ago that he made his decision, “lets go to New York.”  He feels that his conditioning is pretty good so he is interested in finding out just how much he can run here.  In his first race he ran 854 km(461 miles), and the second was 790km(426 miles) He says, “I have no expectation for this one.  I will wait and see what can happen.”

“What I like about 6 day races is the toughest part is in your head.  It is not the physical part, it is the mental part.  At day 4 at night you start crying in the middle of the night, and you don’t want to be here any more.  You just want to take the first plane home.  That is where you start learning about life.  That is what I like about it.    If you can do this you can do everything.”

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Day Four: The Most Important Things In Life

Most days when I visit the course I generally have no fixed plan of who I am going to speak with or what pictures I need to take.  I try and be as spontaneous as possible, and if inspiration calls out, I just hope I can move fast enough to catch up with it.  I am never going to have the constant intense experiences like the runners, but I know that even in a short visit something profound and meaningful can happen when you least expect it.

It often happens that I find it nearly impossible to tear myself away from the race and head home.  Often, in just a flash, I will suddenly see a beaming runner, brimming with enthusiasm and inspiration  coming around a turn and ambling or charging, right towards me.  At these time the race is able to pull me back within itself.

Just as I am about to leave today I come across Nirbili walking the course with her daughter Phoolanjaya. They are a picture of happiness and contentment.  I am so touched by them moving along in the bright afternoon sun that I immediately stuff my car keys back into my pocket and dash over to them.

“This is my 9th multi day race.” Nirbili and her husband Rajpal have been fixtures of the race for so long it is hard to imagine the race going on without them.  Over the years the New Zealand presence has seemed to increase with each new race.  People like Rajpal are part of a key team that gets the race not only set up, but also allows it to run smoothly.

Nirbili is a gentle spirit who seems to float gently and tirelessly around the course.  She just may be someone whose constant expression is nearly always a smile.  It is also easy to forget sometimes that she is 65 years old, when as of this afternoon, she has completed 168 miles.

“This is my 9th multi day race and something draws me back every year.  It is the opportunity to self transcend.  It is a wonderful atmosphere and a very great challenge.”  She adds that it is here she feels that she can make progress in her life, something that cannot happen quite the same back home in Auckland.

There is no retirement, in the classic sense for Nirbili.  For retirees, who just enjoy sitting back in their rocking chairs, she says, “they are missing out on a awful lot.  I couldn’t do that.”

“This is the first opportunity that I have every had in these 9 races to actually be here.” For daughter Phoolanjaya being her Mom’s helper is a unique opportunity for her to get a real understanding of what has been a major part of her parents life for almost a decade.  “I have only been able to send faxes and flowers from home.  It is really nice to see her in action, and be her helper. It is an opportunity to be self giving all day which is really nice.”

As a first timer to the race, the enormity of it all takes some getting used to.  “When you see how challenging it is, it is really really inspiring.”  For all the New Zealanders here the recent tragedy that took place in Christ Church is in many ways is still a tender wound that that will take some time to heal.  Phoolanjaya actually was there when the earthquake took place and she tells me what being here does for her.  “It is giving me a lot of peace, because obviously an experience like that shakes you up a lot.  When everything changes in 20 seconds you whole life is different.  You have to keep on being reminded of what the most important things are in life.  That what we have inside us, in our hearts, love and joy and so forth, are the real treasures of life.”

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Day Three: Listening To His Own Heart

With so many nationalities represented and so many different languages spoken, sometimes communication can be a little awkward at the Self Transcendence race in Flushing Meadow.  But when you strip away the runners origins, eliminate personal habits, and simply just forget all the little idiosyncrasies that make up our fragile humanity something very powerful and genuine remains. It is of course the heart.  It beats in the core of each runner and is the true engine that powers each and every one who runs here.

Some arrive so naturally gifted that when they run you might think you are seeing some ephemeral mirage.  Yet within the super talented, if their heart and will is not strong,  you will sense pretty quickly, as you watch them run that something is missing.  It is perhaps what we all seek as well, that spark of indomitable life force.  When we see it in others it can ignite our imagination and inspire us, as we see it burning within them.

In others as well, you sometimes find such incredible determination and energy that their bodies can barely contain it.  Yet, despite this great capacity, the physical can only give so much.  The body not really capable of harnessing this phenomenal life force.

When you watch Yuri Trostenyuk, 47, Vinnitsa, Ukraine, you cannot help but notice that rare combination, of both a strong body and a superbly strong will.  A fellow Ukrainian admiringly describes him as the epitome of the Ukrainian spirit.  For him this is a resilient toughness, that simply never ever gives up.

There is nothing pretty about his running style, but it doesn’t take to long to appreciate that he has an efficient and economical stride, as much as anyone on the course.  He simply looks as though he is built to run, not at high speed, but simply to keep going and going forever.  This is the 5th time he has come, last year he won the race and set a personal best of 693 miles.  Currently, after 48 hours on the course he is leading with 189 miles.

I was able to run with him today accompanied by a translator.  He tells me that he loves the race because it gives him a special experience that he can get in no other way.  I wonder why he would pick such a difficult task like running 10 days to achieve this.  He laughs and tells me that the goal may be hard to find, but when you at last reach it you see that it was worth all the effort.

He tells me that his first race here was very difficult for him.  Yet despite this it was so fulfilling that he wanted to come back as often as he could, and do it again and again.  He compares each new race here as if they were individual lifetimes.  Each one evolving in its own way and hopefully reaching new heights with each attempt.

Even though he is leading the race at this moment Vladamir is just a few miles behind.  I ask him if he feels any pressure from those who are so close behind.  He tells me that the God that lives in his heart inspires him to do this, and so presumably he does not listen to the footsteps following so closely behind.  Instead he just listens to his own heart.

There is one, not so secret inspiration he has that he hopes one day to fulfill, and that is participate in the longest race in the world, the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race.  His message to all runners is simply to never stop.  Never be discouraged by problems, or when things get difficult, there is a sun in front of them.

click to play interview (English/Russian)

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