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)
The specter of bad weather seems to have vanished from all the weather forecasts. At present no serious rain is lurking on the horizon until the distance regions of Sunday show up.
If the conditions can be objectively judged to be tight in the men’s race than the condition of the women’s race could be considered a genuine logjam with 3 ladies battling so closely they could be taking in the same breath of Flushing Meadow oxygen.
Kaneenika Janakova, 41, from Bratisalava Slovakia has won the race for the past 3 years. The other girls, Jayasalini, and Sarah are currently so close behind that barely a blink separates them. I am not sure how Las Vegas betters would predict the outcome, but somehow it all reminds me of one of those nights of a close election when the announcer says, “it is too close to call.”
All the girls seem happy and content after 2 full days on the road. Kaneenika is buoyant with spirit and joy today as I tag along with her, joined by her Slovakian friend Kanala. She tells me that as good as today appears to be yesterday was another matter. “It was a hard day. I didn’t sleep at all the night before nor during the day. So last night I was hardly moving. So I went to bed for 3 hours and slept and when I got up I started having a good time.”
She has no particular goal she says for this race other than to do her best. She tells me that she is not bothered at all by the girls who are so close behind. Instead she simply concentrates on her schedule. “And I do My race. When I am tired I rest. When I feel like running I run. I try to do certain miles every day, of course. But if I don’t, I just let it go, because there is nothing else to do.”
Despite competing here so many times she says every race is different and continues to provide new and challenging experiences. “Every time there is something new.” She tells me that the new thing for her in this race is that she is running with a hand injury. 5 weeks before the race she fractured 2 fingers in her left hand. “I wasn’t sure until 3 days before the race if I would do it or not. Of course I really wanted to do the race and I was really strong inwardly, trying to be calm, and feeling everything will be fine.”
She was given an okay by a Doctor on Friday but knows that the healing process is still going on. Early on the first day it caused some real discomfort, and then as quickly as it came it disappeared.
She has 2 helpers and confesses that they make it easier for her to compete here in every possible way. “If I need something they bring it.” She confesses, “I think I am a pretty hard one to please.”
I ask her if her friend Kanala, who is running along with us is of any help to her. She proceeds to describe in a much broader way the significance of all those who come and help and inspire the runners. “Anyone who comes to the race, you cannot imagine what it means to us. It is really a big inspiration, and we are really grateful for anybody who comes.”
I then ask Kanala to describe for me the qualities that make Kaneenika a great runner. “She is just so tough and disciplined, not just during the race but also during training. The whole preparation that includes yoga and stretching, and the dedication to this one 10 day time, and that is very inspiring. You know it is the inner strength.”
Click to play interview
You can see just a little bit of the nerves on Arpan’s face. He has just brought out some supplies for the start of his 6 day race on Friday. And yes it is often just about the feet.
It was just 2 years ago that 44 year old Austrian runner, Usika Muckenhumer last ran the race but somehow it feels like it was a lifetime. He has competed in 10 multi days in New York over the years. It was just 2003 that he won the race with 631 miles. Currently he has 140 miles after a little more than 2 days and is running comfortably. The demands of his job have kept him from coming but he says a year ago he worked it out with his boss that he would be able to find the time to come back and run.
He is very excited to not only be back but also he is able to run with 2 other of his Austrian friends. When pressed as to how much he has trained for it he laughs and holds his hands out in front of him very close together. “The preparation is minor.” He looks comfortable and is moving smoothly and confesses that it is all due to grace. Though I have this lack of preparation I am having the best race in 4 or 5 years. Inner and outer. He is really happy and I suggest, that if he is happy inwardly than the body will most likely try to co operate as well. “I fully agree.” He laughs and suggests that at least it seems to working that way at this moment at least.
I ask him what makes him keep coming back. “Here is the real life. The day to day life you normally go through, it is like a show, but here it is real. In such a short time you learn so much about yourself, with this intensity, that you cannot learn somewhere else. I didn’t find any other place, in all my years, where I would go, for better transformation, more joy, more blessings.”
As we finish our run together we go by the scoring hut and we hear 138 miles being called out. I ask him if means anything to him. “At the moment I don’t go for numbers.”
Click to play interview
Harita barefoot at the board.
Jayasalini has her mom as her helper but today she has found a new friend and admirer.
Oleksander Kharko, 47, from Kiev Ukraine.
Sarah Barnett continues to put on a remarkable and memorable performance int the women’s race.
Gudrun Freier performed the remarkable achievement of moving directly from the 24 hour race to the 10 day, when she came here last year. She tells me that when she came then, the only real surprise was that she got sick a few days before the race and this had never happened to her before. She could not remember being sick in years and so it was something quite unexpected. She admits that after being at the race for 3 days her condition quickly improved.
She tells me that the best moments for her were in the early morning just after getting up to run. Not the first lap when you are just warming up but when you are able to get into your rhythm. “After some laps it is really great.” She also says that the wide selection and availability of so many great foods makes the distance running here much more enjoyable. It removes a real concern of how to keep up your strength, over the long race. “For me it is very important. It helps me a lot there is such a nice selection. It really gives me a lot of joy and I think it helps me to run.”
The conditions at the race last year were probably the worst ever and she tells me how inspired she was by how the runners seem to be not really bothered by how incredibly wet and flooded the course was. “I had a feeling that they did not even notice the rain.” She says she learned a lot about dealing with the weather after that.
Her goal in this race is to simply run 100 miles more that she did last year. At that time she ran 390 and so is targeting achieving 490. As of this afternoon she is a little over 120 miles.
As to why she comes, “I think the most important thing for me is that I have the feeling that in my day to day life I use this experience.” She feels that she develops a real determination and will by competing here.
Click to play interview
This afternoon Sarvagata Ukrainskyi is running in a tight pack of those who have 160 miles. His wife back in the Ukraine will be glad to know he is doing well.
Arpan still is in the midst of his race preparation but he has 2 more days to get everything ready. For now he is going to have a bed specially constructed by himself.
The dandelions are in bloom everywhere around Flushing Meadow right now. For those who have a little time it might just be fun to pick a few.
Then of course when you have gathered a nice bouquet you just might like to give them to your mom who is working hard in the kitchen near by.
God is listening;
Just speak quietly.
God is listening;
Just speak devotedly.
God is not and cannot be deaf
To your heart-longing.
Has caught the very first faint cry
From your oneness-heart.
God is listening;
Just speak quietly and devotedly.
Sri Chinmoy, Europe-Blossoms, Agni Press, 1974.