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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The board now is filled with all the names of those whose world will consist of a meandering loop around Flushing Meadow.  Some dreams will be realized and perhaps even more faint wishes just might find firm golden reality.  The thrill and pain has begun in earnest here.  The path of each ones heart is now moving swiftly forward on an inescapable trajectory.  The destination will be revealed to each and every one in its own precious time.

“It started raining around 2am and it wasn’t too bad then.  It has just been very very chilly.  A cold wind off the lake.  The night before probably one of the coldest nights that I have experienced in multi days.  If you are gritting your teeth and going you are probably missing something and you have to be prepared.  You have to have the clothes for every situation.  The only way of learning this is by doing these.”

“This is my 9th multi day.  Multi day running is unique in its own way.”

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A major correction has been made to the board since I arrived today.  A straggler has shown up having slightly misjudged the start of the race.  Don Winkley will get himself organized very quickly and is out on the course with his friends.

And for those wondering what Al Prawda is doing today, the wet conditions have forced him to delay his 24 hour soccer ball kick.

 

“I have never done a 6 day race.”  Vasanti Niemz, 54, from Heidelberg Germany has however an impressive record as an endurance athlete.  Just last summer she performed one of the most incredible feats of all time when she swam the English, cycled 150 miles and than ran 2 marathons.

She first swam the English channel in 1985 in 17 hours. When she arrived in New York in August for a visit, she was surprised when her late spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy told her something she least expected.  After congratulating her on her achievement he told her, “our goal is self transcendence.”  At that time he asked what she thought of swimming it again and making it into one great triathlon.  He asked about the idea, “do you think it is frightening or challenging?”  She adds that he never told her to do it.

Somehow the challenge never slipped away from her.  One thing after another interfered with her being able to accomplish it.  Having her bike stolen was the least of the setbacks that blocked her way.  “The idea was in the back of my mind for a long time.”  Than, after precisely 25 years she was able to fulfill a task that just would not go away.  She adds that as well she was able to swim the channel 10 minutes faster than in her previous attempt. Ultimately her route would take her through 5 countries.

I ask her if there was a big greeting or celebration when she finally crossed the finish line.  She describes that what happened instead was a small intimate gathering.  “I didn’t want to make it a bit public thing, because it would have taken some inner quality away.”

“One thing was I was extremely exhausted.  My feet were hurting because I had blisters.  But I was extremely grateful.  I had afterwards the feeling that it was a very solid achievement, that was kind of given to me.”

For her she says that swimming is easier than running for in the water you don’t have to carry the weight.  She describes that she was inspired to try multi day running before swimming training in 1985.  She heard you could have many great experiences.  “I always had injuries that kept me from doing it.  Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy is to keep going.”

“Sri Chinmoy always entered new fields and would never rest.  I am 54 now, and Sri Chinmoy was 54 when I swam the channel.”  She says that at that same time he entered a brand new world at that time of weight lifting.  “I feel a kind of obligation to tread in his footsteps with my humble possibilities.”

I ask her if there have been any surprises over the past 24 hours in the race.  “One of the surprises is just the massage I just got.  And I can walk and run normally again.  And the race teaches you that you have to take care of your body.  I really like trying to combine the mind, the spirit, and the physical, and creating a balance.  Then you can do more than you expected you would be able to do.”

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Conditions ebb and flow between rain and dull misty grey.  Jayasalini and Sarah have been keeping relentless pressure on Kaneenika.  For the 10 day runners they all know that from today on, they are moving beyond the half point in their race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daulot is looking fresh, out on the loop.  He is of course more than a little familiar with Seattle weather.

 

Louis Rios is running the 6 day instead of the 10 day for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am trying to transcend myself.  In 7 years I haven’t done a multi day.” At age 58 Arpan is one of those runners who just seems to be able to keep going no matter what.  125 marathons and 60 ultras under his belt he is unquestionably indomitable as an endurance athlete.  “I just got inspired to try it again.”

He describes that on the physical level it is hard to be inspired to take on something so difficult.  Yet when the inspiration comes from within, somehow it becomes not so difficult.  “You are in a race that is a transcending experience.”  He says that after 7 years he is remembering how to most efficiently run here.  He laughs, “it is slowly coming back.”

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The weather is difficult for most but for the permanent residents of Flushing Meadow it is just a regular day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Dorion has done more than 270 miles half way into his race.  He describes the combination of wind and water as hypothermia type conditions.  “I have been having a good time whole race except for day one.  Mostly day one is my easy day but it was the hardest day of the week.  Everything went wrong.  My shoes fell apart.  I hurt my wrist.  These may be his least favorite weather conditions.  Nonetheless, “we will keep doing it.”

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Lars has completed over 100 miles in his first 24 hours here.

 

 

Ray Krolewicz, 58, from South Carolina has 70.

 

 

 

 

 

After so many days now and with the conditions the way they are medical is quite busy.  Gaurish does some work on Shashanka.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mitch tries to get Dave Luljak back in top form.

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Mitch tells David, “you are going to feel better.”  David says, “I had a lot of fun up to about 45 miles.  I was very happy then became very sore.  One good thing I learned this year is with rain gear and good clothes underneath the weather doesn’t really matter.  Because I didn’t have much trouble this morning getting out into the bad weather.”

In July Belinda Eckert’s knee cap popped out and she was reduced to hobbling around in a soft cast.  Currently she is in second place amongst the 6 day girls with 79 miles.  There is a significant gap between her and Dipali.  She says that even if she hadn’t been  injured last summer that she would never have thought that she would be here now running the 6 day race.

She says that she first got the inspiration back in October just as she had got out of the cast.  At the time she resisted the inspiration and hoped that it might just go away, it didn’t.  At the time she simply didn’t feel ready and she definitely wasn’t prepared.  “I was putting it to the side.  I was trying to focus on my recovery and get back into training.”

As the new year came the inspiration continued to tempt her.  In the end she just had to come and do it.  Her experience here now is for her  unique.  “Something is carrying me.”  She feels real physical  discomfort while at the same time there is a real strength inside that can tolerate it and also help her to continue.

“I am not trying to be second or be first.  I just want to do the race, and be here for 6 days.  For now I go step by step, lap by lap.  So I just surrender.”

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To make the fastest progress,
We desperately need
Grass-green humility.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 24, Agni Press, 2002.

3 Comments to “Day Six: Character Building”

  1. Baridhi says:

    Very inspiring story, Vasanti!

  2. […] I disse dage er der et ultra løb i gang i Flushing Meadow Park i New York 10 og 6 dages løb, Lars Skytte Christoffersen (TIF) deltager for 3 gang i et 6 dages løb. Martin Fryer – Australien – som nogen vil huske fra sidste års 6 dages løb på Bornholm er også med i New York. Martin måtte sidste år udgå pga en skade, der var ellers en spændende dyst i gang mellem disse to herre.  Mon den genoptages i disse dage ? Martin ligger nr. 1 (179km) og Lars nr. 2 (169km) Men meget kan ske på 6 dage. Begge er meget gode ultra løbere (nok mildt sagt), meget sympatiske og har oplevet begge have overskud til et skulder klap og et opløftenede ord under de lange løb. Der er interviews  med Lars og Martin. […]

  3. Utpal – We love your Perfection Journey blog! The interviews are very inspiring and ’60-Minutes’ is holding a job for you! Nice work!

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