June 30: Do All That I Can

Things have been getting hotter here for the past few days and it is not the weather.  There is a new and exciting level of intensity that has been slowly building amongst the top 3 runners.  You can clearly see it on their lap sheets, with each day bearing a staggering new total.  It is also something expressed in just the raw speed of which some are running, and never seeming to stop for barely a breath.  In each a fire has been lit.  Whether it pushes them to a tremendous new standard of performance or simply causes them to implode like the side of a tired volcano, the next few days will surely tell the tale.

Now to be clear, this does not include Pranjal the unofficial flag bearer for consistency.  As of last night he was pushed out of second place and is now currently in 3rd.  He lives and thrives in his own unique world.  Consistent, and superbly disciplined.  He is almost unaffected by all the to and fro that happens around and about him.  He remains poised and content and listens to a tempo all his own.  One that is unflinching in its absolute commitment to offer up all that he has each and ever day.

It is with Ashprihanal, Igor, and Sarvagata that the winds now suddenly blow hot and strong.  It is really a bit of a mystery that just suddenly appeared, spinning around and around in plain sight.  It is not obvious what it really is or how it started just that it exists for now like a galloping firestorm and 3 runners have sparks flying off their heels.

To illustrate visually how this is playing out you only have to look at each of their laps over the past few days.  Ashprihanal has increased every day for the past 3 days.  His numbers went from 132, to 136, and then to 137.  This means that yesterday Ashprinal ran a phenomenal 75 miles.  Igor also increased from 125, to 127, to 133.  Yesterday he ran almost 73 miles and moved decisively into the second spot by running 11 laps more than Pranjal.

Sarvagata, the man currently in 4th also increased from 128, to 134, to 136 laps.  This means that he ran just one lap less than Ashprihanal yesterday and if he somehow keeps it up, he will most likely pass Pranjal and take 3rd in 2 days time.

It is a race of such incredible length that anything can happen.  Perhaps by now everyone has simply kicked off the last of winter’s dust.  Their muscles are warmed up and particularly the 2 new runners, Igor and Sarvagata, simply want to push the envelop, see what their engines can really handle.  What ever it is that is actually going on it certainly appears as though somehow all of them have found themselves caught in the swirling mix of self fulfilling excellence that hasn’t  been seen here on this scale for some time.

To be frank this is purely a hypothesis from a side line observer.  But it would appear that the pot is being stirred, and each of the 3 has plunged their spoons into the mix all the way.  For Ashprihanal, he knows that at least for now he has a cushion of 41 miles.  Not one that can provide comfort for long, and definitely not if he has any kind of a bad spell or slips out of top gear in any way.  He is after all the wile veteran who stayed just ahead of another Ukrainian champion Galya last year by just 30 miles at the finish. For him this kind of thing is a motivation to really open up and fly.

For the Igor and Sarvagata, this is why they came.  To run a race and leave nothing behind.  They both have hungered a long time to be a part of this total commitment to the experience of Self Transcendence, and they are now showing that they have taken off the training wheels and have become what they have sought.

Apologies, please note that there will be no new reports for the next 7 Days

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June 29: A Dream of the Supreme for Humanity

Quite often great moments in sports are captured by film crews and news reporters and are then shown on evening news programs or are splashed across sports sections of local news papers.  If you score a goal, win a match, or set a record at something there is a pretty good chance somebody will be there to capture it for posterity.  It will then fly out into the endless  electronic void.  Where countless eyes will be peering as it whizzes by into the great information wasteland.

The big noticeable news at the 3100 is of course when you at last cross the finish line, when the ultimate goal has been reached.  There are a few particularly talented runners here who have accomplished it many times before, and with luck and fortitude they will set new personal bests for themselves this time as well.  For the 3 new runners though records are being smashed almost constantly.  They are all soaring into brand new ethereal realms that up until now they have only been able to dream about.

Pradeep,  I knew this morning was going accomplish something really wonderful.  Just by running 11 more laps he would complete 1000 miles.  A number by itself of such shocking magnitude that it just might knock you out of your shoes at the thought of running that far.  Might, but you can’t let it do that because you have to leave room for 2100 miles more.

For me Pradeep is a runner of remarkable contradictions.  He doesn’t look tough, he doesn’t look strong, he never looks as though he is doing anything more difficult than taking a casual jog around the block.  All of those things that it appears not to be he is.  He never would have lasted a week here if he weren’t incredibly strong and resilient and prepared to take on the toughest battle of his life.  What obscures this strength is the fact that he is also sweet, kind, and humble.

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June 28: Every Day I Will Give Everything

I hoped to continue my detective work at the race this morning.  The burning question that continued to vex me, was how all the runners could somehow improve from Day 14  to Day 15 Sunday.  I had no plan on using any third degree questioning in my sleuthing, because after all something quite remarkable had taken place.  Still I found it puzzling that everybody’s laps had increased by a phenomenal average of 7 in just one day.

There first thing that surprised me when I asked about it this morning was that really none of the runners had even noticed.  For them it simply wasn’t very important and, also it was a long time ago, a little more than 24 hours.  Their collective responses seemed to be reduced to the patently obvious, we simply had a good day.  Which is the ultimate blessing in and of itself.

The runners never have much time or interest to digest indescribable statistical anomalies.  For even the best number crunchers this event will be soon quickly be buried under the constant deluge of data that pours into the record keeping books every day.  Sahishnu is as good as anyone at recalling noteworthy numbers and events but I suspect that for most people it will fade quickly into beautiful glowing obscurity.

I recorded my conversation with Pranjal this morning and as I listen to it again now, I notice how I take my time in explaining to him all the surprising data and how it all added up.  I thought maybe he might know how he was able to do 5 more laps.  He said, “I don’t know.  Perhaps it was a coincidence that so many people felt so good that day.” He adds, “my legs were lighter, I don’t know why.”

Then I laid out my theory about how the 4 runners who were going to make a thousand miles that day probably inspired everyone else.  “4 numbers is really something.  It is 1/3 of the race.”

Compared to most things in our current society the 3100 moves with a kind of snail like speed.  When you look even just a little bit closer though you can be surprised at how beautiful it all is and how moving and inspiring it is on many different levels.

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June 27: To Be More Happy

Something happened yesterday that cannot be explained.  On Sunday, 9 out of the 10 runners ran more laps than they had the day before.  The only one who didn’t run more laps on Sunday was Surasa ,who ran exactly 110 laps the same as she has run every day for the past week.  What make this peculiar event noteworthy is that the average lap numbers didn’t just go up a little, they went up a lot.  Averaged out over the 9 runners it works out to be 7 more laps per person than the previous day.

Now if that seems like a lot you are right.  In some cases there were big jumps that helped bump up the average.  Purna Samarpan, now recovering from a cold went from 85 laps to 110, adding a whopping 25 to the count.  Pradeep who had an off day on Saturday went from 92 to 111.  I am not a statistician but I am sure the odds of such an event happening are off the charts, particularly when you consider that everyone has been out here for 15 days now.

If the weather had somehow improved in any way from the day before than the source of renewed vigor in the runners legs could be identified, but it didn’t.  Essentially the weather conditions on Sunday were identical to Saturday.  Same temperature, humidity, wind and all the usual weather data.That on Sunday there was less distractions from traffic and people possibly, but certainly it couldn’t have accounted for that much of an improvement.

My own theory, at least the one that seems to make any kind of sense at all is that you had 4 runners yesterday who were the first to push through the 1000 mile mark.  Now there will be 4 digits beside each of their names instead of 3.  There is still more than 2000 miles and 2/3rds of the race to go but it is still something satisfyingly symbolic  It in some way demystifies the distance and perhaps you can really feel that from now on the impossible goal in front of you is from now on just a little less impossible.  Mentally at least the numbers crunch just that more easily.

The other important thing to understand is that everyone who runs is acutely tuned to everyone else.  They are a family and a team climbing up into stratospheric levels that few can even possibly imagine.  When energy and motivation are high everyone feels it.   Just as when someone is suffering than they all collectively feel and identify with the suffering and pain as well.  What happens here is not one person surpassing someone else but rather how they all collectively share each others victory.  For perhaps nestled in the heart of self transcendence itself is something really special.  Something, that once you have stepped past all the mundane numbers and all the facts, is what we all are striving for,  oneness with the universal goal.

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June 26: Wisdom Comes With Years

I try my best most days to get it right.  To somehow with my reporting to capture the distinct mood and perhaps, dare I say it, consciousness of each day.  Things can, and often do, change rapidly.  As an early morning person as well I generally only get to observe a very unique and tiny portion of a much much longer day.

The threads of these 10 lives will spin countless stories and experiences, right up until midnight, and really until they all can drift off into a brief slumber.

I also attempt to tell all of their stories as best I can.  It isn’t easy but when compared to what they are doing I really haven’t much to complain about.  It is easy to tell most mornings who just really wants to talk, and who hasn’t woken up yet, or maybe simply just wants to be left in their own private world.  This isn’t reality tv, exploitation of their lives is not the story I am interested in.  What they are accomplishing as seeker athletes however is.  There are many shades and textures to each of their experiences here in this very visible bubble.  My job is to locate the glowing available fragments that are inspiring to all who identify with what is happening here and are profoundly moved by it.

Occasionally I just get it wrong.  Perhaps intrude on a divine moment, that prior to my question, was blissfully silent.  Also simply start to bump into the runner’s experiences when they simply want to hold on to them in their own hearts and not necessarily share it with the world.  There are also simply moments when a runner is enjoying the moment and not really thinking at all about what is happening in and around them.  They may have done so out of pure bliss or as a survival mechanism to shut down all unnecessary mental chatter and simply make it around the course.

This morning Surasa was my well intentioned subject.  I have a deep respect for how well she is doing and in fact her long and distinguished career as a multi day athlete.  We talked at length but clearly she might have preferred the tranquility of a rare quiet Sunday morning in Queens alone.  I asked her a difficult question, and could clearly see she that she was struggling with giving me back an answer.  I asked her what she felt her strongest qualities were, that helped her run here.   “Not to think too much.  I am just running running,” was her reply.  “You are living from one break to the other.  If you can do it, I think it is the best way.  Not to think how many days more.”  For her at that moment, the next break was almost 4 hours away.

Fortunately I came back several hours later.  When I returned she was just coming through the camp with one of her helpers, Vasavi.  She became very excited when she saw that I had come back, and with real joy and intensity she told me that she now had the real answer to my question.  Clearly she had been pondering it for a while and in the process her deep and heartfelt love of the race was stirred up to the fore.  Her answer, “it is all grace.” As concise and as all embracing an answer as anyone could reveal who is trying to conquer the impossible.  Using only the strength and vision of the one who set the goal for them in the first place.

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June 25: Keep Trying

“I had a really good experience of flowing.”  It has been pretty obvious for the past few days that Sarvagata is having an extraordinarily good start to his 3100 mile adventure.  Yesterday he ran 130 laps which was the most of any of the other runners.  But it is not just the numbers that tell the story, it is also his very presence.  He seems to exude a deep sense of calmness and tranquility.

It is not without effort of course but it is almost as though the big numbers are not accumulating with struggle but with surrender.  That something else is pushing him along and he is just a passenger.

It was on Wednesday that his running, he says, became almost effortless.  For a time all parts of his being seemed to exist in complete harmony.  He felt quite clearly that this experience had come directly from Sri Chinmoy.  “You could call it cosmic consciousness, or whatever.   I had that experience and nearly burst into tears.  It was hard to breathe because it was so delightful.”

The power of that most significant inspiration he continues to try and maintain, though the exact experience has not repeated itself.  He describes how much he yearned for it to return.  “I am waiting and waiting, and running and running.” (Laughter)

“I don’t feel like I am running faster, but somehow it happens that it is a little bit faster than usual.  So I think in this case expectation adds up the miles.”  Yesterday he says, when he ran 71 miles, “I had an experience not so bright, but still really outstanding, for me. I was really happy yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and the day before yesterday.”

When I suggest that today seems to be going pretty smoothly, he says, “yeah, I am a little ahead of my morning schedule.  Usually I am waking up the first 10 laps.”

One can always hope that bliss and joy be part of every moment here.  The life of a 3100 mile runner though is filled however with many rich experiences.  Learning and becoming are established only by conquering challenge and adversity.  Without obstacles, without the goal of perfection enticing us to go on, than self transcendence itself could not even exist.

Perhaps the script has already been written for each who runs here.  The outcome known but certainly yet to be revealed.  Two days ago Sarvagata was granted a most significant and rewarding stroll through the garden of his own inner beauty.  Tomorrow, it may not be so easy, but at least he can always remember the sweet fragrance he felt there for a time.  Tomorrow, or on other countless tomorrows to come, at least maintain a prayerful hope, to find his way once again back along that same sun-bright path of his heart’s eternal journey.

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June 24: Go Beyond Everything

There are for me many times when I wonder what it would be like to actually do the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race myself.  It is an absurd if not even crazy question but still it is one that forces me to examine more seriously just what I am doing with my own life.

Part of this question, in fact 99% of it, is based on whether or not I even have the physical capacity to do it.  The answer is an unequivocal no.  To even cover 60 miles in one day might likely send me to a hospital.  Just the same I run quite a few laps here every morning and every one is a joy and a celebration.

The real question, raised by wondering about participating in the race myself, is for me a real curiosity about whether or not I had the capacity to stay as happy and as positive as these runners.  Because as far as I can see, being able to maintain this kind of joy is perhaps even more important than piling up the necessary miles. There really can’t be anything in life more stressful and difficult than running 3100 miles.  Yet again and again I see faces filled with spontaneous joy and light.

Everyone here has been running now for almost 2 weeks.  Just about everyone has completed 700 miles or more.  It just has to be tough, it has to be really hurting, and everyone must be really tired.  The scary truth is they have only literally just begun.

We all in our own way try to do the right thing in our life in the right way.  Even if we do the correct thing with reluctance at least it is better than not doing it at all.

To do something like the 3100 than, with all your body, heart, and soul, has to be an accomplishment of unprecedented potential.  To be able to surrender yourself in your entirety, without any pangs of attachment, whispers of desire, or shimmering visions of glory.  To toe the starting line with all the baggage of what your mind demands of you and gradually simply cast it all away until it is just your spirit unburdened, journeying towards its transcendence goal.

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June 23: Just Smile and be Happy

I think I know what draws me out of bed before dawn each day and come to the race.  Over the years it has become ever more clearer to me that I can receive and experience something here that is available for just 52 days, and only right here.  As the race enters its 12th day it is also becoming obvious that gradually more and more people are slowly being drawn here.  Not just in the early morning but also through out the day as well.  People who may not know exactly what it is that happening here but still feel an irresistible tug from within to show up on the course.  To walk the route, to bring gifts, to even feel that they are in some way a small part of this unique journey.

A schoolteacher on her way to class this morning dropped off this pot of sunflowers.  She had been deeply touched by the singers who perform in front of the school and also appreciated all the flowers that have been planted around the course.

Glenn who typically supervises the small park at the west end of the loop came by this morning just to say hello.  He is at another park this summer and misses seeing the runners coming around and around all day as he cleans the Joe Austen park.

Then there are those who cannot resist the urge to run here as well.  The number has multiplied in just the past few days.  At one point Surasa dashes by me and right behind her came a lady wearing a Punjabi suit.  No running shoes, no exercise clothes, she appeared to be someone who simply saw another woman doing something challenging and fulfilling, and maybe felt that it just might be good and inspiring for her as well.  She couldn’t of course keep up with Surasa but she did keep going.  When she was finished she stopped by the counting area and asked for a cup of water and then returned to her world.  For a short time, and certainly for at least one mile, this was her world as well.

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June 22: There Is Some Purpose

“It is very nice, I am already there, I am beyond.” For Sarvagata a new milestone will tumble by the wayside with each new step he takes as he continues to circle the course.  He, like the other 2 new runners, up until today had never run in a race longer than 10 days.  For each of them, going by the numbers at least, self transcendence will be an undeniable verifiable reality.

There is however something truly remarkable to note in what has happened to Sarvagata here yesterday.  Just a month ago when he ran the 10 day race he completed 605 miles, yesterday he completed 656 in 10 days and continues to run strongly.  The finish line for him, and for all the other runners is still far far away.  You can’t however simply point your finger at what might have happened to Sarvagata over the past month to understand how it happened.  Instead you need to step back and, examine the fact that he has been training and preparing hard to do this race for years now.  Putting in miles of training and racing, and also maturing as a person, but most importantly of all becoming fully ready to commit himself on all levels to this race.  To give himself in his entirety, outer and inner, to the Self Transcendence 3100 mile experience.

I participated in the 10 day race 4 times.  My first time was really horrible.  I mean it was good and nice as well, but only at the end.  Before I got to that point I had to go through all kinds of different experiences, let us say.  I did 480.”

Each time he ran the 10 day race, he improved by 60 miles, except for the race this year.  When only by summoning a super human effort on his last day he ran 5 miles more than the previous year.  “I was a little disappointed from one side.  From the other side, I said, maybe there is some purpose to that.  Now I see why.  I did it here.”

If all our life’s journeys had odometers, it might be interesting to note from time to time just how far we had come and of course just how much further there was left in front of us.  The 3100 is a shockingly difficult event to undertake.  The only certainty each runner has is that each knows categorically, that with each new lap they will draw closer to the finish line.  The thing of greatest importance however, the transformation going on within, is something that is not so discernible.  We are allowed at best a hint and a subtle feeling that something powerful is happening to each and all who run here.  Perhaps, if we are fortunate, we  too can gain something as well.   By our encouragement, by our service,  and if nothing else, than at least by our sense of oneness with these 10 champions.

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June 21: A Sweet Memory

photo by Jowan

Everything always moves along so incredibly swiftly here at the Self Transcendence race. There rarely seems to be much time or opportunity to look back over your shoulder. If one did it too often you could easily trip over the present.

It is challenging at the best of times to even just attempt to keep up with the relentless pace and rhythm of all the events taking place here, on this little half mile island of concrete.

Then, out of the infinite blue, a sweet memory will simply lift me out of my shoes and hurl me backward.   It is almost like stepping into some kind of time portal and I find myself returning back to something that took place here over the past 15 summers.  Today there was just that kind of special moment.  It was an instantaneous shock, and It felt  like I had been struck by a thunderbolt. In this precious instant. I briefly found myself in exactly the same place, but it was 5 years earlier.

The spiritual history here is so incredibly deep and rich, that sometimes I am surprised  that I am not delightfully tangled up in it more often.  In the later years of his life Sri Chinmoy spent a great deal of time at his race, often coming several times a day.  Starting in 2006, he used to write a special race pray every day, and have it given to each of the runners.  Today, the very first in that series was once again handed out to the runners.  From the moment my hand touched the blue page, my heart’s clock spun immediately backwards to that time.

Stutisheel was one of the 5, of the current group of 10, who was running the race that year.  He says, “for me it was so delightful, because I adore Sri Chinmoy’s aphorisms, and he started writing them especially for the runners.  It was so special.  Every aphorism reveals the universe to you.”

“Just, I know how to run.   That is it.  It is so simple, but I am running for my Lord Supreme, and therefore he loves me, with his blessing pride.  This is the secret.”

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photo by Jowan

New memories are being written here all the time, just as they should.  5 of the runners here today were of course not even here back then.  Some even may never have even seen much of Sri Chinmoy in person, at all.  But it doesn’t mean to say that they cannot connect with his vision of transcendence as powerfully and as most assuredly, as any one who had the opportunity to be standing close by Sri Chinmoy at the starting line 5 years ago.

For many of us Sri Chinmoy’s physical life was all too brief, yet his inner life continues to illumine and inspire.  His gifts to humanity are still being revealed, his guidance, and vision still felt as strongly as ever.  A confirmation of this of course is clearly revealed in each of those who continue to run so bravely and with such unerring dedication to the goal of transcendence each and every day here.  His vision will continue long past the countless tomorrows.  Long after the sound of footsteps have passed beyond the finish line.

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