Can you remember what it was like the night before you had a big exam at school. That no matter how much you had prepared for it, you knew that the moment you sat down and you opened the test that it was going to be hard, very hard. This is a crazy thought that came to me this Saturday afternoon at the runners meeting just before the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race starts tomorrow morning. Clearly however, no matter what flight my imagination might take, it can never even begin to answer what is actually racing through the heart’s and mind’s of this tiny group of elite runners.
To compare the longest race in the world to a school exam is of course a frivolous exercise at best. It is one we sideline mortals pluck from bountiful baskets of metaphors. Ones such as this, will always remain painfully inadequate at capturing the reality of this race. At least I can remember that knot of nerves twisting in my belly, just before a test or a marathon for that matter. It is the only marker that I can use to identify with, to somehow try and grasp what it must be like to be here, with so great a task lying inexorably ahead for these runners. Where once there was a safe cushion of weeks, now there are but a few dwindling tender hours, and they are fleeing, it seems quicker than time itself is supposed to do. Truth to tell, I know that only those who have run here, can really know what the experience is like to run. The mountain ahead is just for them to scale.
I could have chosen a different comparison than a school exam. I could have said instead, the day before battle, or even, if you could picture it, the day before you are about to be born, but there is no adequate comparison to those who voluntarily choose to enter the 3100. Here there are but 10. One might like to call them warriors, or hero champions, but of themselves they do not cast such lofty definitions. They think of themselves simply as runners, without fanfare or any hint of self promotion.
Something has drawn them here to Queens and this the 15th time the race has been held. Something incalculable and undefinable and yet so real and certain within each, that they could not say no to it even if they tried. I look in their eyes and there is no fear, no worry, no complaint, no faint or clamoring wish to turn on their heels and head for home. They all look certain, even the 3 new ones who are running this Self Transcendence race or the first time.
Pradeep tells me that the seed was planted 12 years ago when he came to NY for the first time. He was sharing a room with Namitaba one of the early champions of the race. He says, “he talked about it all the time.” In that moment he made a connection with the race that went deep. He applied many times he says, but it was only this year that he was fortunate in that a spot opened up just a short while ago.
Igor is from the Ukraine and he says that it was from reading fellow Ukranian Stutisheel’s books on running the race that helped inspire him. He has been to NY several times and run very well in the 6 and 10 day races and has prepared as well as anyone can for this most difficult event. He modestly confesses that he never dreamt that he could match Stutisheel’s incredible record in the race but felt strongly that he needed to come and do his best here.
“The very first time I heard about it, I decided I was going to make it.” Sarvagata has had the opportunity to see the race from the sidelines last summer. It has been clear for some time that he has a deep and compelling call within to run here.
When all of them are asked how they feel, their reactions seem unanimous. “I am just so happy that I am here, just to start is a dream come true” says Pradeep.
“The closer I get to the start, the less fear I feel,” says Igor. He says that he already felt that the race had started for him the moment he sent his entry form to NY.
Sarvagata says, “I am trying not to think about it. There are plenty of things you can do, and there are plenty of things that you won’t do, because you won’t know that you have to do it.”
The sense of family is already starting to build amongst this small group. The new ones have taken the first tentative steps to be initiated into the rare and tiny group of 3100 mile runners. When these 3 step away from starting line tomorrow, they will be equal and one with the others who have run here before and who are running again. Though perhaps lacking in experience, the journey ahead for the new ones is exactly the same as what confronts the more experienced ones. Sarvagata describes this sense of family he is already experiencing. He says that in that in shorter races, like the 6 and 10 day race, there is always some element of competition, “but here I don’t feel any of it. We are all in one boat.”
God alone knows how many hours and miles each has prepared in order to be here. Advice, both good and otherwise, has flooded in their direction from the moment they committed themselves to coming here. Pradeep says that one useful bit of advice he received was to picture that every time he trained for the race, that he should imagine that he was already running it.
Sarvagata tells me that the best advice he received before the race came just after he had been notified that he was accepted into the race. He was inspired to pick up a book of Sri Chinmoy’s aphorisms and this is the one he read.
Do not think
That you cannot do it.
Just think that God
Is definitely going to do it
In you, for you.
Sri Chinmoy, Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 64, Agni Press, 1984.