June 20: Inner Door Constantly Open

“It was a dream of our family to be here helping him.”  Sarvagata’s sister is beaming with enthusiasm as she runs beside her brother on this the 9th day of the race.  The sun is low and golden in the sky and the air is still and clear.   It just may be as beautiful a morning as the race will see all summer.  The irony of all this is that in fact Sarvadhara (Sarvagata’s sister) is currently committed to leave later in the day for Chicago.  She flew in from the Ukraine just last night and came immediately here, only to arrive by fate, just as her brother was going home for the night.

So on this most exquisite morning she is getting the briefest opportunity to share with her brother the 3100 mile race experience. Absorb somehow, in the few fleeting hours she has left, the vast and limitless world her brother and 9 others now inhabit.

This is for her an incredibly special moment because in fact, Sarvadhara has never ever even seen her brother running in a multi day race before. She, like most people have only seen the race via the internet.  Tried to make some sense of something, that on a computer must be incredibly difficult to even begin to follow or even comprehend.

For most people, the moment you have taken even a few steps here on this loop, then you may actually begin to see and feel the world the runners are completely immersed in.   For a moment at least it is possible, to more deeply appreciate  the reality the runners inhabit every second of their day. Every hard slab of concrete here has after all, felt millions of footsteps pass by for the past 15 years.

Things have happened ever so quickly for the Ukrainskyi family.  Even Sarvagata himself did not know for sure that he would come and now neither his sister or his wife will be able to help.  Sarvhara says, “I am not a little sorry I won’t be here, I am a lot sorry.”  With the few hours she has left she says, “Now I am trying to come into this.”

She has followed his experiences previously in the 10 day race via the internet.  “You know it is like a miracle.  When I look at this from the internet I don’t believe in this.  3100 miles in 52 days is just impossible.  When I look and don’t think, I just feel proud of humanity, and gratitude to the Supreme that this is possible for human beings to do this.”

When she arrived last night she had been traveling non stop for more than 24 hours from the Ukraine.  “I was so happy to see him, and all of this, that all my tiredness just flew away.

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June 19: Grateful For Every Step Here

Photo by Bhashwar

For the 10 runners taking part in the Self Transcendence race each new day now, and each additional lap is starting to blend and blur into the immense vision of what they are attempting to do here.  It is such a massive effort and an undertaking of such proportions that the enormity of it, in its entirety, is really incomprehensible.  Only the present moment can remain distinct, and briefly held.  Yesterday is gone just as what happened an hour ago.  Tomorrow will come of course but all they really have is the precious now.

The creator of the race, the late Sri Chinmoy saw clearly what this race represented.  Not just the challenge it presented to the runners but also how it could, in its own unique way, inspire the world, should they dare to examine it.  The legacy of his life is still richly visible in all that he created, accomplished, and offered to the world.  How he was able to inspire people from within takes some closer examination.  How he continues to fuel the fires burning in the hearts of these 10 runners however is clearly visible.  It is evident in not just the fact that they have come to challenge the impossible but also in each of their unblinking  attitudes to what lies in front of them, and perhaps less understood, their consciousness.  When faced with incredible adversity they still are able to shine so, so, bright.

In America today is Father’s day and many are paying tribute to their late teacher here in NY and elsewhere.  He never asked to assume such an intimate relationship with his students but instead it was one in which they themselves established and humbly offered back to him.  His students felt and experienced such an intimate connection and closeness that for many no other relationship, other than father and child would quite do.  There are quite a few here today to celebrate and honor him, who they feel he did so much for, and who they believe continues to provide for in ways not so clearly understood but are profoundly aware of just the same.

photo by Bhashwhar

A marathon is being held today just across the street from the 3100.  Inspiration will flow, back and forth across the road for many hours.   Then after 5 hours the last of the marathoners will leave and the street will return to its weekend stillness, just as it does every Sunday.  It will once again become the singular world of those who have chosen to run here every day.  The future ahead blurred beyond recognition. The past 7 days gone forever.  But the inspiration within remains as fire bright and as precious as anything that man can treasure.  A higher reality attainable, an inner promise fulfilled, the road ahead now as open and as inviting as a full bright sky.

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June 18: Go On, Go On

If Ashprihanal was the car you drove every day and not one of the greatest ultra distance runners in the world you probably would have traded him in a long time ago.  Don’t get me wrong, he probably still has a lot of miles left in his legs but the mileage on this 40 year old Finnish runner is shocking and incomprehensible if not incalculable.  At this Self Transcendence race alone, over 10 summers he has racked up 31,000 miles.  Also just this year he has run a 6 day race and 24 hour race.

Over the years he has run so many multi day races and gone for so many lengthy adventure hikes that he has lost track of them all.  Ironically his job in Helsinki is as a deliveryman who walks on foot all the time he is on the job.  Even from the beginning he really wasn’t too interested in recording numbers and totals.  He really just seems to want to immerse himself in whatever the distance experience is.  He is however far from robotic, it is not some endless mindless exercise in movement.  He seems to enter a rarefied world that only the very best distance runners can enter.  The mind is gently nudged out of the way and the heart takes over the wheel and drives him gently, with sweetness, and an incredible lightness as he flutters along, and just above the very hard concrete.

As he enters his 6th day here he has run 420 miles and though he seems to not yet have found his perfect form he is motoring along quite nicely just the same.  Barring something unforeseen he will almost certainly be able to finish the race again this year. He has of course won the race 7 out of the 10 times he has competed.  There is no simple analysis of how and why Ashprihanal is just so good at what he does.  He is such a comfortable and solid  fit into the environment here it is almost impossible to imagine that he would not come back.  Certainly at least not until he has run here 13 times, the same as the incomparable Suprabha.

His footsteps are always so light and his arm movements almost seem to effortlessly twirl and spin in an incomprehensible pattern that never seems to ever repeat itself.  When ever I try to slip into the same orbit as his, I cannot help but notice that he seems to just barely ever to rest upon the same mortal path that the rest of us  members of the human race have to slog along on.  The chemistry and mechanics of Ashprihanal are not to be deciphered by anyone, at least certainly not by me.  His heart at least is open to the world, and is much greater and vaster than the human form that has been granted the task of bearing it around and around this Self Transcendence race.

Ashprihanal running

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June 17: Miracles and Monuments

All the runners had gone home last night, except for one.  There were just a few minutes left before the curtain of midnight would descend over the course and even if you ran an extra lap it wouldn’t count.  I know he has done something like this before. but suddenly, much to the astonishment of the handful of helpers who were still there, Pranjal decided to get one more lap in before the cut off came.

Picture if you will the very stark reality that he had already run 68 miles, and over 5 days is already close to 10 miles ahead of last year.  He was attempting to run a lap quicker than he had certainly done all day and perhaps faster than any he had run from his very first day of the race.  Sahishnu was one of the few who was still there and told me this story this morning.  I, like most normally exhausted people was probably  already beneath the covers and dreaming about just trying to make it to the race before Pranjal would again arrive here at 5:45 the next morning.

According to Sahishnu there was a little more than 6 minutes left.  Normally a lap takes Pranjal 8 to 9 minutes to complete.  There are no pictures of this of course and in the great scheme of things it is just one of those amazing moments that happens every day here in some way great and small to each and every runner.

The point here though is that Pranjal sprinted a lap in 5:30, squeezing it just in before it would no longer count.  Then with out fanfare he hopped on his bike and went home.  In the end for him it was just one more lap out of the 5649 he will need to do here to complete the race.

When you attempt to take a broad perspective of the Self Transcendence race, you cannot help but notice that everything is inexorably always moving forward.  Nothing can ever remain static, everything is constantly moving and if obstacles thrust themselves up in front of you than they have to be pushed aside.  If anything at all remains constant it is the runners undying faith that they have a divine inner purpose to be here and do their very best.  The capacity they all have, they themselves just have to come up with the willingness and the shoe leather.   Then every so often they do something impossible and make us all wonder just what we can accomplish as well.

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June 16: Do My Best Every Day

Yesterday Pranjal passed a significant personal milestone that tells an awful lot about this incredible Slovakian runner and just why he has been so successful here at the 3100 mile race.  Yesterday it turns out was the 3rd anniversary of when he first started his, never miss a day, running streak.

After completing the Self Transcendence race here in 2009 he hit upon the inspiration that if he simply kept running, at least 2 miles a day, he was almost certain to get better, and he was right.  His strategy, which is a simple one, is one of  the keys as to why he has improved so much. In fact from the very first year he ran here, which was 2005, he has transcended himself each year.  Now, after 4 days of running he is 4 miles ahead of last years pace.  This of course is a razor thin margin but if he manages to keep it up, it will mean he will once again improve his time, in this his 7th year in a row of running the 3100 mile race.

Some of the veteran runners here, but not all, take lengthy breaks once they have completed the race.  Who could blame them.  There will be weeks if not months ahead of painful recovery.  From the very first time he ran here Pranjal felt that this was going to be his life., and as long as he was able to run, he wanted to immerse himself in this, the pinnacle arena of spiritual transformation.

Every one of us believes that there is at least one thing in our lives that we may be better than average at doing.  Very few of us however can even begin to imagine the training that any of the athletes here, particularly Pranjal, puts in, in order to not just make a decent effort, but to wholeheartedly say they gave their all.  More importantly he is not for a moment thinking of beating any one else.  He simply wants to be able to simply say that he gave all that he had to give.  Expect no reward in this either, other than the certain knowledge that this was his very best as a runner and as a seeker athlete.

Pranjal is a relentless trainer and a relentless seeker of his own perfection.  If it means coming early and staying late he does it.  If it means taking shorter and shorter breaks and being as efficient as it is possible to be, he will do it.  If it means that the key to getting more miles each day is to run just a little faster each lap, he does it.  If there is time to squeeze one more lap before the clock strikes midnight, he will do it.  Is he tired, is he sore, is his body suffering, absolutely.  The thing is of course is that he is not listening to his body, or his mind, or the pain, or the fatigue.  He listens only to his heart, which is giving him the best possible guidance and which is never wrong.  O to be like Pranjal.

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June 15: Something Deeper Will Appear

When one decides to run the 3100 mile race it quickly becomes apparent that from the moment you take your very first step here that suddenly you are entering a very public arena.  You may have trained for months alone on soft mountain trails and felt the sweet stillness of nature comforting you with its beauty.  Perhaps you ran care free without any problem intruding into your life and felt contentment and peace in abundant measure.  This world is available here as well on the concrete loop here in Queens but it is an aspect of the race that does not come to all and never to all, all the time.

Here you are visible at nearly all times.   There is practically not a moment of any kind of  privacy for 18 hours each and every day.  If your race is going well and you have settled into a comfortable zone than it can be heaven on earth.  Sometimes however the runners experience and learn the most here when they are confronted by real monumental struggle and with extreme adversity.  A battle must be waged to win each and ever lap. In the end perhaps the greatest adversary a runner must deal with is not gathering up all the miles but simply confronting a part of their being that resists being transformed.

The foes within can be identified by many names.  Whether it be unwillingness or lethargy, or even a deep stubbornness that resists all sweet enticements to surrender and instead must be pushed ever forward, lap by lap, into eventual submission. Self transcendence is ultimately more about what we become within and not what we accomplish on the outside.

Atmavir is for me an extraordinary gifted athlete and he is incredibly dedicated to this event.  Last year however was a monumental struggle for him practically from day one until he finished the race 49 days latter.  It was the 4th time he had run the race and prior to last year he had gotten faster each and every time he ran.  Last year of course was extremely hot and he rarely looked comfortable and yet he never gave up.

He said at the time, ”

“I was wondering why I was suffering so much this year, while some people were really quite smooth.  On those really hot days.  My feeling is that everybody has a different role in this race, and we have to accept these roles.”  He explains that it is also in the task of cheerfully accepting the different results, no matter whether it is success or failure, that is perhaps one of the key accomplishments for those who run here.  That you must work extremely hard to do your best and than as well be grateful for whatever the outcome might be.

“Definitely I am quite happy that it will be over.  It was my toughest year here.  It was my hardest race ever.  On the other hand the inner progress that we are doing here.  If you are putting yourself through more pressure maybe something deeper will appear.”

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June 14: I Have To Run

Whenever we attempt to fully describe others we quickly begin to realize that each and every person is multifaceted.  That no one label can ever begin to adequately describe someone.  We are all composed of so many different qualities and capacities.  Most of us perhaps would like to picture ourselves in the, ‘jack of all trades, master of none category.’

Perhaps as time goes on we develop new skills and expand our horizons in many different realms such as sport, creativity, and other practical endeavors.  Rarely, very rarely do people come along with whom you cannot help but describe them as being a master of something.

There is at least one runner here whose capacity and talent, combined with their perseverance means that they really and truly are a RUNNER.  Surasa Mairer, a 52 year old athlete from Vienna is without question  one of the world’s greatest woman ultra distance runners.

Last year at age 51 she attempted the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race for the first time and was only able to complete 2760 miles of it.  Very early in the race nagging injuries held her back and yet she continued to run on cheerfully and devotedly until the very last minute that it was possible for her still to run.  She told me then that she was happy with her effort and glad that she could fulfill a long held goal to run here in this the longest race in the world.  Her resume as ultra distance runner is astonishing, and with all her previous achievements in ultra races no one would have been at all surprised if she had simply decided not to come back and tackle her Everest once again.  Yet she did.

So much about the Self Transcendence race is undefinable and this applies particularly to the runners themselves.  How can we begin to grasp why and how they do this thing and even more, come back and do it again and again.

Vishvarutpani is one of those helping Surasa and when she begins to describe her friend she simply glows with appreciation and respect.  Of her friend she says, “she is very amazing.  So cheerful and very in the moment.” Then she added the word, “surrendered.”  It is a perfect description.

When you see her arrive here each and every morning, looking so bright and full of energy and promise you just know that this is her world.  To be someone who simply has the unique capacity to run all day long.  And all the time propelled by such a positive attitude that any negativity simply does not touch her world.  To the point, she is simply an amazing woman athlete who is defying age with every step.

She has incredible strength and endurance and when this is combined with such a determined and positive attitude she is nearly unstoppable, and yet there is more.  It is in her running that she becomes aware of her spiritual potential.  It is on this course in a race created by her late spiritual master, Sri Chinmoy, that her inner and outer world draw so perfectly together.  For her to run here is to go beyond, to self transcend, and find herself drawing ever closer to her own perfect perfection.

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June 13: A New Life

In many ways each time a runner participates in the 3100 mile race it is like they are starting a new life.  Even the most talented runner however really has no idea what this lifetime here will reveal to them.  One can hope for days filled with joy and satisfaction but like most lives this is not always the case.  Lessons are learned both small and grand, sweet and painful.  Experience are gathered here that are either celebrated or endured and everything in between.  Ones that can never be gained on any of life’s other potential paths.

True, all you have to do here is run, but the obstacles one meets here along the way cannot ever be side stepped or avoided.  Pain and fatigue will be relentless opponents and one must never let down their guard for even a moment.

Stutisheel Leebedyev is perhaps the perfect example of someone who takes running the 3100 with the utmost respect and appreciation.  He credits his running here with most of what he has learned about spirituality and his own inner life.  For his family as well, the Self Transcendence race has created a world in which they too can join in and share this unique experience.

This year he and his daughter Alakananda are here again for the 8th year in a row.  Just 2 years ago in 2009 he set a personal best of 48 days and 12 hours (averaging 63.8 miles a day).  Last year the iron man from the Ukraine experienced something most of us never thought was even possible.  He sustained a knee injury and was forced to retire at 1386 miles.

But like the true champion he is he has returned here once again seemingly unfazed and undaunted by an obstacle that his body simply could not overcome.  Yet in the miracle, which is the 3100 mile race, one can not help but believe he learned  and achieved something grand and worthy nonetheless.  His body wounded but not the spirit within.

Now he starts again his beloved race which is so important to him and his family.  In the months that have gone by since he may have heard the calls of fear and doubt but he has not brought them here this day.  For this year is a new life and he is listening only to his own Self Transcendence goal which calls him onward and onward, forever onward.

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June 12: It Touches The Whole World

From time to time groups of people sometimes get concerned that life on earth is suddenly going to end.  They have it on good evidence, it would seem, that our world as we know it is just going to stop being.  I have of course no evidence to contradict any of these theories, but certainly as of 6 am on June 12 the world was still functioning more or less as it always does.  10 runners stepped across the starting line, on a cool drizzling morning in Queens NY, to officially take part in the longest race in the world, the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race.

For these runners at least their world has just begun.  For from today, until they reach their goal, their lives will inexorably be altered and trans- formed  in ways they cannot even begin to imagine.  The distance ahead is literally inconceivable and the time allotted to this journey is miniscule and unforgiving.   None has the luxury of being able to dawdle or falter at any time along the way.  The unique irony of the race is that the more they let go of any preconceived mental plans and formulas and surrender to the silence within, the faster and simpler their progress will become.  There will be countless experiences lying ahead of them, both gruelingly mortal and also supremely spiritual. With each new step they take on this sacred loop, they travel ever further into the unknown world of Self Transcendence.

For those of us who gawk and stare and marvel at what they are doing here we all too can receive something from this almost incomprehensible  journey.  No matter that you are standing so close that you can hear their footsteps as they pass or whether you are far far away and the runners are just pictures on web pages and words that spill across a page.  What is happening from today on is never so far away, no mater who you are or where you live,  that it cannot intimately touch your heart in ways both great and small.

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June 11: A Dream Come True

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.

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