July 21: Every Day A New Day

Sometime 2 days ago Ashprihanl’s check engine light had to flicker on.  He was pushing himself to a new record that day, having completed 24 straight days of 70 miles or more per day.  With just a little more than 300 miles to go he could literally see the finish line in front of him.  At his current pace it was now just a few days off.  The footsteps of the young Ukranians had gradually drifted back to what had to be a comfortable distance behind him.  He had to feel that on this his 11th year here he would not just have another victory but also a new personal best.

The human body is not as precise as the engineering of even an inexpensive car.  We don’t come with owner’s manuals, service schedules, or on board lights and dials of any kind.  Somewhere though, deep within Ashprihanal’s brain, some little neuron had to be sparking a danger signal.  It was trying to tell him to check his fluid intake or slow down, or perhaps simply a combination of the 2.

The conditions now on the course are atrocious.  It has been and continues to be so hot that you can barely take in enough fluid to complete even just one short lap.  Everyone is sweating continually but you cannot cool because the moisture simply does not evaporate in the stifling humidity. By late yesterday afternoon Ashprihanal’s body simply could not go on.  He had pushed beyond the point of recovering by sitting in the shade and drinking many cups of water.

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July 20: I Always Learned Something

“The main quality I felt this morning was gratitude.”  Just before dawn, and with just a few precious minutes to spare, Atmavir slipped alone into the quiet hallowed  garden which is the Aspiration Ground.  It is the local place close by that was once the main gathering place, in which the students of Sri Chinmoy used to meet on a regular basis with their late spiritual teacher.  It is a sacred place still, in which his presence continues to be intimately felt and experienced by all those who continue to value his teachings.

For the past 5 summers Atmavir has offered up himself wholeheartedly to his personal battle ground, the 3100 mile race.  Here conflict of all kinds takes place but which is mostly unobservable by those who watch from the side, for it takes place mostly in minds and in muscles.

From one vantage point, it is hard  to imagine that there is stillness or silence or peace of any kind on the path they run on, which is so incredibly hard and as well now so hot.  The churning parade of sliced open shoes never slows or stops.  Both mentally and physically it can be metaphorically viewed as a tumultuous raging sea, in which your life boat is simply somehow trying to find passage to that safe and secure shore called the finish line.

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July 19: This Is So Precious

Most of us like to think of ourselves as being self sufficient.  That no matter what the task in front of us might be, we will never feel any need to turn to others for support or help of any kind.  It really depends of course upon, just how wide the independence streak is, painted up and down your backbone.

By hook or by crook we try somehow on our own, to find a way to get the job done.  In the 3100 mile race the demands are just so great it is also  nearly impossible to find someone who is willing and able to help for all the hours of running that exist over the course of a long hot summer.  Add to that, finding both the elusive chemistry of compatibility, an ever attentive disposition, and more importantly a sense of selflessness that allows you to slip invisibly into the life and needs of the runner.

In a car race it is impossible for them to take place at all, no matter the distance without a pit crew.  In the grand scheme of things of course the Self Transcendence race could not even begin to exist without a very large and enthusiastic umbrella group that helps the unique machinery of the race to seemingly revolve almost invisibly.  On an inner level all who are here and taking part are acutely aware  of the inner support and energy that wells up constantly from within.  If you think you can do this one on your own you will most likely be unpleasantly surprised.

Both Stutisheel and Surasa have experienced support for much of the day.  The little things that snatch steps and seconds away are eliminated when you never have to stray even for a moment from the course.  Dimitry is a part time helper for first time runners Sarvagata and Igor.  He had no experience at this and yet he arrives cheerfully and willingly every morning.  Slips away for part of the day to take care of other chores, and then returns to look after these 2 magnificent rookies from the Ukraine until the very end of their day.

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July 18: We Are Here To Run

It is only in a photograph that you can really stop and adequately capture the speeding world around us.  Time never stops, nor life, nor the race nor really anything that is part and parcel of creation.  Just as one footstep continually follows another, thoughts tumble one past another.  All experiences, so powerful and real for an instant are then continually being replaced by hopefully higher ones.  But int that instant the photo was taken you can at least attempt to reveal and comprehend a precious moment of a life in constant movement.

As someone who takes hundreds of pictures each day I am continually surprised at the little personal glimpses of life I can see taking place in the faces of those who are running here.  There are some who are almost always constantly serene.  They somehow cast the appearance of a living breathing tranquility.  One that has to be obviously in stark opposition, to the heroic encounter with suffering that they are surely being forced to willingly bear.

Ashprihanal’s face is a nonstop playground of expressions just as his arms and legs seem to twirl and spin in their own unique unscripted and unrepeatable choreography.  In one instant you might believe you see unbearable agony and in the next he will exhibit such radiant bliss you might not see anything similar unless you gazed up at paintings of holy figures in a place of worship.

He is of course both human and divine and seemingly unstoppable now as he forges his way onwards towards a personal best in the 3100.  The finish line now appears ever so clearly in front of him.  Just 500 miles away and it looks simply as though Sunday will be the day.  Time will not stop but his race on this his 11th year here surely will.  Many photographs will freeze the instant of celebration, and then he will simply run past and continue on with life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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July 17: Along The Way

The runners have all now completed 5 full weeks of running.  That is 35 straight 18 hour days.  If you or I,  or in fact most of the world set to work for that same period of time we certainly would most likely want to see some obvious benefit.  A reward, that we could hoist aloft or even some fancy folded paper that could be stuffed into a bank account.  At the end of the road for these 10 athletes there is no tangible reward whatsoever.  Perhaps some bragging rights if you were that kind of person but certainly none of them are that.  What all of them in fact do receive is applause and songs and as much congratulations as can be mustered by a hastily assembled group of enthusiastic friends and well wishers.

What most of the runners will tell you, is that it is in fact the journey along the way, that is the important thing and not the goal itself.  That gleefully striding into the boisterous bright cacophony of the finish line is not what the 3100 mile race is about at all.  It is the day to day moments that shape and form a new way, of not just looking at yourself, but also at the world around you.  Most of course will obviously become the most trim and fit of their lives but in absolute transcendence the transformation of the physical is just a tiny first step to much deeper and grander experiences.

Igor had been cruising along the first 2 weeks of the race running in the high 60 mile range.  On day 15 something changed and he suddenly became a 70 plus miles a day runner.  From then, until just 2 days ago, he appeared indomitable.  Then on the day of the full moon, he had problems, and slipped back to 64 miles.  Yesterday he seemed to regain his form and reached his usual standard of 131 laps(71 miles.) He says that it was a problem with his liver and that Kaushal reached into his bag of potions and found just the right fix.  Also he has been advised to adjust his diet. “I like pasta a lot but after that I had serious problems.”

He has now run much much further than he has ever run before.  He says, “I have learned that the body can adjust and adapt to such enormous loads.  That you can even feel normal after running for such a long time.”

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July 16: Just Another Day

It is a much different place when the Sun slips away.  The heavy chore the runners bear, never an easy one, certainly never finds much additional lightness in their steps, with the inevitable arrival of the dark night.

For some it offers a cool reprieve from the heat of day and an anonymity when the shadows draw so close you can almost disappear.  Invisible, but not for long, at least  until you hear of course the hopeful call of the counters, who always cry out, “I got you.”

It is always becomes a softer gentler place when the darkness comes. The runners weave through meager pools of light cast down by dim street lights.  And yet tonight there is a grand and special brightness glowing cool and magnificent low in the sky.  At this time of night the full moon has just pushed up over the roof of Jamaica high school.  It is poised and proud and it is the reason I have returned.  To hopefully catch its fat pale face and the even brighter glow of the runners who keep on and on, no mater whether or not there be sun or moon or any sky above them at all.  They only need the path, straight and unyielding in front of them.  The journey not over until the final step is taken.

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July 15: Stay Cheerful

When you are sitting comfortably back in your armchair it is actually pretty easy to claim to be some kind of expert on what is really happening at the 3100 mile race.  You might even be able to convince others but convincing yourself is another matter.

You can come every day, have endless conversations with each of the runners.   Run around and around the course so many times that you might just to begin to mistakenly believe  that you are one of them. But when you begin to become just a little too comfortable with that perception, the reality will always inevitably rear up in your path and confront you with the truth.  It comes for me usually the moment I get to go back to my comfortable home and they all have to continue on.

I am not a psychologist and I am unfortunately noticing of late that my running ability has seen better days.  There is a part of me though, deep inside that relates clearly and deeply to what these 10 incredible athletes are doing.  There is an inner experience here that I comfortably identify with and relate to on a spiritual level.  On the very mundane and practical reality, I just don’t understand some of the simple mechanics of it all.  A perfect example of this is simply how one can find perfect detachment with the results and be able to find an absolute acceptance within themselves, at not completing all 3100 miles.

How that it is really possible to just be here and run and not to be constantly tantalized and tormented by the numbers.  To somehow surrender completely to the inner experience, in which you really are detached from the demands and constraints of the outer world.  Instead you are somehow able to tune your being to the beck and call of your own subtle inner voice.

Atmavir is for me is a running enigma.  A vastly talented athlete he is here for the 5th year.  In each of the last 2 years he has led the race going through the first 8 days and then it seems something just evaporates with both his speed and power.  He looks, for lack of better words, like a high performance race car coasting around the track.  I asked him this morning what he thinks most people think when they look at him.  “They are probably wondering why I am not running,” he says.

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July 14: Opportunity To Transform

Last night a rainbow boldly painted itself across the sky above the Self Transcendence race.  There are probably quite a few boring technical and scientific reasons of why and how it was formed, but still in the brief time it glowed up in the sky, it was magical.  For the runners it was particularly significant for it was for them a totally unexpected visit of nature’s beauty.  They have been every which way around the course over the past month now and yet this was something totally unique and new.  No one could recall every seeing something quite as spectacular as this ever on the course.

Moments earlier it had rained only briefly and there were a few flashes of lightning and then the air simply sweetened as a light breeze swept across the city.  For a time there was even a smaller second rainbow beside the bigger first one but the camera simply couldn’t pick it up.  I know how thrilled I was to see it all above me but I really can’t imagine just how great it must have been for those who have been going around and around for thousands of miles and to suddenly be blessed with this.

Was it an omen of bright  things to come or simply a little kiss from heaven upon those who are working with such intense purpose on the hard earth below.  Who knows.  But for a while certainly it brought a smile to every face.  For those who had been dragging along under the burden of a hot humid day, suddenly they could run again.  Atmavir, after this happened, ran as quickly and as lightly upon his feet as I had seen him do in weeks.

For those in their cars below on the Grand Central I will never know what they actually saw and felt.  But I hope that their day may have gotten just a little brighter as well.   If even for just a moment.  Beauty is sometimes a little elusive to find for most of us.  Yet for a while last night it splashed itself, bright and clear across a grey New York sky.  Freely available  to anyone, who simply only had to look up.

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July 13: Just A Dream

A few days ago an American baseball player named Derek Jeter reached a major milestone in his career.  This New York Yankee short stop managed to complete his 3,000th career hit as a professional baseball player.  This is an exceptional achievement for a player.   He will be only the 28th person to accomplish this feat in the history of the game.  I am not much of a fan of the sport but when ever I hear numbers like 3000 I am compelled to take notice.  It does sound a lot like 3100 miles after all.

He accomplished this in spectacular fashion in front of a stadium full of fans and probably millions more nation wide broadcast on TV, when he did it as well in his home park, Yankee stadium.  The hit itself was as spectacular as they come, a home run.  This all took place a little more than 10 miles away from the 3100 mile race.  A distance not far in physical terms but certainly an incalculable one on just about every other level of how we all perceive sports.  To me and to many others the Self Transcendence race just may be the most inspiring sporting event of all time.  There are not any dramatic theatrics but on an inner level it can engage and touch you in the deepest part of your being.

Surasa’s accomplishment here this year as well just may be the most impressive of all the runners.  In a quiet and almost understated way she is daily going about the incredibly difficult business of running 110-115 laps every day for the past month.

Women rarely get much recognition in sports, and certainly with the notable exception of Suprabha Beckjord, there is scarcely any female athlete over the age of 50 who has ever come near to accomplishing what Surasa seems most certainly on the brink of achieving.

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July 12: Just Love It

In their first 14 days here each of the top 3 runners had, what you could easily call, good starts.  On day 15 each of them would pass beyond the 1,000 mile mark and then from this moment on something inexplicably changed for all of them.  Since then the level of effort and overall intensity has risen to an astonishing new height.  Igor is the man currently holding down the 3rd position but really barely a slight breeze separates one from the other.

On day 15 Igor entered the rarefied atmosphere of the 130 lap per day club and since then has shown no interest in easing back on what appears to be a full throttle drive to the finish line.  Which, at the start of day 31 is still 1000 miles away.  This means that each day he has been consistently running at least 70 miles a day.  It was hot yesterday and the humidity has crept over everyone with its relentless stifling weight.  In the mornings Igor most often arrives looking tired and drained.  Once the day starts however he just seems able to go and go.  He tells me that it is in the night time that he feels most awake and alive.

He is not comfortable with his English and this just adds to the quietness and stillness that seems to constantly envelop him.  With some translation help from Stutisheel he explains, “there are times when I feel very good inside and I don’t want to speak to anybody.  Just be in myself.”  I ask him if this is one of those occasions, and he tells me that he is still waking up.  This appears to be a time when a little joking makes him feel more alert.

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