Day Eleven: A Total Journey

We all can agree that when we come face to face with true adversity it will unfailing reveal some measure of who and what we are.  The world around us can quickly judge whether or not we strived hard or hid back some portion of our capacity but ultimately within we are the only true judge of whether or not we truly gave our all.  Many if not most tasks that line up in our day to day existence do not demand examination.

Occasionally though some extraordinary opportunity arrives directly in front of our path that beggars nothing less than a full commitment of all our resources and every fiber of our being.  Perhaps makes us even plum the very depths of our soul, in such a way, that does not just challenge us but also transforms the very dimensions of our consciousness.  Bringing us ever so much closer to a summit that we all sooner or later must reach.

It is hard to imagine a singularly more difficult physical challenge than entering a multi day race.  A place where the hunger for motivation and miles is relentless.  Where our familiar mental companions, hesitation and doubt will team up with another adversary fatigue, and try and thwart and delay each new step forward on our journey.  Where time itself can envelop you in a fog of indifference and our ultimate destination dissolves into temporary obscurity.

Today for a group of runners in Flushing Meadow, their 10 or 6 days of extreme adversity has come to a grateful conclusion.  One measure of the true value of their experience is written in numbers beside their names on the mileage board.  Yet ultimately the inner rewards, the most important ones, are sheltered in deep safe and sacred places within each one who tied on shoes and stepped forward beyond the starting line.  A transformation has taken place that is possibly visible to others but one that can only be appreciated and treasured by the runner themselves, who heard the bell clang as the last hour struck and then could go no further.

What all have gained, from this great brave journey, we hope they can continue to use to make their own worlds, if not the world we all share, better.  And if the challenge of the race was not enough then come back once again to Flushing Meadow and race again with a family of like minded runners.  A place where the painful limitations of the human body are touched and illumined by the indisputable vastness of the heart within.

“Next time, I will have to do it all again.”  I had an opportunity to run with Sarah Barnett on one of her final laps.  Earlier she had said that she had hoped to complete 700 miles at the end of 10 days.  By noon today she was just within a heart beat of making it happen with 697 courageous miles.  Yet it is worth noting that she did transcend her previous best of 684 by 13 miles, and that she somehow unleashed a blistering last day effort of 74 miles that enabled her to be champion here for the first time.

I ask her how she was able to accomplish this feat.  “I think it is from being more experienced with the multi days.  I am trying to do a few through the year, but ultimately I realize that it is just grace.  because I don’t deserve to be here.  This morning I overslept very badly.  I literately had to get someone to drag me out of the tent.”

“If it weren’t for the helpers we simply wouldn’t achieve anything.  It is just a total team effort.  We all make mistakes.  We get some recognition but it is everyone. ”

“It is a total journey.  Everyone I have spoken to has their highs and lows.  You know by working in these races we are working through a few of our problems on a personal level.  Maybe it is a little bit of suffering but it really makes you look at your life.  It is not just a sport.  You are working out a lot of personal things too.”

Click to play interview

 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Dipali Cunningham was once again the champion of the 6 day event.  15 consecutive victories here for this 53 year old ageless Australian phenomena are more than enough proof of her capacity and how undeniably courageous her heart really is.  If one were just to look at the lap sheets they might be puzzled to see that she was only able to complete 56 miles on her last day.  What the numbers don’t reveal was just how sick she was in the last days, how little physical strength was left for her to give. On this day what she had to offer was more than enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I met this guy and he became my soul brother.  I am so grateful to run with him.  I am very grateful.”  Vasu and Francesco have been almost constant running companions for the past few days.  In one of the inexplicable mysteries that takes place at these events all the time.  They are in different races and from different countries.  One from the Ukraine the other Italy, and yet they found inspiration and comfort in each others strides and strengths.  They spoke little in that time, not just because they shared little of a common language, but more so because that was not the most important part of the bond they forged.  It started with Vasu offering a simple invitation.  “Let’s go.” A communication that benefited and enriched them both on many levels and not just in miles.

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Happiness, gratitude, and fulfillment.”  Nidhruvi’s race will stand out here this year, not just for her own personal experience, but for others as well as a real milestone in Multi day running.  It exemplifies perfectly the reality and the spirit of never giving up.  She has suffered through a 10 year drought of not being able to run in distance races, and now at age 46 she has once again returned to the fountain and quenched her thirst with 607 most wondrous miles over 10 days.

“It was good the way it was.  Even though there were hard moments, that everybody has to go through,but I took it quite calmly, and tried to make the best out of it.  I got sick, I got a cold and had no energy for running.  So I was just walking and running for days and days.  But I was happy.  Everything was actually super.”

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“I feel just happy.”  She is only 31 but Jayasalini is extremely experienced at multi days.  Usually she competes in the 10 day but for the first time she has entered the 6.  “I am flying like a bird in an endless sky.”

Most people would find this kind of comment unfathomable.  On her last day here she will have completed 74 miles giving her an incredible total of 407.  Simply running for 6 days is certainly enough but a Russian film crew has been documenting her progress trying to get some evidence of what happens to the human body during endurance sport.  Shortly after she finishes her race they will discover that she has lost 3kg and 15% of her body fat.  Information that really doesn’t mean a whole lot to a soul reaching into the beyond.

“I even feel a bit sorry that the race is over.  A couple of days ago I was looking forward to this moment.  But now I want it to continue.”  On her last lap she says she will just chant, “gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.”

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Some performances just sing and shout the expression Self Transcendence.  53 year old Nishima from Auckland has today set a personal best of 582 miles over 10 days surpassing her previous best of 521.  It is one of her last laps and she says quite reasonably, “everything is cramped up.  That is why I am walking.”

Asked if she will do another laps, she says, “I might try.”  Then does that very thing.

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

Kaneenika ran an extraordinary race.  Her 692 miles on the board cannot begin to tell the true story of her courage and determination.  Just 5 miles separated her from Sarah at the end of the day.  Last night she pushed as hard as she could possibly do.  It was all she had left, she could not possibly do more.

 

 

“The legs are as fresh or as unfresh as when we talked before the race.”  A week ago on the day before he started the 6 day I was curious as to why Jesper Olsen, a man on his final leg of running for the 2nd time around the world would take time off from his journey and come here.

“Emotionally it makes a big difference.  For me it is important most of all.  Each time I do a multi day during a world run, after a few days I begin to understand what I take for granted during the world run.  It is not to be taken for granted.”

“For all of us who run on the big circle.  All the time the surroundings are the same so you must go into yourself, and motivate.  Then I realize when I do the world run that it is infinitely easier.  At any given time the scenery changes, so it is much more easier.  Each race is a different experience, and this race was 400 miles.  You have to be satisfied with what you do.  This is one of those races that I would like to come back to when I am not doing a world run.”

In just a couple of days he will once again be back on the road and running this time to quite a different destination.

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

 

It is heaven,” says Usika who sits now after he has just finished the race.  Between himself and Shashanka, the 2 of them they have run almost 1,000 miles in the past 10 days.  “Actually many people were suffering from the weather conditions especially the champions.  “But the best is to not be influenced by the circumstances, whatever they are.  Whatever comes your way.

“I am just looking at the sky and everything is beautiful,” adds Shashanka.  “I am really happy.  This is always the moment that I really look forward to.  Sit down in a chair and keep the satisfaction, fulfillment.  Whatever you do in that race is just great.  I think nobody can really describe is happening in each one.  I had a difficult race probably the most difficult I have ever had.  It is unimaginable what happens in 10 days.”

click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“I am feeling very great I have finished.”  Daria has just completed her second multi day in a row here doing 371 miles in 6 days.  “I am so surprised about it.  Till the end it was not possible for me.”

Last year she participated in the 10 day.  “It is like a different life, it is very different.  But I cannot say what is more difficult.  It is different lives and I go in 2 different ways, and it is all great. ”

She is a professional alpinist, “I think it is possible for me to join everything.  Mountains, running, flying, everything.  Why not.”

“Everybody helps me.  Every morning I find some presents, somebody give me something.  Every body tries to help.  I think I have many many helpers, more than 20 I think.  Like a family.”

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“I was here to work.”  Michel Guoin did that and then some.  For 4 years he has been trying to surpass his previous best of 538 miles.  A goal that has eluded not just him but his family.  His wife and son are almost his constant companions and you can see their efforts were superb as well as his.  This year he was able to break the lock that held him back and managed to finish with 547 miles.  An effort that required a final day of 65 miles.

“It was a long time but I have got it now.  Timing was very tight, but I knew what I was doing.  So each day I knew I was going in the right direction.  Now I have to beat it next time.”

With him now is a first timer in the 6 day Roger Martel who ran 339 miles.  “It was very very emotional.”  He feels really inspired by not just his running but as well by all the new friends he met in the past week.  On a practical note he adds, “I am working on Monday.”

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

When I ask Mika, the Finish film director who has been shooting here for the past week whether or not he has a film or not he says, “I hope so.  It is a fantastic event.  It was a chance to see something unique that you don’t see in Finland.  It was a surprise to me that there was so much volunteering of people involved, and how beautifully this race is organized.  seeing the atmosphere at the small village here.  In many ways it was a beautiful experience.”

Click to Play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“Everybody starts and they work through their doubts, fears, and anxieties.  You work through all that then injuries come up for you to work on.  Then by day 5 or 6 you have about 80 little Buddhas walking around.   They got on top of all their issues so they are in a good space.”  Tallaja Carey from Auckland ran 318 miles here in his first 6 day race, and I am no expert on this but he does sound if not look particularly Zen like after having taken a shower and changed out of his running attire.  “It is quite interesting.  You can actually see the transformation of the whole crowd here, and the valleys and the troughs of the race and what everybody goes through.  The trials and tribulations of being on your feet for so long.”

For quite a few years he was the other side of the track as a helper setting it up and part of a team that keeps the race running.  “The founder’s philosophy, Sri Chinmoy, on tennis, on love and serve.  similarly the runners love and the helpers serve. ”  When asked which he prefers he suggest that there are 2 parts to the apple, together they make it whole.  “They are 2 very different things, I like them both.  I am really happy serving and I am really happy running.” As to what happens next year.  “I may step up a notch and run the 10 day.”

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Alan Young just may be the best multi day running helper in the world.  His talent matches that of his runner William Sichel.  I have never seen him for even a moment fail or ever fall short of his responsibilities and duties.  In the past 6 days he has been a constant cheerful supporter, of not just William, but to also much of the village.

By the board he suggests that they were 14 miles short of their goal of 475.  William did not go out for the last hour or so of the race because clearly the goal was out of reach and his place in the race was secure.  I ask stupidly if he was saving it for the next race.  “I wouldn’t say he saved very much, would you.”

Asked how he feels. “I am terrible.  I ran every meter.”

As for the atmosphere here,  “I am not a religious person.  I am not a politician, I am an engineer.  The whole runner first, and the whole kind of ambiance of it doesn’t mater who you are or where you are from.  It is almost as though you are stepping into a private party.  We felt like very welcome guests and very humbling and it is so different.”

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“Perfect weather didn’t happen.”  58 year old Sottish runner William Sichel is sitting at this moment in his tent after just completing his 6 day race with a total of 461 miles.  “I think I will remember this as very very hard probably one of my toughest ever 6 day races.   (this is number 5) “They threw everything at me.  As you can hear I have an infection and some very tough opponents as well.  Put that into the mix and made it a very very hard race.  So to come out with a podium position I take that as a bonus.”

He also adds that he knew it was going to be competitive.  “If I didn’t want to be beat I could have stayed at home.” Laughs

Of Alan, “I would say he would probably add about 10 km a day.  That is a lot.  I would describe it as a team effort.  He is part of the team.  Obviously I am doing the running, but if the team is working well I do better.”

The notion of ever giving up just doesn’t fit anywhere into his concept of multi day running.  Simply to be part of the unique community of runners means you are not that sort of individual or runner.  Those types he suggest might be better suited for running the marathon.  Of the multi day runners, “You don’t give up like that.  It is off the scale kind of determination,that you don’t meet in normal life.”

Why he does these things.  “Obviously it is not the money.  There isn’t any.  So obviously it is something else.  All of us are trying find this out, aren’t we.  Probably the answer is slightly different for everyone.  It is obviously something very deep, and satisfying.  Something that lasts with you all your life I think.  Obviously you can’t find it in the check book.” Laughs

We had talked a week ago about the Scottish record that has stood untouched since 1882.  Can he get it?  “I still think it is possible given the conditions.”

Click to play interview

 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

At age 70 Pete Stringer managed to run a miraculous race.  The numbers on the board match his personal best of 332.  “With age and attrition I thought that was long gone.”  It must be noted that his mileage puts him in 8th position out of 23 runners.

His wife Jane is with him for this truly beautiful moment.  “We did it.  We did it again.  I feel almost like I did it myself.  He is just amazing.”

Adds Pete, “that’s because I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Click to play interview

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

 

Enthusiasm begins the journey.
Determination continues the journey.
Surrender completes the journey.
Gratitude not only fulfills the journey
But also pleases God
In God’s own Way.

Sri Chinmoy, Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 49, Agni Press, 1982.

9 Comments to “Day Eleven: A Total Journey”

  1. Tejvan says:

    Great job in keeping us informed about the race over past 10 days.

  2. Grahak says:

    Nice work Utpal, its inspirational.

  3. Dawn says:

    Amazing writing, amazing event and amazing runners! Quite an inspiration!

  4. Belinda says:

    Thank You Utpal!!!

  5. Dave Luljak says:

    Utpal, you capture the spirit of the race perfectly. It is so touching and inspiring to read everyone’s stories and your thoughts on the race as well. I feel privileged to have been able to see the last 20 hours of the race and it was exactly as you portray it. Thank you!

  6. Hridayinee Williams says:

    Thanks so much Utpal, your journal here of the runner’s transformational journey is unparallelled in providing the world with inspiration and insights. 🙂

  7. chanakhya says:

    I laughed I cried I enjoyed every moment 🙂

  8. Tirtha says:

    What a journey!!! Thank you so much for sharing every day of the race with us, that we were able to be there in spirit and receive a glimpse of what magic – inner and outer – was happening there:-)!

  9. All that is left of the beautiful running town are white crop circles(actually squares).
    I went by twice on Sunday and watched as the helpers were taking down all the structures.
    Monday I ran the route and there were still a few remnants left. But today just the white squares. It is kind of funny when I tell people about the runners they look at me like I am an alien. They cannot comprehend how these runner can run 6 or 10 days and all those miles. I remember I was talking to one of the Russian runners as we were running a bit. I have completed 3 marathons and run 3-5 days a week for over 20 years. I tried to run each day with different runner for a lap or so, and then after go into the medical tent and adjust the runners. He said in broken English that this is accomplished with the heart not the mind. Then the next day a lady I ran with said it is the “soul” that gets them through it. My thoughts are it could be some supernatural power..from the aliens who left the circle (I know the grass just fades from being covered by the tents).

    It was so quiet and lonely without anyone to run with today. I miss all of you dearly.
    I love running and enjoy it much more when I have company, and these super runners are the BEST company a person can have!!!! They are so kind, sweet and gentle!!!! I know for many of the runners it is Guru’s grace that helps them along. For me I am lifted so high for 10 days when the runners start..it is magical, powerful, and so inspiring words cannot begin to explain it..it is an out of this world experience..just like crop circles.

Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)