Sri Chinmoy: My longest distance was 47 miles. I did it twice. Now I no longer do it, but every year about three hundred disciples of mine from all over the world come here on my birthday and run 47 miles. Being the spiritual father of the family, it gives me tremendous joy when I see my spiritual children run 47 miles. The number 47 is very important to me because in 1947 India got its independence. With this run we are celebrating our inner freedom.
Sri Chinmoy heads out of the gate of the Jamaica High School track and then takes a sharp right turn that leads up a short hill. It is just past midnight and on this hilly hard course, that meanders around the school. He will make this same turn and run this same hill and all the rest of the the whole long course 40 more times before his journey will be complete. When this photograph was taken It was just moments after the 47 mile race had begun. This will be the 2nd time he has run the race and on this occasion he is trying to beat the time he ran in the race the previous year (12:41:48). The year is 1980 and Sri Chinmoy, a a few minutes earlier, had just turned 49 years of age.
The young men and women who now run beside and about him will also run on this same course with him throughout the long warm August night. Each one finding their own tempo and pace and each trying to give of themselves in every possible way, outer as well as inner, to the challenge of running this very unique 47 mile race.
The race is now just in its 3rd year but already has become a most important event both to Sri Chinmoy and to his disciples. Each time starting at midnight on August 27th. For some they are running it for the first time and for others it is a race they have tried to run every year, each time trying to improve upon their previous times.
No matter how you look at it, 47 miles is a long way to run. But there is something more important about this race that did not exist in any other running event throughout the rest of the year.
For each step taken here on the gritty cinder track and on and on over the winding asphalt road,was not just taking us to a hard fought finish line but also to some new found place within ourselves.
It was for something higher that we all reached for. A yearning goal that continues to beckon and inspire a new generation of runners now several decades later. It is a destination that originates not in the mind but within the very depths of our own hearts. An inner call that asks for all those who participate to extend themselves as much as they possibly can physically and to also, over the many hours and miles on the road, try as well to explore the unlimited dimensions of our inner world as well.
And then there is something more important still that made us run. For all Sri Chinmoy ‘s students it was a chance for us to offer something deep and personal from within ourselves to our beloved Spiritual teacher. Offer some small part of us to he who also ran beside us. For no matter how difficult it was for us to reach the finish line he too was also out there with us, throughout the night and well into burning brightness of the morning.
Yet even as he ran on and on throughout the night we also felt that it was he who was running in and through us. And further more it was he who was also leading us much further still, and continues to do so, on an endless journey that leads well beyond the distant shores of our own lifetimes.
I am not in this photograph but I too was there that night and also on many other warm August nights and on many other years, running this same course. There are some who might still recognize the faces of those who ran here that night, but if they do not, they cannot help but see the strength and power of a youthful fit Sri Chinmoy. Witness just how much he loved the sport of running, and also how much he loved to inspire and be inspired by his students.
For myself and all the others who pushed on through the depths of a long dark night there was no race or athletic event that meant more to us than running the 47 mile race. From its very first year and for all the years that followed it felt like a way to offer gratitude and thanks to our Spiritual teacher. That he himself was running the race himself was a priceless experience for us all. One that demonstrated in a powerful clear manner, that in every way possible he would inspire, guide, and nurture, all those who followed his path.
Again, we have to know that there is a great difference between competition and progress. When we want to compete with others, sometimes we adopt foul means—by hook or by crook we try to win. Then we bring to the fore our feelings of rivalry and almost animal propensities, animal qualities. We are only thinking of how we can defeat others, how we can lord it over others.
But when we are competing with ourselves, we know that we have to purify our inner existence in order to improve. So here is the difference. When it is a matter of self-transcendence, we have to depend on our inner purity, inner love, vastness and oneness with the rest of the world. We try to develop universal goodwill, whereas, while competing with others, we may not have those feelings. At that time, we may see others as rivals, we are on the border of enmity with them.
It can be as if we are fighting with enemies when we are competing. But when we are trying to transcend ourselves, we cannot fight with ourselves. If we can go ten steps ahead today, tomorrow we will try to cover twenty steps, and the day after thirty steps.
Sri Chinmoy, Run And Smile, Smile And Run, Agni Press, 2000.
“When I saw the picture, for the first time I remembered how grateful I was, and honored I was to have done that for Guru. That is what I see in the picture.” On this same night Virendra will have a race that was both profoundly memorable and historic as well. By running and winning the race with an almost unbelievable time of 5:09:30 he set a record that has been so distantly out of reach that for the past 32 years very few have ever got even close to that time.
“I am so happy it is over for one thing, because I didn’t really like the ultras. But I am so happy to have that kind of treasure to put at Guru’s feet. I really felt at that moment how big it was. We were chasing 6 hours and then out of the blue comes this 5 hours. I remembered thinking, Guru is going to like this.”(laughter)
Like many of the disciple runners at the time, Virendra was focusing on training for the marathon. This long race held at the end in August therefore could be thought of by many as a hindrance to then running a good marathon in the fall, less than 2 months away. “I was upset that I had to do this race. I didn’t want to. I wanted to concentrate on the marathon.” Because of his tremendous speed he would have passed Sri Chinmoy many times during the night. He describes one particular moment when he was having some unhappy feelings about doing the 47 mile race and he says, “I was passing Guru, and I thought…..Ohhhhh. I better snap up my consciousness a bit. So after that I stopped swearing because I knew I was going to catch up to Guru regularly.” (laughter)
“The biggest point of that was that I had a job to do, and I did it. I wasn’t chasing the record. It wasn’t for name and fame. It was basically to get it out of the way. Back then it was new (3rd year), and it was so far out there. I don’t even remember thinking what the record was. You’d run, survive it, and then see what your time was. It wasn’t so important.”
“When I did that race at the beginning there was quite a few good runners, and there was some jockeying. People were jostling for position and I remember I wanted no part of that. I kept upping the pace until I was alone. I went all the way down to 6 minute laps maybe. My main concern was to have peace. I wasn’t really racing these guys. I wanted no part of that. I was really really really determined. Once I was alone it was great. The whole thing for me was a 5 hour trance, a meditative trance. Of the whole 5 hours I probably remember 3 minutes of it.”
“I was angry 3 days before I did it. I wasn’t going to do it. I came to celebrations, and I wasn’t going to do the 47. People were asking and I would say, I am not going to do it this year. Then before the race I got this inner message. You are a runner. You have to do it. I remember talking back inwardly. Fine I will do it, but I am going to do it my way. One of the reasons I was like that was in a sense I was a little afraid of the race. I respected it any way.”
“I ran the first year and I suffered physically a lot. I wasn’t prepared. I went out fast as a marathoner and suffered. I did 6:13 which included 7 miles of walking. The 2nd year I came back and I was really well trained. But once I had the race lead and I was about to win I lost interest. I went home to bed and said let somebody else have this. I don’t want it. Because it wasn’t my race. I wasn’t an ultra guy. So when I came back the 3rd year I said, I don’t want to suffer like the first year and I don’t want to suffer like the 2nd year. I don’t want to hear for a year, ‘why did you drop out?’ So I am going to take care of it so neither of those 2 things happen.”
“The way I got rid of the physical thing was that I dominated the race. I did it as one entity. I didn’t do laps. It was one race, one shot, and then I put it aside.” The following year was the 50 mile race and Virendra was not sure even if he finished the race. “I was in better shape than when I had set the record. I was more prepared for the 50. I was psyched up. I was trying to run it in 5 hours. That is a 6 minute pace. I went out a 6 minute pace in the dark. I couldn’t see my hand in front of me. I couldn’t even tell if I was running on the pavement. I literally couldn’t see anything.” It took several laps before candles were put out on the course. “My visual perception went. So I had to stop. That was it.”
We discuss Vajin’s attempt to break his record. “It is Guru’s race. When I did it, it was a present to me. It was a long time ago. I was an instrument. I was chosen to do that. It is Guru’s call. If he wants to give the record to him he can do it very easily. He is a good enough runner for sure to do it. I am completely detached. I have had the record for 30 years.”
“It is an offering from my side and it is grace from Guru’s side. I couldn’t have done it without it. I remember once about 2 hours in where I had my focus really solid. I was kind of in autopilot, and I was running and running. I didn’t have a single idea how many miles I had run or what the pace was. I remember looking down at my legs and saying, wowwww, who is making these run? They are just going by themselves. I remember telling the counters, I don’t want to hear any splits. I don’t want to hear my marathon time. I don’t want to hear anything. Just wake me up with one lap to go. I had no emotional attachment to that race whatsoever. It was a job that had to be done and that is it.”
He thought he might stay for a while and watch his friends finish but when he realized how much longer they all would still be out there he says he jogged home. “It was like nothing had happened. I wasn’t hurting, I wasn’t tired, a little tired of course. I wasn’t washed up. I remember going home and thinking. That is cool. It is over. Totally awesome.”
It has become a rainy morning and people are congregating under tarps and tents. All activity outside has stopped and in the dash for protection from the rain suddenly Vajin is besides us. His tremendous race ended now just a few hours earlier. One that took him so close but left at least for this year Virendra’s record safe. A unique conversation takes place.
Virendra: “That is a different race than all the other races. That is Guru’s race. He can make you run 4:50 if he wants. I am not sure if he wants that record broken….maybe now or maybe ever, or maybe after i am dead. I got the feeling he likes that record. He was there when it happened. He made me up. He conjured me. I have no control over it.”
Vajin: “The funny thing was that I was hoping to break the record, than I don’t have to do it any more. (laughs) But that’s not how Guru works. He doesn’t want things to come easily. He wants you to work for things.”
Virendra: “Once you tell Guru that, he is going to decide whether that is a good thing or not. He might say, O, I will keep him close and he will come back next year. We will have him for a while.”
“The situation is different. When I ran it I didn’t want to run it. It is not my event. I am running it because it is Guru’s birthday. I thought too, once I break the record I won’t have to do this again. (laughter) That should take care of it for a while.”
He attempted the race the following year when it was 50 miles. He was having difficulties during the race. “I remember I was kind of really sad. because there were 2 years that I did that race with intent. Both years I dropped out. The first year I did it pure devotion. The goal was to finish for Guru’s 47th birthday, and we did that. The 2nd year I trained I did all the mileage. I said I am going to win this.”
“I chased this guy and caught him at 30 miles at 35 miles I had dropped him. I had 7 miles to go I was going to win…. then I went to sleep. I thought, o, forget it. I had no emotional attachment to that race. Then the 3rd year when I did well, I didn’t want to do it. I did it with pure devotion.
Vajin: “How does it compare to your other races?”
Virendra: “I think it is the closest thing to world class. Because, 2:25 (his marathon best) is not world class marathon.
He then describes how he ran this time in the New York City marathon in 1981. He was supposed to run 2:22 that year and suggests that he slacked off in order to help the woman’s winner, Alison Roe. “I had to wait for her, and once she caught up with me, than I went up to pace again. We ran 3 miles together. And that is where she broke the world record.”
Alison got a chance to speak with Virendra about the race in May when she visited New York. “She said, we were hammering.” It occurred during a public event and he had got up to make some jokes. “And she says, O, I remember you.” They met around mile 22 in Central Park. He could hear the phenomenal sound of cheering as she gradually got closer. She was the women’s leader at that point.
“It was really really powerful energy. I remember that I rode it. I remember I rode the wave. I didn’t want to get passed. I was showing her the shirt (marathon team). In 1981 I was 30 years old.
Vajin: “I am 32. I started running when I joined the center as well, in my early 20’s.”
Virendra: “Any good races coming up?”
Vajin: “A lot of trail races. That is what I mainly do now. The are a lot of races out there now and a lot of good competition.”
Virendra: “That’s fantastic. Because back then when I was running there wasn’t that many. I used to live in Ottawa and run on the trails there and used to love it. I think it is really good for you because that is really good for this course.”
Vajin: “It would be completely different on a flat course. That course is really a unique experience, unto itself.”
I ask Vajin if he is going to make Virendra leave the center next year by breaking his record then.
Vajin: “I would never want to do that to Virendra. Breaking the record and breaking his heart.”(Laughs) “He is a tough guy. I don’t think there is anything that can break that guy.”
“I am definitely going to try it again. ”
Virendra: “If you bring your times down, then you are basically there. So that you can really see beyond that. Just go for 5 hours, forget the 5:09. Then you will get it plus more.”
The inner runner and the outer runner are like two brothers. The older, stronger brother can run a very long distance. But the younger one becomes tired after a certain distance because in the physical we are limited. Not only in the physical, but also in the mind and the vital we are limited. So after some time the outer brother takes rest and then he starts again—following the inner brother who is going on and on.
The inner runner is always trying to inspire the outer runner. First the inner runner says, “Go forward, go forward, go ahead, go ahead!” Then the outer runner says, “How can I go ahead if you do not give me the aspiration and inner cry?” Then the inner runner gives the outer runner the inner cry to do something and to become something good. In this way the inner runner offers inspiration and aspiration to the outer runner.