June 20: Making History

ckg start 1000

When Fred Lebow visited our 1,000-mile race, he said we are so efficient. I laughed, because at every second we are having a heart attack!

He told me that we are making history. It is so true; the race is a real victory for America. Where else can they hold this kind of race! And this year it was won by an American.

-8 May 1986

Sri Chinmoy, Run And Become, Become And Run, Part 18, Agni Press, 1996

Photo by Maral

Photo by Maral

Almost 40 years ago when the Sri Chinmoy marathon team held its first 1000 mile race it was an event that was not just historic but one that opened the eyes, and lifted the spirit of anyone who saw it, or even heard about it.

How shocking. The world was just getting used to the exploding popularity of the the 26 mile marathon and now here was an event of such staggering proportions and magnitude that it nearly seemed impossible to do.  Yet it wasn’t and now that 1000 mile distance has expanded to something even more incredible and even more impossible, 3100 miles.

The true miracle is that for each of the past 18 summers it has continually drawn athletes from around the world to come and take part.   To challenge themselves at something that the human body is simply not capable of doing.  Yet thankfully science does not ever have the last word in self transcendence, or in the divine yearning we all have within us all to reach and strive for our own perfection.

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The history of the world is writ large with so many monumental stories of greatness and infamy, of joy and of suffering.  We are all buffeted by the waves of life that swirl around us and in one instant push us down and in the next lift us up.

While at the same time our very existence, and our own personal history most likely the rest of the world will probably never pay much interest in at all.  It is we ourselves who must cherish each and every one of the precious and sacred moments in our lives.

Our eternal task remains simple, never give up on each step we take towards our perfection, whether it be faltering or bold, a tiny speck or a great transcendent leap. That is the only history that we truly need.

The world may not see, or notice, or even care much all what we do with our lives.  But each life is important, not just to the one who lives it, but also to the glowing Supreme source which created it, and now asks, and inspires us all to keep continuing to rise up and keep moving ever towards the beyond.

Last night around 10pm a little piece of history was created when Baladev went into the lead of the race.

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Each moment
Is a miracle-experience
In the history of the world.

Sri Chinmoy, My Christmas-New Year-Vacation Aspiration-Prayers, Part 52, Agni Press, 2007

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June 19: Surrender To This Race

During the 6 and 10 day race in May in Flushing Meadow Zulma showed up to help.  “I got there and I told them that I had never counted in my life.  So I went to one of the counting booths and I said, how do you do it?”

It can get pretty chaotic during the race because there were close to 80 runners going around the 1 mile loop 24 hours a day.  From the moment she sat down and looked at the steady stream of runners coming endlessly towards the counting booths, she says, “It was amazing.”

From the beginning she found herself being inspired.  “To see all those people concentrating and having a smile on their face.  Doing this all with such beautiful hearts and with such grace from God.” The first time she came she helped out for 2 hours but really wanted to come back and take a full counting shift.

silouhette-ananda-lahari

Not really sure how it happened quite this way, but she came at 9 in the morning on the day she had signed up for and ended up staying until 9 that night.  She counted for 12 hours straight.

We are chatting casually and it is just a couple of hours into the race, but at the same time she is keeping really focused on her runners.  The clip boards in front of her all neatly stacked.  Once she has recorded a lap then that clipboard is placed back at the bottom.  William Sichel comes through the camp and she calls out, “William, got you.”  When I ask her how is he doing she says good.  “He has 22 laps already.”

Her help, like that of all of those who come to the race and offer some service whether it be big or small is really significant and important.  I am curious what she gets out of it.  “I am getting a lot of motivation and love.  Love like I have never felt before.  There are some special feelings that I just can’t describe because it is something like a vision.  I never thought it could be happening in this world.”

Zuma

“A lot of people here are working for World harmony, for peace, to get bliss, to get light. I thought this is amazing.  I need to keep doing this.”

Zulma has practiced silent meditation for some time now but describes her experience helping out at the races as, “another kind of meditation.  One kind of meditation is when you are silent in your mind and in your heart.”  Being here the mediation is, “my heart, my mind, my vital, and the feeling that I am surrendering to God’s will. I think that is the most important, surrendering to God’s will.”

When she signed the counting book she signed her name to the first empty line she could find.  At the time she didn’t know exactly what time she had volunteered for, just the day.

When she asked one of the race directors what time she was supposed to come today they told her 6am.  When they told her this time she says she went, “OOOOOOh.  I said, O my God, that early.” They told her that if she wanted to change the time it would not be a problem.  “I said no, that is God’s will, I will do it.”

Zuma4

I ask her to describe the difference between Flushing Meadow and here.  “This place is like a magnet for me.  Sometimes when there is not a race, like October, or January I like to pass by.  I love to come and pass by this place.  I can feel something around here.”  Sometimes she just drives by and at other times she parks and likes to walk around the loop.  I just imagine everybody coming here and doing it.”

“When I see all of these runners who come from far far away to do so many hours a day.  There surrender to this race is amazing.  It inspires me to just go on and on and on.”

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A sleepless surrender
To God’s Will
I need
To brilliantly finish
In my Heavenward race.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 33, Agni Press, 2003

Photo By Maral

Photo By Maral

 

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June 18: Real Life

Stutisheel has been quoted as saying about the race, “this is real life.”

He did not come to the race last year after 9 straight summers out on the course.  Over the years we have had many informative and interesting discussions, not always talking about the meaning of existence.  Quite often the silly and mundane wanders into our exchanges which reminds us both just how human we really are.   I missed not having him here last year and asked him to explain to me this morning what he meant by this powerful statement.

“There is nothing artificial about it.  Everything that is unnatural just fades away.”

After Finishing 2008

After Finishing 2008 Photo by Jowan

For the billions of other inhabitants of our small planet Stutisheel was not suggesting that everyone else is living in some false, or some how insignificant realm of existence.  But something does happen here that seems always to be deep, powerful, and transfomative.

In particular the runners each has a task in front of them that may be as physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging as it is possible to be.  That all parts of your humanity and your divinity are brought dramatically forward, and you simply cannot avoid reaching out for all the highest, and all the deepest parts that exist within you.  This occurring while you also encounter, the not so subtle obstacles and barriers that we all have tucked away in the shadows and crevices of our own being.

He said this kind of realization does not just happen like flipping some kind of cosmic switch.  “At the start, I don’t feel much.” He says that it all seems to begin for him when he first hears the girls morning singing group, Enthusiasm Awakeners performing, that it all begins to reveal itself.  “That this was for him the moment that the reality of being alive and very much in the race began.

“Because their singing conveys the real spirit of the race that Sri Chinmoy created.”  For Stutisheel the true sensation of what it is like for him being in the race is a clear sense of awakening to the timeless and the eternal that exists within.  Something that exists in the hearts and in  the very core of all humanity who are crying and striving to perfect themselves.

parvati-and-stutisheel

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The outer appearance
Is not
The real life.

The deeper existence
Is
The pure and real life.

Sri Chinmoy, My Christmas-New Year-Vacation Aspiration-Prayers, Part 42, Agni Press, 2006

photo by Maral

photo by Maral

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June 17: Eternity’s Race

If you could somehow acquire or shop for all the essential human elements you needed to run a race like this, most of us would probably create long lengthy well thought out lists .  Abundant strength, endurance, and energy would probably be at the very top of most people’s page.  I know those are things I would like to have with me in my tank for those long 52 days on the road. On the surface there are some things that are just plainly obvious.

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It doesn’t take running very many miles for each one who participates here to suddenly encounter the shocking realization that they simply do not have enough of what they thought they had accumulated enough of in training.  Or more enigmatically, they conclude that they could use a whole lot more things that were not even included in their original planning and preparation.

When your energy seems to have evaporated  away like the last wisps of steam pouring out the spout of a hot dry kettle.  Or you simply begin to feel the inevitable first annoying growls and bites of pain and fatigue. What also becomes more clear as well  is just how important are the subtle parts of us are.  The unquantifiable aspects of who we are and how much we need them when things get really tough.  The ones that are hard to measure but crucial when it appears to be just so incredibly difficult, if not impossible to keep moving forward.

The powerful, yet subtle essential aspects of ourselves, like a positive attitude and enthusiasm.  Just how do you continue to motivate yourself through all the difficulties and disappointments that will surely come up during the race.

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Snehashila has come by this morning just as she has done most days of the race over the past 17 years.  In the early days she would make it part of her daily running schedule.  Now her pace has slowed to a pace, that could be more politely described as that of a brisk walk.  She is one of those rare individuals who took up the sport of distance running late in life.

Sometime around age 50 she started to run marathons, which now she can’t recall just how many.   Despite all kinds of reasons not to, she continues to happily keep exercising every day, even now as she is closing in on the 90th lap of her own life.  If you want to look towards someone whose enthusiasm and love of life and even transcendence has never faded or dimmed it is Snehashila.

shenashila

“I can’t stay away.  These people are like divinities brought down on earth for these few weeks.  Each time I come I get stronger and stronger.  I can’t tell you the name for it, but I can tell you that it makes me very very happy.”

“You know no matter how I feel.  No matter what my feeling is there is such a pull to come here every day.  I am so grateful that I am able to keep moving.”

Photo by Maral

Photo by Maral

These long distance races remind me of our Eternity’s race.

Along Eternity’s Shore we are running, running, running.

We are running and running with our birthless and deathless hopes.

We are running and running with the ever-transcending Beyond.

Sri Chinmoy, The inner meaning of sport, Agni Press, 2007

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June 16: Far Beyond

We really know so little about most of the runners who started out on this great adventure a little more than 24 hours ago.  At the very least we can read a few sentences in the bio section of the race program.  Most often we simply look up at the results board and take some small measure of their accomplishments, at least to that moment in time.

Yet so much of who and what they are we do not know or can ever really appreciate.  As the race evolves we all gradually can catch glimpses of at least some of the pain and joy each is experiencing along the long hard way.  But so much about these runners remains enigmatic and sometimes a little unreachable.  Everyone is entitled to their privacy even if they are on public view for 18 hours a day.

 

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The first time William Sichel came to run a Sri Chinmoy marathon team race was in the spring of 2012.  At age 58 he was on a serious quest to attain the holy grail of Scottish distance running and still the oldest untouched record in the world.  Standing remote, and seemingly unattainable after 130 years was the Scottish 6 day record set at Madison Square garden in 1882, of 567 miles.  Set by a man oddly named Noremac ( Cameron spelled backward…. which he thought there were already to many of).

With the capable assistance of his handler Alan Young, he managed to complete 461 miles, a great accomplishment but not what he had sought.  He said at the time, “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.”

Back in the Spring of 2012 William was 58 years old.  Noremac, the man who made set the record had been much younger and accomplished the feat on an indoor track, and did not have to contend with the cold, the wind, and the rain of Flushing Meadow, though there was lots of betting going on back then.  When William left New York that cool spring day he had his eyes now set on another goal.  One that was going to be incomparably and supremely more difficult to accomplish.  That was his running of the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race.

william-article

In the soft brightness of dawn he prepares himself to run on this his second day here, in those dim precious minutes before 6am.  He quietly moves about his table with precision and calmness, organizing all his bits and pieces, which aren’t many.  He has no helper for this race, at least for now.

Many of the other runners are a generation younger than he, who turned 60 on October 1st last year.  His small slender frame and curly brown hair give no hint at his age or more importantly, just what an incredible athlete he is.  For William just may be the greatest multi day runner that the United Kingdom has ever produced.  But he is just the quiet and humble kind of man who is comfortable and at peace with himself. He is not interested in promoting and talking about all the things that he has done.  For now you can see he is more interested on focusing all his thought and energy instead on what he has in front of himself right now, running the longest certified race in the world.

With just a few key board clicks however all that  William has attained over an impressive career can be revealed.  In all his years of competitive running he has accomplished a truly illustrious resume of ultra running achievements.  To date he has achieved 95 records, which are recognized as Scottish, or UK, or even World records.   When he completes the 3100 mile record, some time still a long way off right now.  He will not only be the first person from Scotland and the UK to do so, he will also be the first person at the age of 60 in the world ever to accomplish this feat.

After which he doesn’t plan on taking it easy any time soon, because before he reaches age 65 he is challenging himself to complete a grand total of 165 records.

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Early this morning I jog beside William as he moves along with his light economical whisper soft strides.    It is a little after 7am, a crazy time for most interviews, but kind of par for the course if you are a multi day athlete on the course for 18 hours a day, and also one who ran 71 miles the day before.  For someone who has accomplished as much as he has in his running career he is incredibly modest and thoughtful.  He describes that just to get to the starting line here was a real accomplishment for him.

He is also using the race here this summer to help raise money for a charity that helps those with cancer in North East Scotland.

Click to See Charity Site:

Just Giving

“I said before I came, just to stand on the starting line I needed a medal. (laughs)  Stapling my name to the starting list was an undertaking.”  For like all the runners he also had to organize in advance for 2 whole months of his life.  “So that you can disappear.  That was all part of coming here.”

Another interesting aspect as well about William Sichel is also where he comes from.  Like many of the runners here from foreign lands, running the 3100 mile distances is sometimes nearly enough mileage to get them back home again.  According to Google the distance from New York to Edinburgh is almost that number.  Perhaps an additional 100 miles more.

map

Google has also very generously offered an air fare of just over 1000 dollars should anyone of Alan’s friends or supporters would like to come for a visit. But arriving in Edinburgh would still leave William with still a very long way to still yet go.  For he lives on Sanday in the Orkney islands.  A place inhabited by about 540 people, which perhaps has more sheep than humans.

A place, that has something like a little less that 50 miles of paved road, that is including all the streets, cul-de-sacs and lane ways.  In other words a place that is just about as remote from Queens New York as it is possible to be.

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I was born
To go far beyond
Impossibility-confines.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 38, Agni Press, 2004

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June 15: It Is Perfect

It is perfect.

It is perfect and yet our eyes alone cannot reveal this perfection to us.

It is perfect and yet no matter how long and how hard we analyze, calculate, and attempt to measure what is here we will still never succeed in fully understanding.

There are many things we sometimes call perfect.  Man made wonders of the world, magnificent monuments created by nature, and also those who have lived impeccable lives devoted to transforming the world, and have in some mysterious way have uplifted our own lives as well.  All things, places, people, and experiences that can help us transcend, above and  beyond where we currently find ourselves, can be perceived as being perfect to us.

 

first-lap

This morning as the early chaos and energy of setting up the start of the Self-Transcendence gradually settled down I became aware of just how perfect it all was here.   Not that I could see it, and, not that in my mind I could understand all the whys and wherefores of just why this was so.

It was something that I was feeling within. As I looked at all those who were about to run, or to help in some small way, or were just there to watch and cheer, I knew they all were feeling this same thing. This sweet inner experience that communicated that all of us can and will transcend ourselves sooner than we can ever imagine.

 

Start of Race 2007

Start of Race 2007

It is not new to this race.  I am quite certain that 17 years ago it was also this same way.  But no, that is not quite correct.  My belief is in fact that this perfection, which is part and part and parcel of this Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race has just continued to expand each and every year that it has been run.  Its inner brilliance, illuminating in a subtle and sometimes bold and very clear way all those, who have not just found themselves on the starting line, but also who feel and identify in whatever way they can with what happens here, no matter where they are.

It is an event that has a unique way of embracing and captivating all those who are drawn to it.  This morning, the first of many more to come, was just a wake up call to me.  For a brief moment it was as though the clouds, that obscure the highest mountain peaks, had swept away and I could see the very summit.  A startling and vibrant reminder that it is we ourselves who believe and create the barriers to the heights we all have within us.  That the self-transcendence road is one that we all share and must take together.

* A special thanks to all those who have come back to experience and enjoy the race, through this blog*

 

CKG

True,
Nothing human is perfect.
But it is we
Who have to make everything human
Divine and perfect.

 

Sri Chinmoy, Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 176, Agni Press, 1993

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June 14: Accept What Comes

Sitting on a sunny bench on a warm spring New York afternoon I suddenly had a peculiar thought.

I wondered to myself, “What do people look like who know that on the very next day they are going to be  sent off on a rocket into outer space?  That they are also aware that what lies in front of them is an extremely difficult journey, one that may last as long as 52 days.

That in all that time in front of them they will also be removed, in almost in every way, from all the familiarity and all the comforts of their ordinary world as they know it”

 

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But looking once more at the casual group relaxing comfortably about me I realized that none of that made any sense.

There was such a profound sense of calm, harmony, and purpose about these fit smiling runners that surrounded me, that such comparisons were trivial if not meaningless.  For there is simply nothing that can match what this group is about to set out to do starting tomorrow morning, whether it be climbing Mount Everest or even journeying off into the stars.

In just a little more than 12 hours, starting at 6am on June 15th,  this tiny gathering of phenomenal athlete runners will set off on the longest race in the world, the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race.  An event unequaled in sport and endurance competition anywhere.  It is a unique experience that will force and inspire each, to strive, struggle, rejoice, and celebrate for 18 hours a day.  One that lasts until they complete the full distance, or alternately, on and on until the clock shuts the grand journey, no matter how far they have run, abruptly down in 52 days time.

For some it is not a new experience.  Pranjal is here for the 10th straight summer and Baladev is coming for his 6th time.

Dipali-group

Nobody in this group has run as many times as Pranjal other than Stutisheel.

Pranjal

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