June 30… Just One Smile

“There are moments when I think, why am I doing this again?  But otherwise I think it was the right decision.”

A few minutes before we started running together Kaneenika had just completed 700 miles.  It happened in the early part of the morning.  Before the sun bore down and the noise of a busy city swept over the course.

At this time the weather was pleasant and still. Kaneenika was running briefly with her friend Kanala. Who both come from Slovakia and on many mornings talk cheerfully and run joyfully for a couple of laps before Kanala heads off to work.

Of course 700 miles is just one of those tiny rungs in the ladder leading up to 3100 miles which resides precariously at the top.  A challenge, that by itself 15 years ago in 2001 when Kaneenika entered her first 700 mile race, would at one time long ago, have appeared as huge.  Now it is just one early notation that indicates where she is after a little more than 11 days of running.

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When I suggest that things seem to be going very well she says, “yes, but it is only day 12.”

The cloud of her race last year, if there ever really was one has now vanished as she pushes forward with energy and joy into this her 2nd attempt at running the 3100.

By all indications she is doing very well.  Not only would her time for 700 miles surpass her race time from 2001 it is also better than her time for that same distance last year.  She starts day 12, about 40 miles ahead of last year.

She says it wasn’t a simple decision to decide to run.  “I did.  I had many questions.”  (she laughs)

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“I was thinking about it, but of course, I was still recovering from my injury.” (She finished the 52 days with 3014 miles…..86 miles short)

“It wasn’t really clear whether or not I could run.  Physically the point I knew I was able to do it was when I ran the Chico marathon in March. Then I was getting strong feelings that I should do it.  Everything was like leading to it.”

Kaneenika recalls a significant dream that took place in October.  The dream said, “in the next race you should take 3 breaks.  Actually the times I should take them came to me.” When it happened she was puzzled by why she was even having the dream when it still wasn’t clear that she would run.

So quite obviously this year,  “I have tried it from the first day and it really works.”

“So I think these things happened that gradually led me to the race.”

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Now she faces the daily struggle of trying to complete 110 laps every day from a very appreciative perspective.

“There were evenings when it was really hard to get there.  But then it came to me that in the last race at the end I was grateful to do 80 laps.  So now when I get to 100 laps I say, what ever I get after that is great.”

Stepping not too far back from all the numbers there is something important to remember when you take a look at what Kaneenika is actually doing here this year.  The obvious courage and strength of character she is demonstrating is beyond question.

Her absolute dedication to taking on the toughest race in the world is patently obvious.  There is something else about Kaneenika though that is even more impressive.

What I see in her face as I gaze across the many photographs I have taken these past 11 days, is the look of absolute contentment she has.  An inner glow that permeates her expression with a kind of radiance, nearly every time the shutter clicks.

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We may not be able to fully attribute and collect all the pertinent information on what Self Transcendence is, but in Kaneenika’s face you can see it revealed and glowing.

An expression that demonstrates just how our precious inner divinity can come forth from within and touch our outer beings.  It just takes the courage and conviction of a runner like Kaneenika to prove it to us all.

I ask Kaneenika before I go if there is a poem that is special to her this year.  Here it is.

Just one smile
Immensely increases
The beauty of the universe.

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June 29… Spiritual Experience

“Last year I was very much a part of it.”

Sopan did not come and physically run the race here last year, but in a unique way he was a big part of Ashprihanal’s tremendous world record experience back then.

“We talked a lot every day on the phone.  But then he helped me and inspired me.  I felt I was part of the race.”

The strain and effort of Ashprihanal’s pursuit of a new world record was tremendous.  The daily phone chats that went on for sometimes hours nearly every night was a great way for Ashprihanal to find a way to sometimes decompress.

This year they need no excuse to chat and find relief from the long hard days that seem to stretch out endlessly in front of them.  The two runners have a very special bond and when you see them running side by side they carry on the kind of effortless banter that is particular to those who are the closes of friends.

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Doing a skit this morning

This is Sopan’s 7th time at the race.  Not that he needed any particular excuse to come this year but certainly the long phone conversations that often took place deep in the New York night helped them both.   “It definitely inspired me.  It helped my training.  I could feel the energy of the race all the time with me.”

Sopan said that the moment the race was over then the energy was no longer there.  “I was on my own, kind of.”

“First of all, the reason I am here is because of the spiritual experience.  Last time when I did the race (2014).  Physically I did not do well.  But because of that I had a very profound spiritual experience.  Because I could focus only on the spiritual.  The physical did not matter anymore. (Sopan did not complete the distance)

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“It made me appreciate more the spiritual side of the race.”

Sopan ran for the first time in 2005 and then came back again in 2006 and ran even faster.  He had the unique opportunity to experience Sri Chinmoy directly encouraging and inspiring the runners.  I ask him how it is for him now that Sri Chinmoy is no longer with us.

“In one way it is different and in another way it is the same.  Because I often think about him and the races I have done with him.  I can almost transport myself back in my mind.  I feel like I am back then when Guru was here.  It actually helps a lot.”

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Sopan ran 59 miles yesterday and with his 10 day total of 604 mile his average is still good.  Putting the finish line square in sight, but of course there is still the issue of an additional 2500 miles in order to get there.

As for goals, Sopan says, “I just take it day by day.  Of course I want to do good, but to me it doesn’t matter.”

“Either way it is okay.  If I run good it is okay for me.  If I am not able to run good it is also okay for me.”

“Of course I would like to finish but that is not everything.”

flower-sopan

An inner experience is the seeker’s
conscious awareness of his Immortality.

An inner experience is the seeker’s
conscious expansion of his Infinity.

An inner experience is the seeker’s
conscious fulfillment of his Eternity.

Sri Chinmoy, Fifty Freedom-Boats to one Golden Shore, part 1, Agni Press, 1974

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June 28… More In The Heart

In all the many years I have chased after Ashprihanal Aalto while he has been running a multi day race I have never ever gotten even close.  Whether it be dashing around a one mile loop in Flushing Meadow or even now while he runs the short easily accessible half mile block in Jamaica Queens.

It is not that he is unapproachable, or that he runs too fast (which is still plenty fast for me).  It is just that there is something particularly elusive if not incomprehensible about this 45 year old running phenom from Helsinki. Who will without question set a new record this summer when he completes the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race for the 14th time.

Day 10 June 28 from Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team on Vimeo.

Last summer he did something so great that it was almost unbelievable if not for the fact that every single lap been meticulously recorded when he set the new record for the 3100.

His time of 40 days and 9 hours is literally off the charts in terms of performance.  Yet lo and behold he comes back and decides to run again this year.  Though it is fair to say that he for the moment appears to be moving at a slightly more leisurely pace, at least in the Ashprihanal scheme of things.

Click to go to Ashprihanal’s Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashprihanal_Pekka_Aalto

“It is a very good morning.”

Ashprihanal has consented this morning for me to tag along and video him while he runs a loop.  It is his 10th day here and as of this morning he has completed a distance of 616 miles.

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Demonstration of how far 616 miles actually is

Now keep in mind this appears, at least at this point not to be a year when he will set a new record for time.  He is 50 miles out of first place and is currently in 4th.  Yet one thing about Ashprihanal that should be obvious, is that should he turn on the jets anything is possible.

Today though is a particularly good day for running.  It is overcast and cool.  He smiles as he points out that there is no need for sunblock.

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When I ask if he had a rough start he says, “I was a little out of shape.”  He still managed 80 miles.  “I think every time is kind of a rough start.  In that way it is no big difference.”

Ashprihanal describes how just by running he and all the runners ultimately get stronger.  A kind of counter intuitive understanding of endurance sport in a way.  But clearly an observation that has proven true time and time again.

He says it happens, “slowly and steadily.  It takes some time for the body to adapt.”

Coming this year was also something he had not clearly planed for.  He describes that in recent years he has taken a year off to recover physically and mentally but was inspired to come this year because of Sanjay’s documentary he is doing on this years race.

“But here I am for the 14th time.  I will soon be the veteran.  It is nice.”

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When he was still just a teenager Ashprihanal came as an exchange student from Finland and lived in Georgia.  It was then that he first got interested in hiking the long trails of the Appalachians and also the Pacific coast trail.  I ask him if he misses nature when he comes to run here.

“There is nature here and trees.” He points to the towering plane tree at that moment sheltering us from some morning sprinkles.

“It is pretty good, it could be better.  Still there are enough trees to have some shade.”

It is also the last day of school and hyper teenagers are darting up and down the sidewalks.  He said it doesn’t bother him.  “It is not too bad.  Also it is nothing new.”

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Ashprihanal says that there are times when he still feels the presence of his late spiritual teacher.  “Sometimes I do and sometimes not.  But he is here always.”

“Sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days.  Sometimes you are more in the heart and sometimes you are more in the mind.”

When asked why he decided ultimately to run this year.  “I don’t have to do it, but it is nice to do it.”

flower-ashprihanal

When

I live in the mind
I think I know
More than I really know.

When
I live in the heart
I know I am loved
More than I really love.

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June 27… My Inner Thrills

In 2004 Stutisheel first started running around Thomas Edison High school.  12 years later he is still going around and around the block each day.  It should be pointed out that he stops running when he reaches 3100 miles.

*editors note*  This does also have to occur before the end of 52 days each summer, so the major portion of the year remains without him endlessly running there.

But when you talk with Stutisheel, and more importantly when you run with him here as he takes on this sacred mission each summer. You cannot help but feel that he actually belongs to this little concrete loop.

That the DNA of himself and the sidewalk are somehow interchangeable. Pounded together perhaps from the 11 prior summers he has done only this.

Of course he and the other runners leaves for the rest of year.  Go home to many countries scattered here and there.  But for Stutisheel in particular, some deep bright portion of himself remains embedded here in the track.

Better called perhaps a place of pilgrimage or maybe just his heart’s home.

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Today as we run the sun is bright, the air pleasant, in it is a great day to run.  I however will circle the block with him 2 times.  He on the other hand, if he matches his mileage from yesterday will do it 116 times.

It is day nine for Stutisheel and he says, “Each day is like a small life, or sometimes even a big life.  With discoveries, with tragedies, with drama, with joy, with fun, everything.”

Something he has been inspired by recently he says, is the understanding of the importance of an inner thrill.

Stutisheel feels that when you are in touch with this experience then nothing in front of you cannot be accomplished.  “You can go far far beyond what you can ever imagine.

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“I believe this is one of the secrets that can allow you to proceed not only in this race, but in any endeavor.”

“The inner thrill,” he says is also very practical.  A few times already in this race I had pains in different places. What helped he says was the inspiration he received when listening to the Enthusiasm Awakeners one morning in particular.  “I felt an inner thrill come like a high voltage current and the pain was gone.”

Even this morning the girls sang a song that deeply touched and inspired him.

I know my limits,
But I must exceed them.
Sourced from http://www.srichinmoylibrary.com/es-468

“This is very nice and very powerful.”

Stutisheel describes that this kind of experience is just one of the aspects of the race that inspires him to return so often.  “There are so many details that make up the whole picture.  It is the whole picture that attracts me.  Not just one particular thing.  But of course not just the inner thrill, but also the other divine experiences as well.”

“My state of self transcendence.  Flowing into the river of time.  All these things bring me back.”

flower-stutisheel

My inner thrills run
Like electric current
The moment I unmistakably feel
God’s Presence
In the very depths of my heart.

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June 26… Your Soul’s Voice

“I spoke with Shamita yesterday and she did not even know what day it was.”

Atmavir is now running the race for the 9th time.  Today is his 8th day on the course and with such an incredibly long road ahead for all the runners, it is very easy to loose track of time. The direction each is going is of course a given…..straight ahead.

The obvious simple strategy that Atmavir and nearly everyone else who is running here tries to follow, is to inhabit the moment as much as they possibly can. There is only the precious now.

“Somehow a day can feel like a week.  Sometimes late in the day I don’t even remember what happened in the morning.”

“I have to say that this year I have more of a connection with nature than last year.  Because last year there was a lot of construction.  2/3rd’s of the course was covered by scaffolding.  I feel this year the course is more natural.”

“I was kind of lucky preparing for the race this year.  3 weeks ago I went to British Columbia.  I had a great time over there.  I was running trails on my own.”

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Atmavir feels that the quarter mile block he  has now run more than 24,800 miles on is like its own little world.  A very tiny world.  If you look at the details than you can see beauty here.  “You can see in one tree much more beauty than you ever would normally.”

“I really love the trees here.  I feel a connection with them.  I have watched the shape of them change over the years.”

We run by the little brick alcove where the Enthusiasm Awakeners stand and sing every morning.  It looks to Atmavir like a Zen garden.

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“I take each race as an opportunity to come here.”  He says you just never know when this very special opportunity could be snatched away by injury or something else.  “For each race I am grateful that I am here.”  Atmavir describes the great honor he feels that he was able to be here in particular last year when so many great performances took place.  “There was so much focus here.”

“The race changes everybody here.  I would say that the race always gives me a direction, especially the last few years.  I always feel that Guru is showing me the next step when the race is over.”

“I feel more confident.  I have more trust in myself.  I am trying to listen to my soul’s voice no matter what happens.”

flower atmavir-1270602

My soul does not use
A loud voice.
It always speaks
In whispers.

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June 25… This Is Paradise

“It is my 5th time.”  At age 50 Vasu Duzhiy has only been getting better each and every time he runs the 3100 mile race. Last year he surpassed his personal best by almost 3 days.

He is one of those incredibly unique individuals who probably looks more at home running around this hard little block in Queens than he does strolling through the forests outside of St Petersburg Russia.

When asked the largely symbolic question if he is happy to be here.  He has only one answer, “Yes of course.”

Additionally when asked if he had ever been intimidated by the thought of doing the race he shakes of the question with a smile and with a kind of  light shrug.  One that can only be offered up by  someone who has deep and natural sense of stoicism and commitment. “Never afraid……I will be happy.”

“One year before I first ran this race Igor told me about this race.  (He had run the race that summer) Vasu recalls a spellbinding conversation late at night that went on for many hours.  It was then that the seed of inspiration took root.

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He says that his longest race up until then was the 6 day race.  Surprisingly others encouraged him with the idea that somehow running the 3100 was easier and better.

Vasu agrees wholeheartedly.  We are running along beside the noisy Grand Central parkway into a bright morning sun.  “This is paradise.” Smiling like a man who somehow finds himself doing the exact right thing, in the right place, at the perfect moment in his life.

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When asked if every moment is paradise here, he laughs and smiles…..”Yes.”

“Many good people.  Good consciousness.  I think Guru is working through everybody.”

“This race is my goal and I try to be prepared during the rest of the year.”

Asked how much he trains.  “If I am sincere, I have to say not enough”

Vasu says that for most of the year he doesn’t run everyday.  Usually 3 to 5 times a week.

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A month ago he says that he changed his job and moved even further North of St Petersburg to a remote but beautiful region where he trained a lot on country roads.  It is so far north that sun only sets for a short period each night.  “There is more sun so I have energy to train a little more.”

“It is a very nice place.  Beautiful river.”

When asked what he thinks self transcendence is.  Vasu answers in only the simple, direct, and honest way that he can do.

“I try to self transcend every time. I try and do the best that I can do.”

flower vasu-1270019

Each time I arrive at my Destination,
My Lord immediately whispers:
“My child,
This is not the final Goal —
Your Goal is ahead.”

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June 24… Do The Right Thing

“You feel you are at the forefront of something significant happening.  You don’t know exactly what it is but it feels like a kind of miracle offered to the world.  Guru is achieving something for the world through the runners.”

Pradeep has been visiting the race for the past few days.  He ran the race in both 2011 and 2012 so he has a deep personal connection and understanding of the 3100 mile race. “It makes you feel humble and grateful to be part of it.”

“It inspires people and it transforms the runners.  It transforms the helpers and all that creates its own spinoff.”

“One of the things I felt after the race was much more courage to do the right thing.”

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“In the normal world we feel that we are physical beings and every now and then we have a spiritual experience.  So we experience the body and sometimes we experience love, happiness, or joy.  But in this race there comes a point where you realize that it is the other way around.  We are joy.  We are this infinite energy.  That gives you such a deep understanding of yourself and of life.”

“It also gives you the courage to do what is necessary in other fields.  That is whey the race is so beautiful for the runners.  You feel Guru so strongly here.”

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“When you meditate sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  But here after a while you feel a presence which is just cradling you.”

“Everything has its own right time.  Sometimes there are possibilities in your life and they need time in order to blossom.”

It has been 4 years since Pradeep last ran the race.  When asked if he might ever consider running again. “I do.”

pradeep-1260682

The soul only whispers to us
To do the right thing
And become the right person.

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June 23… Run Soulfully, Cheerfully, and Gratefully

Last year when Surasa, not only won the women’s division of the 3100 mile race for the 4th time, she also set a new world record.

Back then, at age 56, certainly no one would have been surprised if she had immediately then just simply decided to not ever leave her quiet office job in Vienna and come again and spend a long hot summer running around Thomas Edison high school.  Even at the end of May she was not convinced in fact that she was prepared and strong enough to do it.

“Then something changed.”  With 14 days to go before the start inspiration came and she booked her flight to New York

“I am feeling good and I am feeling at home.  I am happy to be here again.”

“Each year I am saying this is the last time.  But then I get inspired and I come back again.”

“This race is always in my mind.  It is so strong when you have to do it.”

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At the same time it is never completely easy for her to come to the starting line.

“You think when you do this race you must be very strong.  When you see some weakness in the body then it becomes very difficult.  Then you start to doubt yourself.  This is not a good thing.”

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In order to avoid pressure Surasa says that she never sets any goals.  “I don’t want to have the pressure of just focusing on mileage.”

When asked how she stays so happy she says, “I don’t recognize it.  It is normal for me.”

“I have a prayer.  Many times I say I just want to run, soulfully, cheerfully, and gratefully.  This is my goal that I can do this.”

flower surasa-1260261

The outer running reminds us
Of the soul’s inner running
With Eternity, Infinity and Immortality.

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June 22… Race of the Heart

I ask Shamita a tough question.  She has been running for 3 days already and other than some digestion problems yesterday, she is doing great.  She starts the day with 185 miles and I am curious just how possible it is for her, or any of the other runners for that matter stay cheerful.

“I feel you enter a sphere where this is possible.  I cannot explain but it just happens to you here.”

Even though this is the 51 year old Viennese runners first time at the 3100 she has lots of experience running multi days.

Shamita says in other long races by the 4th day you are in this sphere.  “You can recover from every race very very quickly.  The most important thing is the joy.  It really gives you wings.”

“If it doesn’t get too hot I will be very happy.”

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As for her coming here and running the race she confesses that she never really thought about it.  She was a pioneer in the ultra world since the 1980’s, and even 2 years ago ran 640 miles in the 10 day race and got 2nd place.

But the idea of running the 3100 never was too far off her horizon.  “Slowly you grow into this.  You prepare mentally, emotionally, and of course physically.”

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“I think mainly this race is a race of the heart.  If you can shut down your mind, not allow it to disturb you, and then amazingly you can really feel the difference.  As soon as you go out of your mind.  A huge flow of energy is there.

(She pauses and smiles) Of course this is not always so easy.”

A good thing is that I am just trying to enjoy running.  I force myself not to think about what day it is, what lap.  Just be here.  So far I have managed.  Let’s hope it goes on like this.”

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When ask if these races change you.  “This is the reason why I do them.  I hope, definitely.  For me this race gives me the same feeling as from 10 years ago when Guru was still with us.”

“It is like he is here. Totally.  All this light.  His presence is so visible.  It is amazing.”

flower shamita-1260262

The speed of a heart-race
Is unfathomable.

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June 21… Something Within Me

“This is my 12th race.”

As 41 year old Ananda-Lahari starts his 3rd day of running here he has so far completed 154 miles.  Not very much when you consider he still has just a little less than 3000 more miles yet to go.  But when all the other miles from all those other years are added up the number is staggering.

The full distance he has completed 5 times but that when added to all the other years, well it is just unbelievable.

“For sure I wanted to do it as many times as possible.  But I had no idea what it meant to do it so many times.”  For Ananda-Lahari he feels as though each race is a lifetime.

What sets apart this race from all the others is that as of this morning he is leading the race.  Something he doesn’t give much importance too.  “If you imagine you are running a marathon and you run very well the first 100 meters.  It is a nice feeling but the marathon is 42km.”

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“I think when I started these races I was like a baby.  Very fragile and I don’t think I could handle much.  I think I have become stronger.  Again life can surprise you.  You never know.  For sure my body is stronger.”

“One of the most important things is to have gratitude.  I want this gratitude so that I can really value my life.”

“Most of us are just living.  Getting up and going to work.  Spending time with friends or family.  It just goes on and on.  Time goes on.  We don’t realize until our life is almost at the end.  And then when ask……what was it for?”

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“This race forces us to live in the moment.  Not to think of tomorrow.  The race is so long and it is hard, you can’t just think of tomorrow.”

“We are all just instruments.  I would like to feel this more.  That it is not my effort but that it is something within me.  That everything is done through me by my soul.  By the divine in me.”

IMG_3016

Photo by Jowan 2007

Those who run after happiness
Will never be happy.
Happiness is something
That has to come to the fore
From within.

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