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.

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Day Ten: All The Way To The Finish LIne

We all have almost an infinite variety of choices glaring at us, and each of them  usually incessantly demands our undivided attention.  These may all be real options set out in front of the landscape of our lives or more often, little pestering thoughts that erupt out of some turbulent portion of or brains.  For multi day runners those enumerable decisions are simplified at most times and reduced to clear cut choices.  Eat or not, break or not, run or sit and yet when things are going well, as we hope it might in the rest of our lives, there are sometimes moments when there are no choices to be made at all.

In the tranquility of a silenced mind, the runner’s body becomes one with a flow of movement and energy that requires no examination, and certainly  no deciding needs to be done.  One can feel intuition expressing itself clearly and all we need do is just to enjoy our own greater inner capacity that has somehow managed to find its way into our personal driver’s seat. This kind of experience is always possible as well in our own day to day living, but out here in Flushing Meadow where the runners have pummeled their physical beings into extreme fatigue the mind sometimes has no choice but to surrender to the clarity of the heart.

photo by Prabhakar

A couple of days ago Vasu  Duziy had taken a break and when he attempted to get up he simply couldn’t move.  He said that at that moment he remembered a prayer that spoke about cheerful surrender and having no expectation.  At that very moment Dipali came by and saw his discomfort and suggested that he simply keep moving.  “So I tried to walk and afterwards tried to run and soon my shinsplint became better and by God’s grace I started to run and was very very happy.”

At different times during the week he has been in and out of 1st place in the 10 day race.  Even now, in this his very first 10 day run, he has gone further and pushed his body harder than he has ever asked of it before.  He says that right now with 18 very long hours to go he is not interested in what place he receives.  He just wants to do his very best.  He has made his choice and now will simply follow his heart all the way to the finish line.

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Day Nine: Reach My Goal

Late every evening a silent alarm goes off inside of me somewhere and reminds me that I have simply have had enough activity for the day and it is time to shut things down for the night.  The are times when I can wrestle a few more hours out of the mechanism but generally my internal clock refuses to be tampered with.  We humans are marvels of design and function but according to my observations at least, our bodies simply have a long list of limitations and individual quirks in conjunction with as well some marvelous and wondrous features.

Also when our bodies have been working hard little warning signals come up and warn us that if we keep going this way we are going to be in real trouble. You don’t have to be part of the great surging tide of humanity very long to have this notion of ourselves stamped into our brains that we are limited, we are weak, and we need to be careful when doing just about anything.

If you ride on the same rails as this limiting philosophy you will never see much of the true world or really understand who and what we really are.  At 1 am this morning I came back to Flushing Meadow to once again immerse myself in a miraculous world where Impossibility is battled relentlessly by not just those running and shuffling round the course but as well by all those who serve to make it all happen here in Flushing Meadow each year at this time.

Right now it is smack dab in the middle of the vast dark night.  The city about us slumbers and is as quiet and as still as it ever gets, and yet a surprising number of runners keep going.  Reaching within to pull forth the untouchable reserves of strength and determination that they never knew was possible.  As well simply change the old channel of how they listen to themselves and attempt to discover the silent voice within that we so often ignore and dare not listen to.

We don’t do this most often because we are afraid of what we might become.  Which is simply our own true divine selves within, that cannot speak, and does not know the word defeat. Instead, it only knows and cares for self transcendence.

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Day Eight: The Next Dream

Luis Rios is not the kind of guy who talks about himself very much.  So you really have to be up on these kind of things to even know that today is his birthday.  People at the 6 and 10 day race tend to be more aware of this special day because he has spent at least the last 14 of them right here, circling around the loop of the Self Transcendence race.  I know they had a birthday cake for him sometime earlier in the day, because a couple of small pieces of chocolate cake are still sitting on his table when I came this afternoon.  I also suspect that he probably politely, but awkwardly stood shuffling back and forth on both feet as a group of running friends and camp people sang  him Happy Birthday. He probably didn’t give a speech and maybe didn’t even smile very much, though I know inside it touched him and made him happy that they cared.

He turned 64 this year and his only concession to age is to simply skip the 10 day race and instead run the 6.  I don’t know if he got any presents but he is probably pretty happy with his 3 day total of 167 which puts him in 10th place in the men’s category.  I went out with him on the course for a short while and didn’t even bother to try and interview him.  The fact that he is still here and enjoying multi day races and still moving steadily along says of Luis all that needs to be said.  He enjoys company and he has good friends that he can count on.  The fact that he never misses these races means that the Self Transcendence races can always count on him as well.

What the younger runners might not know is just how really good a runner this scrawny man from Brooklyn really once was.  How also he has somehow maintained now for many years a daily and very disciplined training program.  How dedicated he is and just how big a heart somehow fits into a guy who can’t weigh more than 150 lbs.  I can’t say for sure when was the first time he ran a Sri Chinmoy race but in 1986 (26 years ago) he was good enough to win this 24 hour race with 138 miles.

What is interesting about this photo is who else is in it, namely Ted Corbitt one of the legends of distance running who himself even ran this race when he was 82 years old completing 303 miles.  In light of this, there really doesn’t ever seem to be an end to Luis being a part of multi day running.  The only real end in sight is the finish line now just 3 days off.  After that is a short ride back home and then to head back out on to the long roads of Brooklyn again the next day.

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Day Seven: The Supreme’s Own Plan

“At first I thought, well it is just 6 days it is a bit more than half of a 10 day race.  But then (a loud pause)…., It is going to be fine.”  Jayasalini Abramovskhikh has been a fixture of the 10 day race here in Flushing Meadow for the past few years and simply because of vacation time conflicts she had to pass up the 10 day this year and instead select the 6. But sometimes silence and a look can communicate  much more than just words can do.

“Then I said it is 2 days, plus 2 days, plus 2 makes 6.  I had some confidence that it would be good.  I will enjoy it. I try and enjoy every second of being here.  But the second day of the race this year, I never had in any races,……it was really tough for me.”  She describes that just into her 2nd day it felt more like she had already been running for 6.

“I think this is an experience that you can never predict and you can never plan.  The Supreme always has his own plan for you.  And all you need is to just accept whatever experiences you get.  And accept it as cheerfully as you can.  So I try.  This morning was really not easy.  I was crying and crying and then God’s grace descended and now after a break I feel better, physically and emotionally, so I am happy.”

For most working folks locked into a 9 to 5 lifestyle the world of ultra endurance sports may be several time zones beyond comprehensible.  Making a living and paying the bills is a struggle that most of us feel is one of the unfortunate givens in order to stand in line with the rest of humanity.  Yet right now there are more than 70 runners circling a loop in Flushing Meadow who have turned away from all the conventions of the so called normal world and are subjecting themselves to a physical and mental struggle that is incomprehensible to most and intolerable to nearly all.

“In general it was a feeling that nearly everything hurt.  When you start feeling sorry for yourself, that you go through all this pain.  Then once you try to get rid of this feeling, and just enjoy.  Even if it is pain, it will go away.”

“When I try and concentrate on something else, for example breathing.  When I try to get energy and power from everything around.  Then at midday there was a beautiful beautiful rainbow.  I have never ever seen such a rainbow.  I think this morining was difficult for everybody, and when we saw this rainbow.  Everybody was staring and looking at the sky, and got so much joy.  It was such special blessings.”

Jayasalini says that she has no mileage goals for this race, but describes that she had a powerful inspiration yesterday, “to stay in a good consciousness.  I try not to be attached to this mileage, to the results.  For me the point is to stay in the moment, and not to think of the past or the future.  Just do this, one step after another.”

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Day Six: Learn From The Experience

“I came here thinking that I wanted to try new things.  I wanted to find challenges that I can’t overcome.  I am always looking to test my limits, and I was very excited about trying a multi day.  I have always been pretty comfortable in doing high mileage in training.

In training for 100 mile races I am always running over 150 miles a week.  I run doubles and sometimes triples, and after running some of my 100 mile races I have felt extraordinarily good the next day, almost fresh.  So I figured a 6 day may be something I am just built for.”

When the 6 day race started yesterday Michael Arnstein, simply slipped into a higher gear than everybody else and literally left the other 35 runners behind.  It was almost as though he had entered some completely different event then the rest of the field who were, for a time at least, simply sharing the track with him.

Yet a multi day race is rarely conquered by raw power.  Nature as well stepped into the mix and unleashed 2 inches of torrential rain accompanied by powerful gusts.  It was a wake up call for any who thought the race would be easy,  throughout the long stormy night it certainly wasn’t. Michael ran hard for the first 12 hours and then took a break.  One so long that for any other athlete it could have been the stuff that breaks dreams and hearts.

Yet now it is late on Monday afternoon and Michael is still here.  Like the old fable of the tortoise and the speedy hare Michael for now, finds himself far back in the field.  I don’t know how far the gap was earlier in the day,  but for now he is nearly 40 miles behind the leader.  An insurmountable distance if mathematicians and statisticians ruled the universe.  They don’t thankfully and this rabbit named Michael Arnstein has successfully pushed back whatever devils or discomfort that pulled him away and has once again fully entered the race.

By entering the 6 day race he has absolutely found a new challenge that does not yield an inch to the timid or the foolish.  He has made short work of the many 100 mile races he has run, and he may as well in the next few days, figure out and conquer the 6 day event here.  If he doesn’t he has at least pushed back a challenge in his first day that maybe he has never had to confront in his young running career ever before.  He was pummeled by adversity and picked himself up and simply come out and gone back to work.

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Day Five: Part of Something Greater

Few first time visitors to New York would ever consider visiting a soggy windswept Flushing meadow park a priority, for even a minute, little alone spending 6 days here .  Yet starting from today, a 58 year old Scottish runner named William Sichel and his friend /support crew Allan, just might be carving out a new piece of Scottish sporting history here.  William is an enormously gifted and experienced  multi day runner.  His list of records is impressive and yet there is one record, the Sottish 6 day record that has remained tangibly illusive to him.

One should always be challenged to break records and as a rule they all, no matter how grand, are expected to fall to each new generation.  The Scottish 6 day record however has proven to be so far out of reach, beyond  more than most could ever have imagined.  In fact it is now the longest standing Scottish sporting record in that nations history, and as a matter of fact, it was set right here in New York city.  It turns out that in 1882 pedestrianism was an enormously popular sport.  At that time a Scottish man named George Cameron, who called himself Noremac (Cameron backwards), was doing well at races both in the UK and America.  It was at a race at Madison Square Garden in October of that year that he established his historical record of 567 miles.

William has gotten o so painfully close with his own personal best of 518 miles road (532 miles track) but it has stubbornly refused to willing fall beneath his relentless running feet.  His respect for the record runs deep and it is not impossible to imagine that he has done everything humanly possible to make his own new mark.

Yesterday both he and  Allan went into Manhattan yesterday to visit where the old Madison Square Garden once stood and bid their respects to the sacred ground where Scottish sporting history reached a new peak.

The winds have picked up today here at Flushing Meadow and the rain comes in bursts and whips around the course.  It really looks very much like a Scottish day of course.  It may not be a great day for starting a 6 day race but at least it is conditions that William is used to.

He looks calm and relaxed and his friend Allan is taking away all the burdens of the little details that can slow an athlete down a step.  All William has to do is run his very best and just maybe make his own new mark for other Scottish runners to look up to.  Set it just out of reach down the road, and then they can catch it for themselves, when their legs and hearts are really ready for it.

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Day Four: What We Create Together

“Obviously I haven’t become more clever or wiser since I am still doing a World Run.”  In the fall of 2005 I met Jesper Olsen for the first time as he was running across lower Manhattan.  At the time he was in the final weeks of a round the world run.  After a brief stop in Queens he then flew on to Ireland and than completed his journey when he returned to Greenwich England 20 months after he first began.  Now once again he is in the final stages of another round the world run, but one this time that is trying as best as possible to travel North South and back again.

This incredibly talented 40 year old Danish runner has never sought after fame or the limelight despite his incredible achievements.  Almost from the moment you hear him speak it is easy to realize that something heart felt and deep within motivates and inspires him to undertake these epic journeys.

When he speaks about the moment he completed his first run he feels that it was not the celebration for him that was significant but more so how people from around the world were drawn together.  “I don’t find any individuals as important, but what we create together is infinitely important.  I was not just one lonely runner approaching the finish line.  That scenario does not hold any value.  For this individual to cross the finish line was not important.”

He describes how one of his sponsors had promised that if he was able to finish the event he would run the final leg with him.  Jesper believes that the man did not really think he would do it.  In fact the man kept his pledge, and despite a lack of training managed to run the final 78 km with Jesper.  “That gave me much more joy than my own accomplishment.”

“I hope most of all that people understand what a peaceful place we live in.  If the world is as dangerous, and hostile, and different, as we see in the evening news.  There is no chance of our survival.”  He explains that when you meet people of the world directly as he does along the way, the true nature of the world becomes vividly apparent.  He feels that it has progressed he says even since the first time he circled the globe.

A few days ago he took a break from his journey after first reaching Boston.  The timing was perfect to then be able to take part in the Self Transcendence 6 day race here in Flushing meadow.  Although being here would be in no way beneficial to physically completing his journey  he feels simply that he was due for an inner recharge.  Be for a short while with a family of runners who do not just share his dreams, but also, in their own way view and experience the world, not just with their eyes, but also with their hearts.

He jokes about what place he will be in at the end of 6 days.

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Day Three: Top Of The Mountain

“I came for the food.”  It is a statement I have heard many times over the years at the 6 &10 day race.  It of course may not be literally true, but for each runner who is being shadowed by doubt, or fatigue, or suffering from a unrelenting case of the the ‘blahs’ a trip through the food tent just may be the perfect antidote for all that ails you.

When you are relentlessly churning out the miles there is no doubt a simple equation that expresses the number of calories needed per mile.  Eat enough and your tank has enough to burn for several hours.  But none of these runners are machines and most are journeying into the farthest most reaches of their capacities.

Utilizing all your available physical strength and summoning endurance that you may never before asked of yourself is just part of the overall formula.  One must be choosy as to which emotional friends you wish to accompany you.  Doubt and fear are always looking for rides and of course never want to ever go forward.  Ultimately the inner exploration will always keep revealing some new mystery and perhaps unveil some wonder that you never knew existed within your own heart.

Good food which is made with love like Niupura’s cooking crew is creating day in and day out is not the answer for everything but it does go a long way in making each runners journey just that much better.  When your hunger goes beyond just carbs, then you will easily see the joy and love that permeates each and every delicious morsel here in the runners kitchen.  It is with this subtle sweet goodness that each runner just might  find an extra step in legs that are unwilling to go on.   Than when you have released that reluctant step, it just might lead in turn to an extra lap, and then the top of the mountain just got a little bit closer.

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Day Two: I Always Had Hope

It is certainly a most difficult thing to run a 10 day race and yet sometimes the journey just to get to the starting line can be longer and even more difficult.  Nidhruvi Zimmerman is now well into her second day on the course and she is running comfortably and confidently just as one would expect this tremendously gifted and experienced multi day runner to do.

At 46 she should be at her peak but instead this race represents a comeback for this lady from Vienna. The past 10 years have been much tougher than the 10 days now slipping comfortably away beneath her relentless strides.  Over that long decade injury made it impossible for her to compete in any distance events at all.  She says now though, ” I could never get rid of the running world.  I always loved the long distance running.  But because of injury I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.  But after many experiences.  I decided just to do it any way.  Doesn’t mater what.  Just to be ready and see if I still belong to the long distance world.  Why not”

From 1995 until 2002 Nidhruvi appeared regularly at the races here.  Her accomplishments at events above 6 days are extraordinary and yet now she runs with quite a different perspective.  Those long lean years that must have at times felt like an eternity are now clearly over.  “I am just grateful grateful, from the very depths of my heart.”

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