April 27: Self Transcendence Shore

Sometime yesterday Nirbhasa Magee got inspired.  Now not just one of those little aw shucks kind of inspirations but one of the really really big kinds.  The sort of inspiration that gets you right to the very top of a mountain.  He had already taken a huge risk just by entering the 10 day race, since he had never run a multi day race before.

The thought of doing one though had been nagging at him inside for a little while.   Many if not most others could have simply played it safe and shut the door on such a crazy thing like running for 10 days. At the very most he could have selected something like the 6 day, just a little easier.

And to be honest about the situation, in the great scheme of things he wasn’t as well trained and experienced as many of the elite runners were who run the 6 and 10 day self transcendence races.  So really the best he could hope for was to stick it out and make it comfortably into the final hours of the last day and then sit in a chair and enjoy the sun in the park.

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In professional sports we can marvel at athletes pure strength, speed, and agility.  Great competition reveals to us arm chair mortals just how wonderful the human body can be when it is trained, naturally talented, and supremely focused on winning.  Nirbhasa like all the other runners here are remarkable athletes, but their focus is far far from winning or loosing, or becoming rich and famous.  The 82 runners who have been here so long, suffered so much, and gone so far are seeking something else.  Not that they all wouldn’t want to be stronger and faster than they already are but something more important is happening inside of each and every one of them.

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Now what happened to Nirbhasa was that he got this one inspiration to finish the race with 600 miles, which would be a terrific achievement.  But then sometime last night he got another inspiration that was just plain crazy.   If he had slowed down a step or stopped to really think about it, he could have simply discarded the inspiration and laughed it off as just plain insanity.

For what happened under the full moon bright sky, was that Usika suggested to Nirbhasa that he should finish the race with 1000 km.   Which theoretically was really a beautiful thought, except for one thing.   It would mean that over the last 24 hours he would need to run 91 miles.  An impossible total if you consider that it was more than 24 miles further than he had run on even his best day. And one thing more, nobody else in the race had run anything like 90 miles since the very first day of running.

By no means does self transcendence

Mean an impossible task,

And possibility can and must reach

Self transcendence shore.……Sri Chinmoy

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April 26: This Is Our World

In a little less than 24 hours from now 82 superb endurance athletes will be able to sit or lie down and no longer feel a mean hard stretch of asphalt constantly calling out to them.  They will have taken long warm showers, changed into clean fresh clothes, and had a hot meal from  a plate that is not made of plastic.  Their bodies will have aches and pains and groaning fatigue like most have probably never felt before in their lives.  Their faces will have been burned by the sun and their lips cracked from the steady sting of wind blowing from what felt like every direction in which they turned.

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Tomorrow night they will tumble into irresistible slumber which they will offer themselves up unchallenged. During the night they might suddenly awaken and wonder in what strange warm comfortable place they have strangely and mistakenly entered, and then simply drift back into the embrace of sleep and emerge only many delightful hours later.

Their mirrors and their friends will remind them just how much different they look now.  But this will be no surprise as they attempt to climb steps, open doors, and sit alone in a soft comfortable chair and contemplate just what an incredible thing has taken place so significantly in their lives over the course of the past 6 and 10 days.

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As the days pass what just happened will ever so gradually seem as though it was all just a little unreal.  Jobs and family, and friends and life itself will intrude with all the demands these things usually have a hold over us.  But somewhere and somehow all this will appear and be just a little bit different to them now.  The clammer and clasp of the world hopefully will no longer feel so loud and so strong as it was before.

Within them the sweet sacred whispers of peace that they so often heard in their hearts as they ran day and night for hundreds of miles will be once again cherished and remembered.  For how they look at  themselves and the world they live in will forever feel and be altered.  For the very fabric of their beings has been strengthened  and brought ever so much clearer into focus.  And what is real and eternally bright within has risen up that much closer towards their own perfection.

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April 25: Everything Is Possible

One morning, a little more than 35 years ago, Luis Rios set off from his apartment in Coney island and went for a run in Prospect Park.  It was in February so it must have been pretty cold that day and yet on his very first run he completed more than 6 miles.  All of us have eureka moments in our lives.  Try something for the very first time and think, ‘wow, this is the greatest.’  A few weeks or maybe even months go by and we get a little bored and tired of this once great thing and then move onto something else.  Luis is not like that.  When he started running 35 years ago he discovered something he really liked to do and then simply never stopped.

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Since he retired he is no longer constrained by the limitations or nuisance of a regular work schedule.  Now every day he goes out his door and runs.  Alternating religiously between the Coney Island boardwalk or for the hilly loop in Prospect Park.   If you asked him, he could show you the proof of all this in the many many spiral bound notebooks he has carefully recorded each and every one of those now thousands of miles over more than 3 decades.  It wasn’t too long after he first began running that he got a taste for long distance competition.  Around 1980 he showed up at his first Sri Chinmoy Marathon team event, and just like his runs in Prospect Park and Coney Island he simply never stopped coming back.

Luis-and-Tim

On this very nice warm spring day in Flushing Meadow he is now into his 5th day of running here.  When he finishes the race on Saturday he will go home to his apartment in Brooklyn, have a bowl of soup and the very next morning he will be out the door again and off running to either Coney Island or Prospect park.  Running is what Luis does and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to stop. When you run around 150 miles a week there isn’t much time for anything else any way.

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April 24: Following Starlit Footsteps.

When I arrive today at the Self Transcendence race Phil McCarthy is heading to his tent to take a break.  Handling him, and seeing to his needs this afternoon  is veteran runner Al Prawda.  Who besides keeping a close eye on Phil is also keeping a tight track of his watch.   Then in what appears to be as though no time has passed whatsoever Phil is almost instantly, and groggily back on his feet and once again moving out onto the course.  When I ask him how long it was he says, “15 minutes.”

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“I was just laying down flat in the tent getting out of the wind, out of the sun.” He is clearly fatigued as he stiffly walks forward, gradually warming up aching tight muscles and brings his mind back from the warm comforting darkness that he allowed it to stray for just a precious sweet moment.

He is now a little more than half way through the longest race of his career.  In the first 3 days he ran a tremendous 264 miles and in the last 24 hours, which was brushed by wind and cold clear nights, with an anxious moon above him dangling brightly in the sky, he ran 67 miles.

He is focused, and he is determined, and he is teaching his body or perhaps adapting himself to something very new in his life.  He may not have it exactly right just yet but gradually the road is instructing him with what it wants and all the bits that make up Phil McCarthy are showing him just how much they are prepared to both willingly and grudgingly offer up over the final 3 days here.

phil-and-al

He looks superbly determined and says, “I am in it for the full 6 days.  I figured a little break would give me more energy because I was feeling a little drained.  I had to shut everything down for 15 minutes.  Hopefully I will have a little bit more energy.  I may not be moving real fast just yet.  In the long run hopefully it will pay off.”

“In my American 48 hour record I never lay down for more than 5 or 10 minute at a time.  Part of it is getting off your feet.  Giving your feet a break, your hips, and the whole skeletal function.  Part of it is physical and part of it is mental.  Your brain shuts down and your heart rests for a little bit, and your organs rest.”

“It is uncharted territory, and I am only half way through.  I have had advice from everybody and they just say keep moving.  But I also know the value of a good short break. ”

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He seems to have lots of different folks coming out to the race to help him.  “I think I am gaining a reputation of having a huge entourage.  I think by the time this is over I will have had 14 people helping me at some point.”  Al who is with him now but will be soon heading back to Brooklyn.  “Al is a veteran,” he says, “he knows the deal.  So it is real good to have him there. ”

“I have had some people who surprised me at how good they were at crewing.  Because it is not easy.  You have to anticipate what the runner wants.”

At the half way point he says that his mileage is not what he had hoped for, “but that is okay.”

“So many people have been coming out to help me and giving me a lot of encouragement.  That is a big number too, and that far exceeded my expectation.  Not to mention the staff, the directors, and the other runners and everybody here.   It is really great to see that.”

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April 23: My Main Goal

In October last year an Austrian sky diver, Felix Baumgartner set a new record for plunging from the very edges of outer space.  Sponsored by a sport drink company the 44 year adventurer jumped from a helium balloon nearly 128,000 feet above the earth.   It was an incredible achievement and thrilled people around the world who saw it take place in real time through both television and the internet.  In his 10 minute fall to earth Baumgartner reached super sonic speeds and eventually landed near Roswell New Mexico.  Asked what it was like to go supersonic, he said, “It’s hard to describe, because I didn’t feel it. You know, when you’re in that pressure suit, you don’t feel anything. It’s like being in a cast.”

felix-baumgartner-standing-in-his-capsule-about-to-diveKen Ward is a 55 year old runner from Oregon.  He describes himself as scientific by nature and works somewhere in the world of Chemistry out where he lives in Corvallis.  He is an immensely experienced trail and distance runner but has come to New York this spring to challenge himself with something he has never done before and that is to run for 6 days.  Well into his 3rd day he is running very well and over the first 2 days he has racked up 152 miles.  Not only that he is also in 3rd place and seems to be smiling nearly all the time.

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He tells me,  “this is a great race for looking more at my inner side than my outer side.  Most of my other races I have looked at very technically.  Plans, spreadsheets, and this kind of stuff.  But you throw that out the window after the first day here.”

ken6There are probably more than a few running here on this cool windy course pushed up against the Grand Central highway who would like nothing better than to also take a dive from space.  To have a momentary nail biting adrenalin rush.

But all the runners here have obviously chosen quite a different path of adventure.  One that they have to personally train long and hard for in order to even cope with the stress and strain of running so far, and for so many days.

A few are well known in the ultra community but most are not and neither are they interested in any notoriety.  The Self Transcendence race here for the most part is well beyond the scrutiny of the public and media because very few really care what happens to them here, other than their immediate friends, family, and the small group who are interested in multi day running.

But by running all day every day they are each forced to venture into the deepest recesses of themselves.  Confront more pain and fatigue than many have ever encountered in their lives before,and at the end of it all they ironically find themselves at the exact same spot their race began, 10 or 6 days earlier.  What they look like and how they ultimately feel at the end of their journeys no one can predict.  Ken tells me that he really didn’t know what was going to happen here during the race.  “I am expecting to be surprised.”

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April 22: Dance of Life

It is Monday afternoon and the one mile loop of the Self Transcendence races is alive with movement.  Some like Alex Swenson are running with such strength and poise that I have to remind myself that he has been here now for more than 24 hours and has already completed 116 miles in that time.

There is an economy and beauty to his stride.  His steps so lightly touch the ground that they are almost silent.  Imagine watching a ballet dancer leap across the stage with what looks like no effort at all.  Their face serene and tranquil.  Always moving precisely to the rhythm and music of an orchestra.

The ballet, or race that is, has just begun of course and there will be many more scenes yet to come for all who run here.  Each with their own unique steps and movement.  A fortunate few who will have moments, or hopefully many miles, when they appear to have the boundless energy and beautiful motion of Alex.  Running with the poise and grace of dancers, while many others have resorted to awkward shuffling.   Progressing sometimes with such labored agony, you  cannot understand how they even stay erect little alone continue to shamble on.

Each runner listens and moves to a tempo and sound that is unique only to them.   Everyone will no doubt wish that they had practiced and trained more.  Done just a little bit more so that they could move and flow like poetry in action.  Alex moves this afternoon like that, while the only real noise and disturbance I hear is that of my own labored breath as I gasp trying to keep pace with him.

alex

Alex was last here doing his first 6 day race in 2010 and says that he has wanted to return ever since.  “Stuff happens.  Injuries mostly, and just life stuff.” He put in a tremendous performance at that time but things didn’t turn out ultimately as well as he hoped.  He came then he says with a preexisting injury and then the weather was awful, which led to a bad case of blisters going into his final day.  “They killed me.” He finished the race though with 396 miles.

For this race he says he just wants to race more consistently.  “So far it has worked.  Yesterday my goal was 100 and I ran 100, and I am on track.   What I want to do today and that is 80.  So one day at a time.  If you can do that one day at a time than the numbers will add up eventually.”

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He describes the conditions for him here now as ideal.  “Just perfect.  50’s temperature, cloudy, sunny, not too cold.  My biggest fear is that you get the freaky 80 degree week.  I am liking this weather, a little windy but I am not complaining.”

“I love the race.  It is a wonderful event.  I have wanted to come back.  I have actually worked my running year around it.  So I am really pleased to be able to come back.”

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April 21: Towards Our Own Perfection

The 44 runners of the Self Transcendence 6 day race started their epic journeys today.  Blessed by a bright blue infinite sky above them, the group set off precisely at noon towards their own individual destinations, dreams, and transcendent goals.   Somewhere ahead of them is a finish line of course, but between here and there lies before them countless personal experiences.  Events and moments, pleasures and pains, that will shape, change, and transform each one of them.  Nothing remains untouched.  For nothing can be held back and remain immune to the daunting task of running for 6 days.  What calls out to each of them and draws their bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits onward can now no longer be resisted or ignored.

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Sound of the start:  

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For most multi day runners a 6 day race is a vast and vague blank sheet that with each step forward they gradually engrave their personal experiences, add up victories both great and small, and acknowledge disappointment, pain, fatigue and  failure as things that must be dealt with as they continue relentlessly onward.  Some may compete one with another but for most here the real competition and life long adversary are the faceless doubts and nagging imperfections that cling to our fragile mortality.

HH

In the papers today a new picture was posted of a nebula that exists some 1500 light years away from us.  It is a place where new stars are now forming on the distant edges of what man’s most advanced technology can see.

Scientists can picture these marvels but most likely mankind will never venture to these places, that lie out beyond the vastness of space.  But our imaginations and our hearts can push us outwards into the infinite.  Our dreams and prayers can form deep within us and rise up into the heavens.  And 6 days from now these 44 runners will still be running here in Flushing Meadow,  until that moment of course when the clock simply runs out of time.   They each will cross a finish line one last time, and they, as well as the 10 day runners, will have completed the self transcendence race for 2013.

They will be able to accurately measure their miles.  They can also mark and note all the things done right and push aside all the things that perhaps went wrong.  But then they will return to the regular world from which they have made this brief escape from.   Life will go on, and then they, and you, and I, will all simply continue on our paths leading always towards our own perfection.

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PERFECTION

Perfection, what is it? A smile of the Beyond.

Perfection, where is it? In the heart of the Infinite.

Perfection, who has it? The Absolute alone.

Sri Chinmoy, The Wings Of Light, Part 3, Agni Press, 1974

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April 20: Happiness Is The Key Word

There are some places in this world of ours in which just the very sound of their names creates mysterious and wonderful images in our imagination.  Most often they are far far away and are simply so exotic and so remote that you can’t ever really imagine actually going there.  I spoke with Pati Ibinova today who is a 48 year old runner from Irkustk.  A place to me, who has lived his entire life in Canada, as just about as far from Flushing Meadow park as it is physically possible to be.  Which according to the internet is more than 5,000 miles away.

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Pati doesn’t speak English so with the help of a friendly translator we conducted a little conversation on a warm bright afternoon.  “I get lots and lots of joy here, ” she says when asked why she has come so far to be here.  It has been 4 years since Pati was last here at the race and when you look at a map it doesn’t take too much imagination to realize just how expensive and difficult it must be for a person to get here from there.   Who knows just many flights and how many hours of travel and how many months and years she probably saved up just to come and run.

pati3Right now Pati is doing pretty well amongst the other 10 day women.  She is currently in 5th and completed 130 miles over her first 2 days.  The first thing she says about Irkustk is that it is cold.  It turns out that from the beginning of November until the end of March it rarely gets above freezing.  So it really defies the imagination as well to picture just how difficult it must have been for Pati to go out the door each morning and train and prepare herself to come here and run for 10 straight days. It is only some hours later that it truly sinks in,  just how incredibly dedicated  Pati, and a lot of others here are,  in coming to the race, from so many far off places.

When asked why she came back after 4 years, “happiness is the key word.  The miles are not so important.  It is the happiness inside that keeps me going.  Everybody has their own happiness but it just comes forward more intensely here.”  Pati as we are speaking is bubbling with enthusiasm and joy.  Before she is about to leave and run some more she tells me she wants to share a secret.  She tells me she is dedicating her run here to her little country.

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Irkutsk

The Self Transcendence race here is extraordinary in so many ways.  Top class athletes mixed in amongst those who are perhaps here for the first time and will finish hundreds of miles behind.  Some who will improve dramatically over their previous efforts and some will kill themselves just to make one more mile than they have done before. Yet what binds all the runners here in both obvious and subtle ways is how their heart’s goal is so much the same.  To pursue their own perfection. To transcend themselves and find out just how beautiful and powerful they truly are within themselves.  And yes as well to be truly happy.  A happiness that is worth traveling the length and breadth of our great and wonderful world to try and attain more of.

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April 19: New Creation

Ron Clarke was one of Australia’s greatest runners.  At the height of his middle distance running career in the 1960’s he was able to establish 17 world records.  He was certainly loved and respected not just in Australia but around the world.  In what  has to be one of the oddest circumstances of his lengthy competitive life he never won an Olympic medal though he was once given one by another great Olympian, Emile Zatopec in honor of all he had accomplished in the world of distance running.

Click below to see him setting a world record in 3 mile race in 1965:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8rC2Xeiz5k 

Ron Clarke

Sri Chinmoy  was asked this question in 1974.

Ron: What is God’s favourite season?

Sri Chinmoy: God’s favourite season is spring, when new hope, new life and new creation dawn. What God always wants from Himself is transcendence. This He can do only when He exercises new hope, new life and new creation constantly.

On this spring day another great Australian runner has entered his 3rd straight day of running here at the 10 day race.  He was here 2 years ago running in the 6 day and had what he describes as, “a life changing event for me. I think essentially what happened is your body gets destroyed, and then your mind gets destroyed, and then your ego gets destroyed, then you are left as pure awareness.  That is how I felt and there were a few moments in that race when it was just light and bliss.”

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This talented 51 year old runner in that time since has established himself as one of the best multi day runners in the world and currently has his own world age group record in the 24 hour race when he ran 153.8 miles (247.6km)  There are many fans of Martin who are very interested in hearing about how he is currently doing but before we do, one last quote from Ron Clarke

Ron-Clarke-2What is the best advice you can give to aspiring athletes?

There are two pieces of advice I believe are paramount.  Enjoy what you are doing, and be consistent with it.  Above all, I loved running.  I never stopped for even a day and during my career I never saw any reason to ease down to “refresh myself”.  Why?  You don’t stop eating for even a day so neither should you need, or want, to stop training.  Running is never boring…there are too many variations that can be used to make it interesting.  Consequently, when you set out to begin running as an exercise, determine that whatever the circumstance, you will continue to train, or competing, every day of every week of every year  In 1965, I raced 65 times, set 11 world records, competed in 9 different countries within 18 days (we were only allowed to travel for 4 weeks overseas in those days), and was still training as hard at the end of it (Derek Clayton and I ran for 18 miles on Christmas morning).

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April 18: We Are In It Together

Fairly early one day last summer or maybe it was the year before, a satellite passing over New York took this picture of Flushing Meadow Park.  Endlessly circling at an altitude of  a little more than 400 miles it’s very precise camera probably took many thousands of pictures that day.  Ever vigilant as it observed our world below from its remote vantage point way up somewhere within the cold silent vacuum of outer space.

No doubt some bored technician was gathering up this endless stream of images or perhaps the data just dropped silently onto some vast digital hard drive as it relentlessly circled our world.  Something it has continued to do on an average of about 15 revolutions day.

Flushing-Meadow

Now some day it just might happen that it will do this same scan,  just as the Self Transcendence 6 and 10 day race is going on.    Technicians might be startled to notice a stream of little figures trotting around the paths of the park and wonder just what are all those little plywood buildings doing there.

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As a rule, it is pretty easy to be amazed at what technology is constantly able to improve upon.  Both make things happen better, faster, and cheaper.  And yet for those 38 runners who have now circled around these same paths for more than 24 hours, the marvels of technology is of no benefit to them whatsoever.  No doubt some may be listening at times to their personal music players or getting calls from friends and family in the nearly 15 countries from which they have traveled from.  At night when the lights go on and food is cooked and is tasty warm everyone is happy that some good old fashioned technology is making their lives just a little better. But no gadget or gizmo will take away the tiredness that is creeping into their legs or dull the not so subtle aches and pains that are for some becoming truly annoying new companions.

Mark

Today the weather did an abrupt about face and it seemed to be continually drizzly and cool.  There wasn’t much reason for anyone to play tourist and take in the sights as they circled the winding one mile loop again and again.  One can’t say for certain what experiences each of the runners is having at any time of the day but one thing is certain.  With each new lap and as the many hours tumble past, each who one runs here, find themselves drawn ever more deeply within themselves.  Into parts of their being that most of us are often quietly aware and yet most of us never seem to rarely find the time or inclination to explore there.  Even though this part of us has been constantly beckoning us.

It is within this unmeasurable inner journey that they also feel an  expansion of their subtle dimensions.  For it is after all a pilgrimage here.  To a place where the travelers journey, way beyond the very limited world that their eyes see and their feet can carry them.   A place of self transcendence in which the goal is to explore and gather new strength and purpose from the uncharted regions within themselves.

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