“This is my first time in New York, and I am next to a freeway with winds, and rain which made an interesting night, but it was all character building.” It is shortly after noon on Saturday and Martin Fryer has been running in the Self Transcendence race for a little more than 24 hours. Despite the horrendous conditions he is running with shocking ease and fluidity. At times the rain cascades down around us and creates a splashing mess on the road. Martin barely acknowledges the tumult and slaloms skillfully around the puddles. His only nod to the inclementness is to that he simply tugs the strings to his hood tighter and doesn’t miss a step.
Of all the runners here Martin Fryer is clearly the one everyone would like to keep their eye on. It is not just his speed, and the lightness of his steps, it is also apparent that he just might keep up this fabulous flow and momentum, all the way to the end of day 6. It is unfair to heap this kind of pressure upon anyone in an event that is just starting. Yet Martin’s demeanor is also as light and hopeful as his footfalls.
The story of Martin’s entrance into the ultra world began with a move to Sydney where the club he joined there, the Sydney Striders had several ultra members. “Someone took me under their wing, a mentor, that was in 1997. By 2004 I tried my first 24 hour race which I won and did well in and I thought I had obviously found a niche. And a terrible niche as it is,” and he offers a light self mocking laugh. “There is something very pure about these events. What I have learned has made me a better person and a better runner.”
He is very serious about how participating in long races has transformed him. “I think one of the big lessons I have learned over the past few years, I think early on I tried to control everything. I think the last few years I have tried to run more organically, and realize you have to let go and surrender. It makes it much more joyful, and I have had better results as well, so that was nice icing on the cake.”
“I think you have the potential to try and control it, but I have found you reach a point, what I call analytical thinking. But after several days in these races the parameters all go out the door. That is when faith and intuitive thinking become so much more important, and you realize that you are released from that, and all the analytical loops that you been caught up into, when you can’t control the parameters. It has made a great lesson for me and the rest of my life too.”
I ask him what has drawn him to come so far from his home in Australia. “Just the name of this race, Self Transcendence, I mean, that is exactly why I am here. I know it is going to be ugly at times, but you need to expand your mind and uplift yourself, and to work through it. It is a great metaphor for your whole life. You are going to have tough times, but if you have the faith, you will come out through the other end of it.”
“I know outsiders find it all very strange and quirky. They often see us all as a bunch of eccentrics. But I think outwardly they see changes in you, and they go ‘gee, maybe they might be on to something.’ I guess it is all the ultimate karma yoga. Just working every day, going around and around.”
Despite an impressive resume of Australian and Commonwealth age group records in several distances Martin has never completed a 6 day race. He attempted only one before and had to pull out due to injuries. He has come here with a wide spectrum of goals he hopes he can accomplish. The top ones he describes simply as the, “big hairy audacious goals.” Which translated into real numbers is 900km (485miles). “The bottom goal is to finish, so I have been a lot more careful in day one here. Just sort of looking after myself. Trying to run a bit more easily. I think one of the things I have learned, from the first one I did as well was, I went in with the wrong attitude. I came in with just a purely competitive attitude.”
He describes that for him how a light bulb came on, after being in his previous attempt and making it to day 3, and being stung by injury. “O now I get it, so that talking to people and sharing the experience. So this time I feel much happier about it.”
He tells me as well that he is not focusing on his competition what so ever. He has made a decision not to look at the board. “You need to run your own race.”
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