July 28 Hard Decisions

picture by Jowan

picture by Jowan

The late night air is thick and still.  Yet at the same time there is a steady drumbeat of anticipation building in the gathering crowd.  It is clear that  something wonderful is soon about to happen here on this little dimly lit sidewalk.

Picture your restless unbridled excitement as a child, moments before you received some new toy and this is what it is like at the scene of the 3100 mile race this evening.

a rewardIt is gone just past 10, and singers are gathering bits of music.  Others chat amicably while continuing to keep their eyes open for the runners who are relentlessly shuffling up to the pale illumination by the scoring tables, and then slowly disappear again off into the dark.  Everyone’s eyes are mostly looking for just one figure to come by, Asprihanal Aalto.  Each prancing appearance into the scoring table light means he is drawing ever tantalizingly closer to the magic number, 3100.

Then of course it happens.  Bells start to ring with jangling intensity.  Voices cry out hooray.  Dozens of hands hurl a blizzard of flower petals up into the air and within this whirl of joy the slight 38 year old Finnish runner arrives and at last crosses  the finish line.  The night disappears momentarily when dozens of camera flashes go off in a carnival-like explosion of brightness.  The gift everyone was waiting for has arrived.  It is simply the angelic smile of joy and satisfaction on the face of Asprihanal. Tonight he is a champion of this race but his inner victory is for everyone.

a and supSahishnu announces, “Ladies and gentleman 2009 3100 mile champion Asprihanal Aalto.  He finished in a time of 43 days, 16 hours, 28 minutes and 6 seconds.  That is the 5th fastest time in history.”  He mentions that if he had not had his sick day he would have been on track to break his personal best record.  “It is a remarkable achievement.”  Asprihanal finish

There is a moment when someone calls out, “what will you do tomorrow, go to the beach or play tennis?”  His answer, “When you run you don’t have to make these tough decisions.”

As joyous as Asprihanal’s finish is there is also a feeling of melancholy.  Suprabha’s hip pain has just been getting worse and she has decided to take off the evening and see what it feels like tomorrow morning.  This has never ever happened to Suprabha before, and all are wishing her well.

picture by Bhashwar June 81

picture by Bhashwar June 81

My dauntless determination

Is my final decision,

And that final decision itself

Is the most inspiring beginning

Of my God-realisation.

Excerpt from Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 46 by Sri Chinmoy.

nigel grahak bbike

It is somehow so fitting that these two arrive together.  It is the first time they have ridden up to the start side by side, but for the past 44 days they have been the most perfect of partners in this 3100 mile adventure.  Grahak had never had help in his past 2 races and there was a simple logic, that if he did well on his own, maybe he could do even better if he had a helper.  As practical as it was for Nigel to volunteer to come there is also a bit of magic as well.  In a few hours Grahak will strip almost 2 days off his Australian record.

nigel massageNigel says, “I have seen the time go by rather quickly.  I have seen the runners progressing.  You get a feeling for the experience they are going through, in a much less intense way than what they are getting.”  There is an extensive list of all the problems that Grahak has had to conquer here.  Nigel says, “the blister on the foot has been the bad one.  He has not had bad blisters before in the last 2 races. “

Nigel says, “He said the first year was hard but that was because he was inexperienced and the whole nature of the whole race.  But this is the hardest year for him.  Mentally he has battled a lot due to the physical problems.”

For himself Nigel describes his mood now as, ” I kind of feel like I am on a high.  I am totally inspired by everything they are doing, and in awe of them as well.  It is amazing to just see them keep pushing themselves. “Nigel interview


grahak****Grahak has arrived just about as fatigued as I have ever seen him.  You might easily imagine that he has saved nothing back in this race.  That when he covers the mere 40 miles ahead of him that he can safely say he gave it his all.  He will break his own record by about 2 days and he says with real humility, “I am really pleased by that.”  He says he had no particular strategy in order to break his previous record.  “I came with the idea of breaking my time.  I didn’t care if it was one minute, one hour, or a day.  I found I could get good mileage most days and it put me way ahead of schedule.  Mileage wise it has been a great race.”

There have been a laundry list of ailments however, including a skin rash and blisters.  So as easy as he has broken his record he says, “it has been difficult at the same time.  Last year was a much smoother race for me.  I wasn’t pushing so hard I could enjoy it.  I enjoyed this race as well.”

g8He confesses that he pushed very hard all during this year’s race.   “It is not in my nature to have an easy day when you are out here.  Part of me just wants to get finished as soon as I can.  I am not impatient, I am just eager to finish.”  He admits that he probably took his physical to its absolute limits and then some.  There is however an incredible confidence and determination in Grahak, that no matter how bad his problems might have gotten that they were never serious enough for him to slow down or to give up.

He says that part of his best experiences during the race were having a good meditation at night.  “Traffics slowed down and there are not so many people around.  I tend to get a second wind at night, sometimes.  Sometimes you don’t.  There is a freshness and energy and you can get a good speed.  Not have to feel any ailments and all that.  But it is different every night.  Some nights you are really exhausted.  Riding home at night is really nice. Not because you are going home but for the same reasons.  You can offer gratitude.  You can feel fulfilled that you had a good day.”

nigel grahak2Of Nigel’s help he says, “He has been incredible.  Such a good friend and a comrade if you like in this battle.  A handler gives you confidence, just seeing them when they come.  Saves you a lap when you are packing up at night.”  He then describes a sweet story of how a good and devoted a helper Nigel was.  He had asked Nigel to put some newspaper in bag so that when he got home he could put the paper in his wet shoes and help them dry.  He says he then went home and showered and changed and there was a surprising knock on his door.  “It was Nige, he had forgotten to put the newspaper in.  He had ridden all the way to my home at midnight just to give me a few sheets of paper.  That is the type of helper he is.  Always in the heart.  He is always smiling no matter what you ask for, or tell him to do.”  Then in a joking way he adds, “but  I did do my best day when he was having the day off.”

g7 goodHis circumstances in being a runner in the 3100 is unique.  He did not have any multi-day experience when some years ago Sri Chinmoy asked him, “have you done our longest race?”  When it was asked a second time he realized it was something more than a question but more like a subtle request for him to try.  He then came for the race in 2007.  He says that in his participation in the race Sri Chinmoy was all encouragement for him and the other runners.  He praised each when they finished and he describes how this acknowledgment melted his heart.

This is now his 2nd year without Sri Chinmoy here but he says he likes to still imagine him in different places around the course.  “I try to imagine he is still here, which he is,” says Grahak.  We come up to a corner where he would often drive up and stop his little red car.  His face lights up as he describes his late teacher’s face, “a most beautiful smile.”

As for next year he says, “I think this is my swan song.  Going out in a blaze of glory.  But you never say never.”  Grahak interview

sup3She arrives at the race on this its 45th day just as she has for the past 13 years.  In so many ways she embodies the dedication, determination , and oneness that make up this unparalleled sporting event.  Yet as similar as today is to hundreds of others for Suprabha, most know that July 28th will mark not only a unique historic day for Suprabha, but for the race as well.

sup7There are dull flashes of pain across her face as she sets off once more.  The slow shuffle never progresses into the light jog that usually comes so quickly after.  Her hip pain is obvious to everyone, and everyone who identifies with this champion feels the great decision looming ever more closely in front of her.  There are many of her friends here this morning and Savita will go a few cheerful laps with her.  They will joke about a humorous incident that took place the day before with real pleasure.

Grahak goes by and she says with genuine admiration, “he has incredible determination.  He is unstoppable.”

sup10  goodShe says, “last night I came to a peaceful feeling about the whole thing, about stopping.  I do somehow feel it is the right thing.”

She will do a few laps more.  She goes to the scoring table to find what would be a satisfying number to stop.  She decides upon the number 2413.  As she comes up to the line one last time her friends sing for her.  There are both smiles and tears for this great champion of the 3100.  She will continue to move a short distance past and then simply returns to those who supported and cheered, and loved her for 13 long summers of running here.

picture by Jowan

picture by Jowan

Grahak finishes in 44 days, 9hours, 8min, and 56 seconds.  He is now the 3rd best finisher of all time.  He averaged 69 miles and now has self-transcended his own Australian record.

flower 2

When you run, if you can make yourself feel that inside your heart Somebody is running or your heart is running or you are running with your heart, then tiredness disappears, the power of distance disappears. Only the power of oneness, oneness, oneness with God’s Will appears.

Excerpt from Run And Smile, Smile And Run by Sri Chinmoy.

2 Comments to “July 28 Hard Decisions”

  1. Gangane says:

    Congratulations to all the runners and in particular to Asprihanal and Grahak. I am thrilled to be able to take part in through this blog and to see and hear about the finishers is priceless.
    Thank you all for the inspiration!
    With warm regards from Iceland.

  2. Beverly says:

    Thank-you Suprabha, for being such an inspiration to me in my own strivings.

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