The very need to run is a primal aspect of our beings. It hearkens back to a long ago ancient time when the ability to run was an integral part of our makeups. Indeed necessary for our very survival. It is buried, in plain view, within our genetic blueprint. We are built to run.
Perhaps not as swiftly as nearly all of nature’s other animal creations but nonetheless in the very design of of our beings it is embedded there. Long long ago we needed to be able to run, both because of fear and because of hunger. It is a foundation of our beings that has not disappeared or failed, just because of the modern presence of fast cars and fast food.
Smarana Punigam 38 from Graz Austria showed up today and will start the 6 day race tomorrow. He carries about himself a calm and gentle presence. He has just brought his suitcase, and while there for a few hours, greets many of the friends he has met over the years. What isn’t so easy to discern about him, and which is unique about Smarana, is that he has run more competitive miles here than anyone else. He has completed the 3100 mile race 7 times along with a host of other multi day events and ultra races.
In the summer of 2008 he completed his 7th 3100 mile race and had not run another multi day, until that which he will start tomorrow. He says, “I have been running since 1994 nearly every year a multi day race. Last year I did not do any and I found that I was missing it. So I am really happy to be here. I really feel excited and I can’t wait to start tomorrow.”
He tells me that before coming he at first had a number of goals he wished to accomplish. But now that he has arrived, and the atmosphere of the race and presence of all the 10 day runners envelops him you can see everything change. “I just want to enjoy it and do my best. I like to have intensity but still I want to enjoy it. This is my real goal this time.”
When I suggest that for a man with all his running experience that the 6 day race could literally be a walk in the park he tells me that even a 100 meter race can be tough. “You can never know what the outcome will be.” He describes for me an inner goal that he is striving for. He wants to be able to apply all the intensity of his determination into the race, while at the same time fully enjoying the presence of his friends. To accomplish, what is perhaps the most significant purpose of todays runner, to awaken and listen to the deepest inner part of our beings and express it joyously and purposefully in and through our running.
I had made a bold prediction on the first day of the race that Igor Mudryk from Vinnitsa Ukraine would do well.
When I came again after 48 hours he did not look well and had slipped to 4th. I was surprised and curious as to what had happened. He is not comfortable with his English so today I was fortunate to be able to talk with him while one of his fellow Ukrainian runners translated for us.
Quite unexpectedly, going into his second day he felt sick with stomach problems. It came suddenly and it came powerfully. He was literally unable to move and had to lay down for quite a long time. Eventually he got a remedy for this but tried to push himself too early. Now however he announces, he is back. I ask him if he is disappointed that he had this experience when he was running so well. “It was quite unexpected. But he is not disappointed, it is just another experience for him. Now he is trying to accept it in the proper way.”
“He is happy right now but has no plans as to what will happen next. He pushes when he can and rests when he must. He feels that he is simply flowing as best he can. He is happy.”
She is currently in 3rd place overall in the 10 day race and perhaps, at different times over the past 3 days, has been even higher. Last year she set a personal best of 707 miles and today as I approach her she seems particularly happy. When I ask her if she is having a good time she looks surprised and replies that she was just thinking about how happy she felt.
It is of course no accident that she is doing well here. In many ways she trains all year long just for this race. The 10 day has its own particular trials and tribulations for her. Usually on the first day she will have stomach problems and also sometimes pushes herself too hard. But she say that by the time the 3rd day comes she simply has to surrender. At that time she says, “I just go with the flow, and then it starts. I do more miles than I thought I would do.”
She says that she enjoys the race from the beginning but at the point her mind ceases to calculate miles, the real enjoyment of the experience can really begin. “Now I am really freely flowing.” As for the miles she pays little attention to them now. The important thing for her is to try and follow her schedule for breaks and sleep.
Her sister Maheeshi recently arrived from Slovakia and is here to help her in the race. Kaneenika describes her as, “beyond the best.” She knows her sister really enjoys helping her and brings a unique cheerfulness to an event that can be fraught with troubles.
For most runners it is after 3 days that there seems to be a real break through in their running. That once one can push through the early period it can become a much more natural experience. Kaneenika suggests that also something inwardly takes place, at least for her. She says. “you become more dependent on your inner pilot.”
I ask her if she has any thoughts of besting her tremendous achievement from last year. “Of course I came to the race to transcend. But of course to transcend does not always mean to transcend the number.” Meaning of course that there is no scoreboard that can keep track of the transcendence happening within oneself.
The race for 50 year old Shashanka Karien, formerly from Switzerland, now living in New York is a unique birthday gift. It is however a decision on his part that seems to fly in the face of his current experience as a multi day runner. The last time he ran in one was nearly 19 years ago. He has organized many events when he lived in Switzerland but had not actually run one in all this time.
He says simply, “I love running.” He is also much inspired by the philosophy and actions of his late spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy. Who was active in sport and always setting new challenges for himself whether it be athletics or countless other kinds of activities. He believes that his teacher always tried to go beyond himself. The 10 day race is a potent and incalculable opportunity to smash barriers of all kinds, especially for a man who has just turned 50. He says, “this race is unbelievable.”
For him the past 3 and 1/2 days have been incredible. He admits though that it has been difficult. Without any recent experience in ultra running he has precious little guidance from past races to draw upon. There have been ups and there have been lows. Yet despite all this, he has run well, and is currently in 5th place. He tells me, “I want to go through the whole experience, whatever it brings.
He recently read some of Sri Chinmoy’s writings on running and one technique he is trying to incorporate into his run here is to try and be and observer and to offer yourself. He describes, “the intensity of the experience here is so great.” He says that he has also asked for advice from some of the veteran runners here and they told him, “just keep moving.” He adds, “and that is the same for real life. Just keep moving and going “
Even if you have become
A slow train
On your life’s journey,
You will get joy,
Because you are moving,
Excerpt from Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 4 by Sri Chinmoy