Day Four: The Most Important Things In Life

Most days when I visit the course I generally have no fixed plan of who I am going to speak with or what pictures I need to take.  I try and be as spontaneous as possible, and if inspiration calls out, I just hope I can move fast enough to catch up with it.  I am never going to have the constant intense experiences like the runners, but I know that even in a short visit something profound and meaningful can happen when you least expect it.

It often happens that I find it nearly impossible to tear myself away from the race and head home.  Often, in just a flash, I will suddenly see a beaming runner, brimming with enthusiasm and inspiration  coming around a turn and ambling or charging, right towards me.  At these time the race is able to pull me back within itself.

Just as I am about to leave today I come across Nirbili walking the course with her daughter . They are a picture of happiness and contentment.  I am so touched by them moving along in the bright afternoon sun that I immediately stuff my car keys back into my pocket and dash over to them.

“This is my 9th multi day race.” Nirbili and her husband Rajpal have been fixtures of the race for so long it is hard to imagine the race going on without them.  Over the years the New Zealand presence has seemed to increase with each new race.  People like Rajpal are part of a key team that gets the race not only set up, but also allows it to run smoothly.

Nirbili is a gentle spirit who seems to float gently and tirelessly around the course.  She just may be someone whose constant expression is nearly always a smile.  It is also easy to forget sometimes that she is 65 years old, when as of this afternoon, she has completed 168 miles.

“This is my 9th multi day race and something draws me back every year.  It is the opportunity to self transcend.  It is a wonderful atmosphere and a very great challenge.”  She adds that it is here she feels that she can make progress in her life, something that cannot happen quite the same back home in Auckland.

There is no retirement, in the classic sense for Nirbili.  For retirees, who just enjoy sitting back in their rocking chairs, she says, “they are missing out on a awful lot.  I couldn’t do that.”

“This is the first opportunity that I have every had in these 9 races to actually be here.” For daughter being her Mom’s helper is a unique opportunity for her to get a real understanding of what has been a major part of her parents life for almost a decade.  “I have only been able to send faxes and flowers from home.  It is really nice to see her in action, and be her helper. It is an opportunity to be self giving all day which is really nice.”

As a first timer to the race, the enormity of it all takes some getting used to.  “When you see how challenging it is, it is really really inspiring.”  For all the New Zealanders here the recent tragedy that took place in Christ Church is in many ways is still a tender wound that that will take some time to heal.  Penny actually was there when the earthquake took place and she tells me what being here does for her.  “It is giving me a lot of peace, because obviously an experience like that shakes you up a lot.  When everything changes in 20 seconds you whole life is different.  You have to keep on being reminded of what the most important things are in life.  That what we have inside us, in our hearts, love and joy and so forth, are the real treasures of life.”

Click to play Interview


At noon tomorrow everything at the race will suddenly change.  More than 30 fresh runners will spill out onto the course and suddenly unleash a wave of pent up energy and enthusiasm.  For a while at least these 10 day runners will be buoyed by this spirit and it will no doubt recharge dim batteries.  Memories will flicker back to brightness within them, that this is what they too were like just 4 days ago.

Some of those new runners are already here now, and simply biding their time until their own opportunity comes to run.  I recognize one familiar face who I have seen quite a few times.  55 year old David Luljak won his very first multi day, the 6 day race in NY 13 years ago in 1998.  It has been 4 years since he last ran the race. Life and other obligations have prevented him from lacing up his shoes here as often as he might like to.

“It is hard to say why I keep coming back.  The race is always this time of year.”  Perhaps it is in the transforming experiencing of spring he says, with all its unique signals, that he is reminded of the link between running for him here in the multi day races and the change of seasons.  Whatever it is that prompts this experience, he tells me that a special feeling keeps coming back to him every spring at this time and reminds him, “boy that 6 day was nice.”

We are sitting at a picnic table and a steady stream of 10 runners keeps flowing by.  I ask David if he is a little nervous with his own race now just hours away.  “I am very excited to come back, so right now the positive jitters are outweighing the negative ones.”  He does not seem to have any fixed goal for himself in terms of mileage.  Injuries even at good races have bedeviled him from time to time.  “I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do.  It was painful and not really very much fun.” As he says this he laughs.  “And so since I have a number of those kind of experiences, in 24, 72 hour races, it doesn’t set my confidence level real high.”

The lure of multi day running attracted him even before he had done any distance running to speak of.  “I think even when I was getting ready to run my first marathon, that I didn’t do until 1993.  I was 38 at the time.”  He tells me that it was through reading various inspiring running books, “that I had a sense that I wanted to do more.”  Even before he had run his first marathon.  “I think it is running that I love to do.  I am relatively good at it.”  He tells me that as he ages he feels new aches and when he gets up in the morning he sometimes wonders, “how can I go out and run?  After 5 minutes or so you get in the rhythm, and I just love being out there to run.  And I think I have that sense, that if it is fun to run for 5 or 10 miles than it would be even more fun to run for 6 days.”

I ask him what self transcendence means for him.  “You do find that you can do way more than you think you can, at times when things are going well.  It is that feeling that makes you want to come back.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of running well on day 4 or 5 when your mind tells you that there is no way a human should be zipping around at even 10 minutes a mile at that point.”  He says despite everything else you can always persist and endure no matter what.

Click to Play David Luljak Interview

[audio:|titles=Dave lujack]

The current chairman of the board is Ujjwala, another of the strong Kiwi contingent.

Vajra doing a little tent patrol with a hammer.  The winds are strong this afternoon.


“For me the strongest feeling at these races is my connection with the earth.” Ilvaka Nemcova from Prague is just 30 years old but has had tremendous experience as a multi day runner.  Her helper is also a very good friend and fellow runner Tirtha.

Ilvaka tells me that while running in these races you can experience nature and all its joys in many ways that normally you cannot do.  Her most enjoyable time on the course she says is at night.  “It is kind of silence.”  As this very quiet runner says this, a siren screams nearby on the crowded highway, and a jet roars over head as it heads into La Guardia.  “But also during the day when all these cars are passing by it becomes part of your life.”

It has been 2 years since both Ilvaka and Tirtha competed here.  She says, “I guess this year, for me that I can be here is just a real miracle.”  Back in January she was barely even able to run 2 miles.  As for returning here, “I guess something in me was really crying to do it.  You can learn so much here and you can get so much.  Than it felt like at that you need is to love the running, than this feeling helped to be able to run more.  I feel so blessed that I can be here.  I just have to accept the conditions as they are and be happy, and keep moving forward, even if it is not running.  I walk a lot.  It is perfect as it is.”

For her being in the race is the best way for her to both learn the most and get the most out of life.  “Everything is so condensed.  This is the thing that I feel always.”  You always encounter the experiences that you most need in your life.  No matter that you run effortlessly and almost fly or are hobbled by injury the importance of participating in the race if possible, remains constant in her life.   Right now she is combining both running and walking into her routine here.  “I have to be happy with this combination.”

When asked to describe her friend and helper Tirtha she says, “I have no words to describe this lady.  This year she cannot run but anyway she wanted to be here, and somehow it happened that she is helping me.  Sometimes I feel ashamed that she is almost doing everything, and I am doing basically nothing.  She is my almost ‘all’, in this race.”

“I see everything from the other side this year,” says her friend Tirtha.  When asked the question of whether she prefers to run or help she laughs, “I would like to be a runner, 100%.” As a helper she says, “you have to do so many things.  First of all you have to make your runner happy.”  She then goes through a list of responsibilities.  “You really have to make sure that things are right.”

I ask Tirtha, what her own goals are now for the rest of the race.  “That she stays happy and that I stay happy.  I really think the goal this year is to be happy.  There is no number.”

Before I leave I notice Tirtha massaging Ilvaka’s feet in the runners dugout area.  She had just completed 200 miles.

Click to play Ilvaka Nemcova Interview


Every so often folks get a little rest when they can.



During the busy day no one pays much attention to the keep quiet sign.  Hopefully at night when the runners need it they do.


The medical tent is just now starting to be a busy place as the constant pounding is starting to take its toll. Gaurish a chiropractor regularly helps out and is bringing back some life into Begalita’s race. “He is making me smile and he is making me cry.  Hopefully he is making me breathe better, and run better.”

Click to play the sound of Gaurish’s healing magic


This is the 4th year that Michel Gouin from Drummond -ville Quebec has brought his family here and run in the 10 day race.  His son Tommy has grown up a lot in that time and when asked about his experiences here he says, “I love everything.”  For Michel the change in the course is a big improvement for him.  Hopefully there will be none of the flooding problems as in past years.

“I did prepare to do my best this year.” Each time he comes he tries to improve his distance but last year a cold and bad weather hampered his effort.  “I try hard, but it is a long way 10 days, and you can’t control the weather.  I like this race but it is not the best time of the year for me to come.” His work schedule in the winter months doesn’t allow him the kind of preparation that he feels he really needs.

He says what he likes most about the race is the people here.  For him it all feels like family.  “This is the best time to be together.”

Tommy says that he likes coming here to discover new things and meet new people.  He also simply likes being able to help his Dad.”

Michel says that his plan this year, “is to start very strongly and to finish very strongly, in between this is relax.  In the beginning and at the end I will do my best.”  He is also anticipating that the new runners tomorrow will bring fresh energy to the course and give him more friends to talk with.”

Click to play Michel Gouin interview




To me, the things I see
With my human eyes
Can never be as important
As the things I feel
With my soulful heart.


Sri Chinmoy, Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 39, Agni Press, 1982.

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