“I am probably still a rookie in this game.” Maybe it is the very nature of multi day running itself that allows very talented runners like Lars Christoffersen to be able to be so humble. Even the very best can achieve little if any fame in this most challenging of endurance sports, and, if you are looking for a fortune, you will never find it at the end of the long 6 day road.
A great breath of fresh life was suddenly blown onto the course today at 12 noon, when 33 eager runners spilled out onto the course to join the now well seasoned, and maybe more than a little weary, 10 day runners. In the great scheme of things the 6 day race is still the gold standard for most multi day runners. The race that began here today has attracted some of the best in the world. The best ones, like Lars, look as though they are somehow a different breed of humanity altogether. Perhaps there is some different wiring of their genetic code or a drop of immortality has been somehow transfused into their make up. He for example runs with an effortlessness and smoothness that gives you the impression, almost as though he is gliding. Certainly the engine under the hood is the same as everyone else out here but you can’t help but get the impression, that Lars and the other super talented runners are like speedy bright sports cars, while the rest, and this is not uncomplimentary I hope, are more like comfortable and reliable family sedans. With perhaps just a few bangs and dents.
Lars had done just 2 6 day races prior to coming here. His first was in Sweden just 3 years ago. He tells me, “it was a pretty good race but it was raining 5 out of the 6 days.” I remind him that those kind of conditions pretty much described the race here last year. Currently the forecast is predicting some wet conditions over the next couple of days.
I ask him if his entry into multi day running is the typical one in which a runner just finds the marathon distance too short. “He says, “my story started with a diet. I was too heavy. I was smoking 20 cigarettes a day. I was over 100 kgs.” It was on his 30th birthday that he suddenly realized that he needed to change his life immediately. He just didn’t like the looks of where his health was heading. Talking it over with his wife, he said, “okay I have to change my lifestyle.”
He decided that he would just run, “because that was the easiest way to loose the weight.” With this new training regime he lost 15 kgs. in half a year. He was impressed with how quickly his weight dropped and at that time he ran his first marathon in 3:45. He tells me that his experience in the race was pretty hard, but just the same he thought, “if I can do this maybe I can do more. I heard about a 6 hour race and I think. Let me try that.” That race was in his home town in Denmark. Surprisingly, “I broke the course record the first time with 72km.” With this run, the door opened wide to the world of multi day running.
It was just 3 weeks ago that he made his decision, “lets go to New York.” He feels that his conditioning is pretty good so he is interested in finding out just how much he can run here. In his first race he ran 854 km(461 miles), and the second was 790km(426 miles) He says, “I have no expectation for this one. I will wait and see what can happen.”
“What I like about 6 day races is the toughest part is in your head. It is not the physical part, it is the mental part. At day 4 at night you start crying in the middle of the night, and you don’t want to be here any more. You just want to take the first plane home. That is where you start learning about life. That is what I like about it. If you can do this you can do everything.”
Click to play interview[audio:http://perfectionjourney.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Lars.mp3|titles=Lars]
It has become such a different place in the 24 hours since I was last here. The energy and excitement is brimming in and around the course.
Yuri has opened a slight gap between himself and Vladamir.
In the women’s race Kaneenika has nothing as large as that, between her and the other girls. The width separating her and the them could be described as a generous crack.
At this point in the 6 day race the numbers don’t mean too much at all.
Clearly the speedy men will be incredibly interesting to follow. They will also need to keep their sites on Dipali who could quite easily snatch the rug from under them.
The heat in the kitchen went up many many degrees today, just as the weather outside has turned decidedly cool. You cannot begin to estimate the importance of the ladies who create endless groaning tables full of delicious food. Lars had told me that even in Denmark he had heard reports about how good the food was at the Self Transcendence races. Nandana is now in her second year as chief cook. She and her crew work in a mellow methodical dance of constant preparation and cooking.
I ask her what has changed since the 6 day started earlier today. “The intensity level. It is super busy and they eat a lot of food. 6 day runners seem to eat more than the 10 day runners.” I ask why she thinks this is so. “I don’t know, but I think they are so energetic and enthusiastic, and full of life and they don’t know what to do with themselves, so they eat.”
She describes it as a myth that runners can only tolerate the simplest possible foods. As we talk she is stirring up a delicious and beautiful pilaf. ” You have to balance out all the areas of food, like protein, carbs, and vegetables. You have to start 2 or 3 hours in advance when you are making diner here, 100 people. It is non stop, because in between meals there are snacks, and soup, it is never ending.”
It was her first time organizing the cooking here last year and she seems once again comfortable orchestrating a symphony of tasty delights. Her secret, “it is the love that goes into it of course. I have such a great team, we all have joy.”
Next to Nandana is Marama from New Zealand who is making Polenta squares. It is a recipe that she confesses that she has never made before. When asked what her experience is like, being part of the team, she says, “It is one of the coolest times that I ever had. Nandana and everybody else are so amazing to work with, and it is so much fun to do everything together.”
At the next table Tajini is writing peoples names with a marker on Styrofoam containers. “I have a really important job. I have all the boxes, and I have the list here, and I have to write the name on the boxes. Asked to describe working again in the kitchen like she did last year she says, “there is always a brilliant atmosphere. Nandana was the chef last year and it is really nice to work with her, and just go with the flow, and support the runners somehow. I love it. I can do this every year. Sometimes we try and uplift them (runners), but also they uplift us.”
Click to play interview #1
As luck would have a runner passes by extolling the pleasure they had moments earlier from eating an apple strudel. There is still plenty of it, still warm, and in pans. Nandana pours out a drizzle of frosting across the surface and tells me that Maria is responsible for it.
She is delighted to hear that someone would like her strudel so much that they would stop by and tell them. It was while she was cooking at the 3199 mile race that she says, “I got inspired to this idea.” It turns out to be a really difficult dish to prepare. A special roller is needed to make it perfect. She had to improvise in order to make it work. Like all the cooks she enjoys being here and working hard. “I like it very much.”
Click to play interview #2
The counting today of course become exponentially more difficult. The field of runners has almost doubled and the new runners are eager to be out on the course. There is and almost endless sprawl of paper in front of the girls who are counting right now. Neat numbers are filled with pencil under the names of each and every runner. I ask the girls how they can possibly keep their sanity under the weight of the endless pressure. Almost every moment a runner passes by outside. Hridayinee tells me, that for her, “it is lots of fun. We don’t need to keep our sanity. It is good if you have more because it keeps you focused.”
Hridayinee adds that the job is really inspiring. When they smile and the runners smile in return she feels that there is at that moment a very precious, “exchange of joy.” Tucked beside her, Pranayani adds, “there can be a lot of stress happening but there is a lot of joy too. Sometimes you see the runners they are really struggling, and then when you applaud them then they smile, and then the sun comes. It is really the most beautiful thing.”
click to play interview[audio:http://perfectionjourney.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/counters.mp3|titles=counters]
It is hard for me to know what to make of the runner coming towards me dribbling a basketball. Most of us have a rather vast and nebulous category in our minds, which I like to refer to as the, “it takes all kinds department.” Coming in contact with such a peculiar activity, in a race already so strikingly difficult, some might like to simply file it away there and move on. I of course am fascinated. Al Prawda, at 64 is still a very good runner and has run this race many times before, though never previously dribbling a basketball.
He tells me that it was in 1999 that he ran the Boston marathon bouncing a basketball. It was only during the first 3 miles that it was too crowded to do it. “So I dribbled from 3 miles to the finish. I finished in 4 hours and 14 minutes.” When asked if the race in itself is not already difficult Al adds, “we are all on the fringe as it is. We are already in a world where people commonly multi task. I think I stumbled on a new way of cross training, without changing the sport too much.” When asked if he is going to bounce the ball every step of the way, he says, “Only for the first 24 hours, then I cam going to take a soccer ball, if I am still alive and standing for the next 24.”
I hate to ask him what will happen on the 3rd day and he tells me, “I am going to be throwing a baseball into my baseball glove.” He adds, “after 3 days I am going to let myself go loose. I won’t have to do any activity except run and walk. I want to see how much I can do after I have handicapped myself for 3 days, in the 6 day race.”
When asked when he last ran the race he tells me that coincidentally it was 7 years ago. It just happens to be 7 years since the NY Nicks basketball team last made the playoffs as well. Al is proudly wearing a NY Nick shirt with the name of his favorite player, Walt Frazier on it.
He tells me that he wanted to do the race earlier but his training never quite came together. He also wanted to add an additional sporting challenge to the event. He says he wanted to prove, “you can teach an old dog new tricks.” When asked his age, he adds, “I am only 64.” Seven years ago he ran 263 miles. “It is a challenge. I did my first 6 day in 19983, injured my knee but still ended up with 360 miles.” His personal best in the event is 500 miles.
Why he does it he says, “your are at one, you are at peace. When you sign up and do a 6 day race it is a commitment similar to getting married. It is a serious commitment, you are there for 6 days. It is not just a marathon and you go home, and rest for the rest of the week. It is a continuous enduring event, and it also gives a chance to the slower runner, so that is why I am here.”
Click to play interview[audio:http://perfectionjourney.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Al-Prawda.mp3|titles=Al Prawda]
Begalita tells me that her chiropractic adjustment completely transformed her yesterday. It helped opened up and expanded her breathing.
Dharbasana is helping Vladamir with some digestive problems.
To answer any and all weather related questions the picture of Dipali might do the trick. Yes it has been very chilly today. Despite the look she is running well.
Daulot Fountain, 54, from Seattle has never run one of these races before. When asked what got him here, it opens the door to the obvious joke. He points to his friend beside him, and tells me that he brought him out this morning in his car. “Previous to that I woke up this morning with a cold or a flu, and I had a slight fever, and the first thought that came to my mind was, DO OR DIE. So that helped get me out here. But otherwise I have been inspired for many many years to do it, and I finally made it. I am very very happy. The goal was to get to the starting line, and now my goal is to be here for 6 days.”
His previous best achievement long runs was 104 miles in a 24 hour race. “I am just starting long distance running at age 54. I am one of the late comers. It is great, never let age stop you. If you are inspired, go with your inspiration. So, I have been really looking forward to this, and I am really glad to be here. I can’t even think beyond that.” He tells me that the seed for doing it was planted in him when he had a conversation about distance running 14 years ago with Rupantar the race director. At that time the 6 day race was just being introduced. “I jumped with joy, I can do that. Well, many years later, here I am. It seems like it was a long road just getting here, but that made it all the more rewarding.”
He says his first 4 miles where just terrible. He was given some medicine however that has dramatically improved his cold and flu symptoms. He has no specific goal, “No numbers, just keep moving. So that’s my goal. I think I am going to take it a bit easy today, and come back a little harder tomorrow.”
“When you are doing the marathon you are counting off the miles, but here you don’t really want to think about it, because the miles seem awfully slow. I am not used to doing 12 and 14 minute miles.” He hopes that they all simply expand and grow with time and he will be able to say, “holy smokes, look how far I made it.”
“I figured if I can make a centimeter more of spiritual progress while doing this than not, than it is all worth it. I definitely think there is something to it. Even the training was very fulfilling to. How can this be any less. I know I am going to come away from it really tired and happy.”
Click to play interview
Rajeshri at last joined her friend Kushali in the race today. They have been both participating in it for many years now. One doing the 10 day and later being joined by the other.
They have been performing as a musical duo for a long time as well. With just a tiny prodding they sing for me, and for you.
Click to play song.[audio:http://perfectionjourney.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/singers1.mp3|titles=singers]
Life is all about
The unlearning of the mind
And the learning of the heart.
Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 41, Agni Press, 2004.