All the runners had gone home last night, except for one. There were just a few minutes left before the curtain of midnight would descend over the course and even if you ran an extra lap it wouldn’t count. I know he has done something like this before. but suddenly, much to the astonishment of the handful of helpers who were still there, Pranjal decided to get one more lap in before the cut off came.
Picture if you will the very stark reality that he had already run 68 miles, and over 5 days is already close to 10 miles ahead of last year. He was attempting to run a lap quicker than he had certainly done all day and perhaps faster than any he had run from his very first day of the race. Sahishnu was one of the few who was still there and told me this story this morning. I, like most normally exhausted people was probably already beneath the covers and dreaming about just trying to make it to the race before Pranjal would again arrive here at 5:45 the next morning.
According to Sahishnu there was a little more than 6 minutes left. Normally a lap takes Pranjal 8 to 9 minutes to complete. There are no pictures of this of course and in the great scheme of things it is just one of those amazing moments that happens every day here in some way great and small to each and every runner.
The point here though is that Pranjal sprinted a lap in 5:30, squeezing it just in before it would no longer count. Then with out fanfare he hopped on his bike and went home. In the end for him it was just one more lap out of the 5649 he will need to do here to complete the race.
When you attempt to take a broad perspective of the Self Transcendence race, you cannot help but notice that everything is inexorably always moving forward. Nothing can ever remain static, everything is constantly moving and if obstacles thrust themselves up in front of you than they have to be pushed aside. If anything at all remains constant it is the runners undying faith that they have a divine inner purpose to be here and do their very best. The capacity they all have, they themselves just have to come up with the willingness and the shoe leather. Then every so often they do something impossible and make us all wonder just what we can accomplish as well.
You might like to call day 6 a rainy day but it just didn’t quite get into 100% rain mode. This morning dawns with sputtering showers that start and stop for long periods and than they simply recycle the same routine overs again and again. Put umbrella up, take it down, and then repeat exercise. By late afternoon however the rain would come back in a long continuous pounding accompanied by booming thunder. It became the kind of day when you are never completely dry. The best you can hope for is to not be soaking wet for too long a period of time.
“It’s okay, whatever comes.” Ananda Lahari of course is just about as experienced a 3100 mile runner as they come. This is his 7th race and over the past 6 years he has pretty well seen it all. There is somehow something remarkably effervescent about him. That even though he has to run along the same tough hard course as everyone else he still seems to be hoovering ever so slightly above the din and fray.
We talk about his first year here and he uses two words to sum up the experience. Depending on which he sums up various multiples of both the word pain and the word miracle. He tells me that as a novice runner, “every day was a miracle.” It took him 58 days to succeed and than with his typical ethereal smile he starts repeating, “pain, pain, pain.”
As a new runner here, he never quite understood how the cripple who staggered into bed every night could somehow come back each and every day and be able to run. The explanation for this transcendent ability he simply describes as miraculous, and though he doesn’t quite understand how it all happens, somehow he knows that it just does. It is the very nature of the race for this to occur.
He still feels that each year he is getting just a little better understanding of what is happening. The only certainty for him ultimately is that he simply has to keep coming back until it is no longer the right thing to do.
The other day I had seen him studying the lap sheets with real interest while he was out on the course. “It is like a newspaper. When you are watching the runners during the day you never actually know how they are really doing, because my miles I know.” He does confess that occasionally he looks at his own, particularly if he is doing well to receive just a little more inspiration.
In a world in which we usually demand instant gratification I ask him what he has learned about patience by running here. “I think I wasn’t patient enough in previous years. There was something in me saying, heh, walk, walk, walk. I was saying, no, I am in the race, I should run. But then I listened to this feeling. I needed more patience.”
He says that he is trying to listen to this voice and wants to start slowly. “I don’t have high mileage but I will see what is going to happen. Usually in previous years I killed myself in the first 2 days.” Then he says it becomes hard to recover from this. “Everybody is different in my case I have to get used to this concrete.”
He says that the demands the race puts on him are very hard to train for. It is not just the surface but also the whole routine of trying to eat while you keep moving and the unique pounding that comes from running here.
Finding the correct balance between trying too hard and taking it too easy is never an easy answer to reveal. He always hopes himself to be in tune with this intricate balance, “no pushing, no pulling, this is very difficult to find out.”
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“Right now it is perfect. When it is too hot than it is more difficult to run.” He says that only if it were to rain consistently all day that it would be a problem. He says that being too tired means that you can be adversely affected by weather. He calls it, “another load on your shoulders. But when you feel well then you can actually enjoy it.”
He says that most of us never spend their entire days outside and being exposed to nature in quite the same way as runners here at the 3100. Once you adapt to it then you can really enjoy the experience.
“I am enjoying it more than ever.” He reminds me however that to put things in perspective, that for me to ask him how he feels now, so early in the race would be like asking a 26 mile marathoner how they felt 10 meters into the race.
“I think I am able to listen more to my body, to my inner self. That I am having enough patience to run as I should. It is quite painful, but it is normal at this stage.”
He also admits that he doesn’t really think much about the race throughout the rest of the year. He says that when it comes to training, “I always try to run what I can. I don’t have any plan, which is bad probably.”(Laughter) Usually in the winter I run quite a lot. This year I ran less than last year but still I feel stronger somehow.
When I ask him what he believes self transcendence means, he reflects on this quietly for quite some time, and replies, “to be more and more happy.”
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Most days you can’t see the tiny scrawl that Atmavir scratched on the new sidewalk that they put down here last year. At the time a lot of construction was going on, in and around the course. The creation of the new infield took up a great chunk of the summer as well.
Last year Atmavir saw and took advantage of an opportunity when it briefly opened up. It probably took just a few seconds but he was able to leave an indelible mark here that meant a lot to him and probably all the other runners as well. You can’t really see it most of the time unless you look extremely closely. It is on rainy days such as this that the letters become legible.
They are simple and defining in their absolute clarity, ‘3100 miles.’ It is in a way the tiniest and most inconspicuous of monuments. The fact that you have to look really hard to find it makes it that much more fascinating. It doesn’t say much and yet it says everything.
All these 10 runners here have come to complete this simple task and many now, over the past 15 years have as well come and accomplished this most incredible of achievements.
No one has become famous or wealthy ever in doing this and yet these runners continue to defy the limits of the human body in a way that is really and truly baffling. Last night when no one really noticed Pranjal accomplished something beyond belief. Today, tonight, or in all the days that come many others will perform deeds equally remarkable. Very few will see what they have done, just as very few will ever notice these 2 words scratched in the ground under their feet as they walk by.
Miracles happen perhaps all the time and maybe if we are lucky, we just might see it, or at least hear about it and allow it to touch and inspire us as well. The greatest grandest monument may not move us as much as the simplest one, that was built out of pure love and devotion. One not based on the glories of the outer man, but dedicated instead to the highest ideals of the inner one.
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God the Infinite needs
Man the finite.
What else is a miracle?
Man the finite can easily love
God the Infinite.
What else is a miracle?
Sri Chinmoy, Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 87, Agni Press, 1983.