Harriman state park is just 30 miles away from all the heat and hub bub of New York city. Summer has its slender golden period that stretches invitingly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Before and after these magical dates summer does not officially exist to most folks. While this window of time remains opens however many feel obliged to take advantage of the opportunity and to flee their life in the city, which is so often defined by concrete and stress. A state park has either access to the ocean or a lake, and is always conjoined with a beach. This combination of natural elements is for many then the ideal destination to escape to. Harriman State park has its gorgeous Welch lake as its showpiece, and nearly 47,000 acres of unspoiled forested splendor. With its tantalizing proximity to the big apple it is not hard to visualize the sweaty hoards spilling onto the freeway and heading north to find sun and solace on its wide flat beaches and a generous expanse of nature trails. Yet after Labor day this mass exodus abruptly slows to a trickle. Harriman state park and particularly Lake Welch become still and almost desolate. Yet nature nature is not constrained by the fickleness of a calender and continues to offer its quiet charm and primal beauty throughout the year. It is in this unique setting that for the last 3 years that the Self-Transcendence Swim Run has taken place. It is an event that so far has not attracted unwieldy numbers and yet the number of entrants while comfortable offers a real challenge for individual as well as teams alike. In describing the event the web site is clear and accurate about what the swim run has to offer. Through a well marked and beautiful course, home-made lunch, medals for all finishers and especially a large community of committed and encouraging volunteers we try to offer a race atmosphere where beginners and veteran athletes alike can excel and transcend their own previous limits.
The passage of time is usually never very kind to the human condition. As the calender keeps shedding each worn out month the discarded pages pile up into stacks of years. It is then that the tap tap of age upon our shoulders seems to grow ever more insistent. Trying usually, without calling upon much effort, to convince us that we can and should go slower and do less as we grow older.
Yet Sri Chinmoy himself never surrendered to age and certainly hoped that his students would not listen to the braying frailties of our bodies, or the gibbering reluctance of our minds. There can be no better examples of this philosophy in action then Gaurima, Arpan, and Dipali who even after 30 years of continuous competition have never found any excuse not to still step up and enter this most special and uniquely challenging midnight run. Their memories are rich and full with moments when Sri Chinmoy not only watched with admiration from the sidelines but even back to the 2 years when he ran this race himself.
The 47 mile race has never lacked having an enthusiastic crowd of eager young participants. All willing to step off into the unknown realm of distance running and discover their own precious experience. Some dreaming and training just for that moment when they can push off from the starting line at midnight on August 27th.
Now over more than 33 years the track and road around Jamaica high school have tested and taught hundreds of runners some unique and fulfilling hard fought lessons. Each participant is inevitably confronted with not just the challenge of running an ultra distance but more importantly they are inevitably confronted by the simple truth, that by going deep within is also the answer to succeed in going not just 47 miles but also covering the total distance of one’s life.
During the early morning hours of August 27 1978 some wonderful and historic super 8 film footage was captured by Abakash. The very first 47 mile race had begun in the pitch darkness starting at midnight hours earlier. At that time 38 nervous young runners stood motionless at the starting line, having no real idea of what was before them or even certain whether or not they could complete the distance. Yet much stronger than all our fears and doubts combined was our love and admiration for our spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy who had created this unique race, 47 miles long. He had invited us all to run and as he now solemnly stood before us as we anxiously waited for him to personally start the race at 12am.
This all happened more than 30 years ago. Time has removed the sharpness and clarity of many moments of my life but the start of the first 47 I am certain is etched so deeply into my heart and life, its sweet memory has yet to fade or dim. I can still clearly remember as Sri Chinmoy stood in powerful silent meditation in the darkness. An almost indefinable outline, illuminated barely by far off streetlights, and a couple of dim flashlights. Yet where our eyesight’s failed, another part within us was acutely aware of his presence and his gratitude that we should participate in this great new undertaking. On this night and at the moment as the clock ticked past 12 it became his 47th birthday and the race began.
What we did not know then was that this race was his gift to us and to future generations of runners. An unprecedented 47 mile long spiritual journey whose goal was infinitely longer than 40 laps of Jamaica High School. Yet for each and all who participated it would also be in turn a powerful opportunity to bring to the fore some small measure of our own self offering. The very act of running a perfect gift to him who inspired us in the first place. It was and remains to be both an unprecedented sporting event and a unique spiritual exercise, that many continue to take advantage of, and seems destined to remain as a timeless tradition.
In the weeks leading up to that midnight start he had made clear that the 47 mile race was going to be something new and challenging like nothing before. We simply had but to let go of our doubts and fears and surrender fully to the experience. A short while later he coined a unique expression that clearly and beautifully defined what this sport of running could offer both outwardly and inwardly, “Run and Become, Become and Run.” Spiritual progress and athletics and fitness can and must go together. Continue reading “The 47 Mile Race, 2011: Pioneers”