June 18: You Must Be Very Strong

3 years ago in 2010, when Surasa arrived at JFK airport in New York, she was asked by the Immigration officer what was the purpose of her visit to America.  She told the man that she had come to run the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race and would spend every day, that summer while visiting, running .   He was surprised of course and said, “you must be very strong.”  Surasa a veteran of many many multi day races remembers that she was a bit shocked by his words.  For she did not think of herself as strong or particularly special.  Perhaps there was part of her that simply thought that it wasn’t such a miraculous thing for one to run 3100 miles.  For she simply felt so strongly deep within herself that this was the thing she was supposed to do and that was that.


Very early on during that,  her first attempt at completing the race she had a bad case of shin splints.  Within a few weeks it became clear that her chances of making the full distance before the cut off had slipped away.  Time, always a relentless adversary would not surrender to her dreams.

Yet the nature of Surasa is such that she remained happy despite this setback.  Now If you have never experienced an injury of this kind then picture yourself trying to run one mile in searing agony and then simply imagine continuing doing that same thing over and over again for another 1000 more miles.

Where so many would crumple under the burden she prevailed.  She was so determined to do her best that she persevered, despite the pain, and finished that year with 2700 miles. At the end of all this she was happy and grateful to have made it that far.

The following year she returned and had no such problems or injuries.  She appeared to run efficiently and with regimented precision.  Finishing the race in an excellent time seemed to be well within her grasp.  Then on her 47th day on the course, with just 320 miles left to go, her right calf  was struck by a pain of such severity she could not move forward even one step.  A car had to be brought out onto to the course and pick her up so that she could receive medical attention.

A chiropractor who examined her at the time suggested that due to the catastrophic nature of the injury that he diagnosed that it would be impossible for her to continue.  He was so shocked by his examination of her leg that he couldn’t tell her his finding at the time.  He described to the race directors how even touching the area felt to her like being struck by a knife.

night4This kind of experience would break the spirit of most us.  Snatch away all your hope and extinguish the last bright beams of joy and and then simply toss what remains into into a abyss of despair.  But this is where Surasa did not go, or even ponder this option for even a moment.  If her leg was going to fail, if her body was going to suffer, then what and who she was inside would remain triumphant and undaunted by the burdens of the physical.

On her 48th day she returned to the course and somehow made a total of 12.8 miles.  The following day she completed nearly 30 miles.    Each step hurt, each mile she complete was one more hard fought victory of her inner self against the limitations her body was futilely trying to throw up against her. On the final night of the race, with just a couple of hours to spare she crossed the finish line triumphant.

Last year Surasa did not come back to the race due to injuries.  This year she felt the imponderable yet enchanting call of the race once again in her heart.  At age 55 there are few who would have questioned her decision not to come and run.

But she does not listen to the doubters.  She has no interest in the prognosticators who would predict that completing the race at this age within the strict time limits as unlikely.  She somehow has set aside fear and worries as being companions of which she has no interest or time for.  As of Sunday morning, the start of the race, she set off with 11 others, under the brightness of a beautiful dawn sky and then on deep into the stillness of a warm NY night.

At the end of 2 days of this she has completed 134 miles and as you read this and think of her she will probably be continuing to run and run.   You and I will, as the hot bright arc of the summer passes over us, be caught up in that same time, in challenges big and small, both compelling and boring, of some importance to ourselves but quite often just the silly little events that clutter up our days.  Surasa this summer will be running and only running, and if per chance you fly into New York and meet that same immigration officer at JFK airport, who asked her if she was strong, you can answer for her.


Where the heart’s eagerness
Is strong, very strong,
Life’s obstacles
Are weak, very weak.

Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 5, Agni Press, 1998

Photo by Bhashwar 1979
Photo by Bhashwar 1979

It is the few fragile moments before the race for the day will once again begin.   Pranjal ponders perhaps his uncooperative stomach which for the first time has weakened him.


Rupantar, amused by Baladev’s food bag shoots a video of it.  On it is a list of all the things he cannot eat.


Sarah perhaps checks her mail.   She made it through her 2nd painful day with 57 miles.


Sopan checks the mileage sheet and sees that after 2 days he has completed 132 miles.


Ashprihanal jokes that he wants to make a correct fashion statement by trimming his shoes just so.


Nidhruvi and her helper get her mornings drinks mixed.


Surasa also has some magic potions.


Sarvagata checks his miles and sees he is starting the race steadily with 132 miles after 2 days.


Pedro, the morning man, sees to everything for the morning set up.




The still brilliance of the dawn is mystical.


In such light everything looks just a little bit more beautiful than it will under the harsh glow as the sun races across the sky.


Misha practices his recorder. Birds accompany his playing.



“It is pretty amazing that he is here and we are very proud of him.”  Both Kagni and Niharika from Finland are here at the race and getting a chance to enjoy the race and particularly Ashprihanal as he runs for his 12th time.  Ashprihanal ran 51 miles yesterday and seems not to be quite into the flow of the race just yet.


I ask Niharika who is a therapist why she thinks that is.  “Last year he did not run and has been doing lots of climbing. I told him that the muscles are doing totally different work when climbing, although you are training.  Actually it is good but you need to run too.  It just takes time for your body to get adjusted to running.  He was having trouble running and felt as though they were kind of stuck.  He had a massage yesterday and now he can run.  Now the body starts to get used to this.  Also the heat.”


I ask her that since he has run so much why wouldn’t he simply be able to adapt like turning on a switch.  “No, the body is an amazing thing.  It is not like you can switch like that.  No, it takes a little time to get used to that.”

When asked what is like to be on the course Kagni says, “the energy is nice.  There is a nice inspiration from the runners.  They transcend themselves and every lap is different.  Ashprihanal tells us he goes through a lot of things.  And he is always cheerful.  It makes him very very happy when he is able to run.”


Niharika, “this is like self transcendence in reality.  It is not only a word.  Here you see it every lap and for the whole race.  It is amazing.”

Niharika and kagni

Boys will be boys


Enthusiasm Awakeners


Meanwhile back at camp.


Visitors of all kinds come by.


Bikes are repaired.


Decorations by nature as needed.


The magic of the dawn does not last long.


Medur always has time for a joke.  For fans of Star Wars he says,  ‘may the Fours be with you.’


Vasu carries the poem of the day with him.


Recited by Pranjal

Pranjal poem


Not much of surprise that Yuri has started well and has 140 miles.


A visitor from on high


Nidhruvi gets a look


Misha shares a song with Atmavir.


Some reading going on in camp


“Most of the time I don’t know what to say.”  Surasa is perhaps most comfortable simply running.  This morning I ask if we can speak for the first time this race and gently suggest that we have talked many times over the years that she has run here.  “I can just say that I am happy and grateful to be here again.”


Last year because of her injury she did not come but she says that she never thought that it was the end for her and this race.  “I always had in my mind that I would do it again.  I was always inspired to do it again.  It depends on how I am feeling.  If I have that feeling that my body is not strong enough or if the injury is not really healed, then of course I am not coming.”

“Very shortly before the race last year I had the hope that I would do it.  But then I realized that it doesn’t make sense.  I accept the situation the way it is.”  She says that it was only from time to time when she checked the race on the internet that she would feel a few pangs of longing, but that overall she was okay.


“The whole of last year I was thinking of doing it again, hoping and trying to get fit.”

I suggest that she is looking stronger than I have seen her before.  She suggest that it is possible but says overall she feels quite good.

When asked if the presence of 2 other girls in the race changes anything for her and she says no.  For her she has realized that the only strategy that works for her is to simply focus only on her own race.


I relate to her that Vasu had told me that he would do the race at least 10 times.   She laughs at this and says, “I do not think I will be doing it when I am over 60.  Thinking about this she suggest, “maybe when I am 60 I will do the 6 day race.  But you never know.  You can speak about it but you never know what your body has to say about it.”

As for what compels her to come back here.  “It is just inspiration from inside.  Whenever I think about the race I get such happiness so then I want to do it again.  I am just happy and grateful to be able to do it again.”


Enthusiasm Awakeners



My strong, very strong And extremely strong heart-muscles I have developed From my constant soul-obedience.

Sri Chinmoy, My Christmas-New Year-Vacation Aspiration-Prayers, Part 3, Agni Press, 2000


3 thoughts on “June 18: You Must Be Very Strong”

  1. Happy to see all your smiling faces again. And three young ladies this time in the mix – that’s very special!! Wishing you all the best race ever – may your outer and inner smiles stay bright and powerful. Thanks Utpal for your faithful reporting – photos and stories – I LOVE IT!!

  2. The opportunity to read and see what happens every day at the race is for me a great inspiration for my dayly life!
    Say CIAO from me to Vasu and Ananda-Lahari

  3. Thank you, Utpal. You have been doing a great job for all these years of races.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *