Day 36… Inner Running (July 21)

Every year at this time a city wide handball tournament is held in the park and it draws an enthusiastic and often boisterous crowds.  People interested in the trajectory of hard blue rubber ball smacked against a concrete wall, and understandably not so interested in the shuffling sweating warriors circling round them.

The aftermath of all day snacking, barbecuing, and trash making is a bit shocking.  The tournament usually goes quite late and if there is an attempt to clean up it is minimal and best which is of course not up to Vajra’s standard of cleanliness for the sacred course of the 3100 mile race.

But does the extra load bother him?  “Not at all.  Necessity knows no frustration for me.”

“The mere fact that you can have people running for 18 hours a day for 52 days is a phenomenal enough situation for any person to consider something as very unusual.  It is something for a spiritual person, who would recognize it as something that goes beyond.  It takes you to an inner realm where you can only feel it better than you can express it outwardly.”

“Whatever is inwardly spiritually illumining does not need anything outwardly to justify it or express it.  It just is.  You pick up on it just through your heart.”

“When you identify with heart to heart situations there is very little that you need to understand in terms of words.  It just is.”

“It is not only what you do but the spirit in which you do it.  If you do it for the purpose of glorifying some divine nature that is within you and that is within all of us then that thing becomes a very special thing.  It has its own way of manifesting itself to the outer world to those who are receptive enough to feel it.  Those people will receive something from it.”

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Day 35…Accomplishing The Impossible (July 20)

There is a certain kind of shocking wake up call I get every time I look at the live streaming Race Webcam.  The portion of my day spent on the sidewalk with the runners is usually just under 6 hours.  After which it is carrying 3 bags of cameras home and then trying to make sense of it all.

It feels like it takes me countless hours but the truth is, I can count them.  The moment I turned on the race camera this evening an additional 6 hours later I was shaken once again into the reality, that compared to the 8 runners, most of us on the sidelines have it pretty easy.

Todor, my interview subject from this morning walks into frame and is smiling.  It is not the hellish weather that makes him smile.  It is in the mid steamy 90’s and his shirt is stuck to his back.

It is not even likely the 43 miles he has done since 6 this morning.  He is happy because he is doing exactly the thing he was meant to do and in this moment he is heroically doing his very best.

“Really amazing 35 days.   The previous longest run for me was 6 days.  This race is really self transcendence for me.  It is difficult for me to understand on paper it is easy.  For me it is more than just mileage.  All of us here must overcome our difficulties.  We have to just go ahead.”

“I try not to look at the difficulties, just try and overcome them.  I just try and find a solution.  The important thing is to proceed forward.”

I feel oneness with the people.”  Todor says he has received support from around the world and feels this makes him stronger.  “It motivates me much more, and keeps me going forward.”

Talking about his fellow runners he marvels that everyone is traveling at different speeds but all share the same orbit of the course.  “It is like one solar system.”  Each of the moving bodies supports the action of all the rest. “The feeling of harmony helps all the runners.”

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Day 34…Love The Whole World (July 19)

“Yes it also made me happy, because there were trees and elephants in the joke.  It is always nice.”

Just a few minutes earlier Ashprihanal had told a joke to the Enthusiasm Awakeners.  His partner in the joke telling was Salil who happily played the straight man.

“Salil, How is it we do not see all the elephants hiding up in the trees?”

“I am not sure.   Why don’t we see the elephants hiding in the trees?”

“Because they are very very good at it.”

Ashprihanal, as an exchange student from Finland in the US had a chance to hike and appreciate nature like very few.  He hiked both the Pacific Coast trail and the Appalachian trail.  As you imagine those places you can almost smell the coolness of the deep piny woods and the inviting fresh cool lakes just a half more mile further down the soft mossy trail.

Which is to say these images compare not at all to the hard cruel concrete he has navigated in a never ending loop for the past 33 days.  Yet when asked about this he points with delight at the Japanese Maple that Sri Chinmoy planted many years ago.

There are tiny patches of flowers near the camp that he also notices and then there are of course the trees that he ever so gently pats most laps as he runs by.  But then again enjoying nature was not exactly in the description of the race nor is it now in this his 15th hot summer in Queens.

“It is how we look at things.”

I wondered how he appreciated the heavy thunderstorms the other day. “The lightning kind of wakes you up.  So something new is happening instead of the regular routine.  A short thunderstorm can feel like a change.”

“But if it rains all day then it is never nice.”

“There are some problems I had before and also some totally new ones.  There has been some limping but otherwise it has been quite good.”

When asked if being in first place helps.  “It is all in the frame of the mind.  It doesn’t matter which place you are in.  If your frame of mind is heavy then it doesn’t matter where you are.  So I don’t think it has to do so much with where you are.  Then how your mind is and how you feel.  That is most important.”

As we are running, which is already uncomfortably quick for me.   Ananda-Lahari speeds by.  With a smile of delight he says, “he is showing us the way to the Golden Shore.”

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Day 33…Accomplish The Impossible (July 18)

*Apologies to all for the sudden disappearance of Perfection Journey.  Due to an errant server issue it went temporarily off the rails.  Only due to the extraordinary efforts of technical support at Vasudeva was the blog guided back onto the tracks and we hope back up to its top speed towards its destination*

Conditions yesterday were abysmal.  It was hot, humid, and then in the evening the great soaked dark sponge of the night sky unloaded a downpour and illuminated its hellish creation with lightning.  Yet somehow 6 of the 8 runners still made the daily distance of 110 laps. The one who made the most of them all was a 39 year old runner from Ireland, Nirbhasa Magee, running for the 3rd time made 123 laps.

I remember talking to his brother Sadanand the first time he ran and was puzzled that his family were so utterly convinced he would accomplish it.   Even though his multi day background was limited.  Whether he draws from a very deep well of confidence or his ability is packed in somehow beyond the dimensions of his slight frame, it is now most likely he will transcend himself in his 3rd race here once again.

He has been skillfully assisted by Yahva and his brother Sadanand.  There may be a formula to measure efficiency of time and if it was ever necessary to do so this Doctor of particle physics could probably do it.

“The crew are extremely helpful.  I did have some crew at the last race.  I guess as well my speed is up compared to 2 years ago.  My weight is a lot better.”  Nirbhasa says he is 3 kilos heavier than his previous race and feels that is all muscle mass and helps with his added strength and endurance.  Most useful in the 2nd half of the race.

“Those are the outer reasons, inwardly this is the race I am supposed to be running this year. Every time you run the race you definitely feel as though you are connected to something here.”

He feels that whenever we pray and meditate whenever we go out into the world it is hard to keep that inner connection.  “But here you almost follow your plan.  You do the miles that have been laid out for you.  Your job is to show up in the morning and follow the plan somehow.”

“Inwardly your heart and soul wants to do a certain task today.  You just have to show up and do that.”

With 2100 miles completed he has now another 1000 miles yet to do.  “It is always good when you realize that you have so much done.  At the same time you have to be very very careful not to think about how much you have left.  I still have a huge distance.”

“The strategy now is almost the same as it was on day one.  Take every day one at a time.  Show up every day as a new day.  Treat every day with newness and enthusiasm.  Just try and do your best for that particular day.”

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Day 32… The Reality of Peace (July 17)

Yesterday, on his 31st straight day of running Annanda-Lahari ran 77 miles. It was 10 miles further than anybody else had run that day and was only surpassed by his very first day of the race, in which he ran 82 miles.

To see him caught up free and unrestrained in the realm of speed is to behold a full throttled miracle. It can be hot, and it can be stifling humid and with his head protected by his large floppy hat he just goes and goes. Almost defying the intolerable friction of concrete and heat.

“I did 77 miles so you can say in a way that it was special. But every day is special.” Ananda-Lahari explains that there are also days when he tries his hardest and is still only able to make a much smaller number of miles.

“Yesterday I pushed hard and also had speed. So it is not my choice. It is the Supreme’s choice.”

“Somehow I felt already the day before that I would go for higher miles. It worked.” When asked if he got joy from the big mileage he says no. “Yesterday I was pushing pushing pushing and no real flow.”

“Early this morning I was falling apart, but now it is getting better and better. I can run very well now. We need patience and perseverance.”

“It should be easy. I know it is like that. You just need to enter into your heart and enjoy the whole day. Then we run and run and run. This is the goal but there are many many times when it is extremely hard.”

“You can’t just think too much ahead of yourself. So you stay focused. I have this lap to make and then the next one. You can’t think of the whole day because then you might think. O God, how am I going to survive this day?

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Day 31…Across Life’s Ocean (July 16)

I have to remind myself most days that while I had something close to a comfortable night in bed the runners have at best snatched just a few hours of rest. (with or without air conditioning) Harita ran 62 miles yesterday, something that will take me more than a week to do if I am lucky, and lets not forget she has spent the last 30 days running 1825 miles so far.

When we start our interview this morning a construction crew is tearing up the street at one end of the block. “You try not to notice them. But that particular (Noise ) has my whole body vibrating.”

“I have fantastic helpers. There are quite a few girls helping me. Suhasini is on the wake up shift. From waking me up to getting me out of bed until 8am. She is very good entertainment. She starts my day by telling me something completely random.”

One of Harita’s other remarkable feats is that she and Suhasini have told a joke together each day of the race in order to entertain the Enthusiasm Awakeners.

She believes that one of the earlier runners in the race, Grahak started the practice which has been caught on by others over the years. “Some of the boys realized that by performing a joke it magically makes you feel better.”

“It seemed pretty easy so I really quickly saw that if you have something in the first hour of the race to try and take your mind off all your aches and pains, exhaustion and tiredness. Then it can really really help. You feel lighter. It forces you to be in a more positive state of mind.”

“It really helps me to feel better. That is the main reason I do it. It is super nice to do something that gives people joy. If you can do anything in your life to give people joy then I think that is something that is really rewarding inwardly.”

“Fortunately or unfortunately each day is a whole new experience. Sometimes you have a great day and then the next you feel super exhausted. I felt super exhausted when I woke up this morning.”

One of the things Harita appreciates in particular about doing the race is being exposed to nature. “Last night there was a beautiful sunset and there was a full moon rising at the same time. Sometimes you feel that mother nature is really there with you.”

“You feel that you are this tiny part of something so much greater. That is one thing I have been trying to feel and that is something that I have been able to do more in this race, and more so as the race has gone on.”

She also says she doesn’t want to feel as though she can’t wait for the race to be over. She doesn’t want to imagine either that the 3100 is just about completing the distance.

“I want to really treasure the experience and be in the moment and take this as an incredible opportunity to be an instrument of God’s grace and really experience the fullness of the moment, and my own spirituality.”

Day 30…My Sincere Aspiration (July 15)

When I look back to this morning when I interviewed Vasu I am still in a kind of state of awe at just how good a person he is.  We all have people, or at least we should have people in our lives that inspire us and lift up our perspective and appreciation of the sometimes not so perfect world around us.  I have played  the opening part of our conversation again and again.

Me: Is it a good day ?

Vasu: Every day is a good day

We all can mouth those words mechanically and out of politeness when asked how our day is going.  Vasu however when you hear him say it you absolutely know and feel it to be true.  How this world of ours could do with more, many more Vasus.

Of course as he is saying this he is actually running and not walking in obvious pain as he has done off and on for at least 2 weeks.  “The blister is almost gone.”

Yesterday he did what was for him a not so great day.  He ran 60 miles.   Asked if he is disappointed,  “no, no , no, I try to be happy.  Everything is in God’s hands. Not in mine.”

Another piece of good news that he recently learned about was that his helper Nikolai had decided to change his ticket and stay and help Vasu till the end of the race.  “Yesterday he changed his mind and I am very happy.  He helps a lot.  From the morning until the evening.”

Last year Vasu won the race for the third time.  In this, his 8th year in a row of running I ask him if he minds not being in first place.  “No matter.  Just be happy.  Everything is good.  We are all a family.  If somebody else is leading it is also good.”

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Day 29…Always Do Your Best (July 14)

If attempting to complete the Everest of running competitions is next to impossible than attempting to tell its story in one complete documentary would be, for nearly all, also out of reach teetering on some distant pinnacle.  As someone who has taken regular tiny nibbles of this giant puzzle I understand the staggering complexity of the task.  And Yet Sanjay Rawal 3 years ago, along with a superb technical team has put together a film, 3100: Run and Become, that does so both brilliantly and beautifully.

“The movie was released in 2018 in theaters all around the US, and it is now on Amazon and Itunes.  We wanted to do a film about this race, the world’s longest.  At the same time we wanted to show how and why this race is even possible.”

“Obviously it all comes from the meditative aspect of the race.  So we went back in time to look at traditional culture.  The Navajo, the Kalahari bushmen, and the marathon monks of Japan.  Number one, to dispel the myth that this race was anything crazy or outlandish. But to also show that if you run from the heart, if you run from the spirit than anything is possible.”

With the award he received for best Director at a recent Film Festival in Bulgaria

“I enjoy running a lot more than I used to.”  This Sanjay says is one of the benefits of getting so deeply involved in the distance running culture.  “Not by seeing these people suffer, but finally understanding why these men and women come out every single summer.  Do a race, that seems on the surface to be the most painful experience that a human being could have.”

“When you are out here you see this constant blossoming of people’s hearts.  So understanding why that happens has actually made me a better runner.”

“This race is extremely difficult to understand.  Because the mileage is so far beyond what 99.99% of runners experience or want to experience.  So there is a little bit of confusion I think when people approach this race.  Because they look at it from the numbers.  They only look at the surface. From the location, on sidewalks in New York city in the summer.”

“I think the purpose of our movie was to show that there is a deep inner side of the race and that inner aspect of the race I think that every single runner on earth can identify with.  So I think when people come to the race now they come with an understanding that it is a spiritual journey.  Not so much an outer one.”

The trailer for the film

“When Sri Chinmoy was in the physical he would come out here once a day, twice a day and the runners felt his constant presence here.  I know in the period after his passing for 2 or 3 years the runners had to struggle a lot more for the level of enthusiasm that he brought outwardly to the event.”

“Then again you can’t accomplish 3,100 miles without a deep inner connection to your heart. So in that sense I feel his presence is here now stronger than ever.  Because the race, despite the absence of his presence physically is getting stronger and stronger and bigger and bigger, and more well known each year.”

“And that just shows that his presence and spirit is not going to leave this place.”

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Day 28…We Must Go Forward (July 13 )

“I think it has a huge significance.”  2 days ago on day 26, the half way point in the race, I asked Kaneenika if she felt that it was an important time for the runners.

“You get to the half way point and you are happy that you have reached 1550 miles.  But then there is another thought.  On one side it is very hopeful but on the other it is so scary.  It is scary because you still don’t know what is going to happen.”

“You know you have gotten this far but you still have to go quite a bit.”

I ask her what happens to those runners at this point who know they won’t be able to complete the distance.  “That is a hard one.  You just have to place it at the feet of the Lord Supreme.  Of course I think it is easier to say it than to actually do it.”

“Your mind is always telling you, O you could push a little more.  In some cases it is not really possible.”

“When I did the world record I did not feel that I was really pushing.  I still feel that it wasn’t me.  It was just done through me.”

Kaneenika is adamant that even setting a world record is not an ultimate achievement in self transcendence.  “I think in all of us there is room for transcending more.  I feel that this year, even though I am not in the race there is something happening that I feel that I am making progress and I hope self transcendence as well.”

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Day 27… Wisdom Knows (July 12)

It is unlikely that no more than a handful out of the thousands of cars that pass by the course every day have any idea that something special is happening right there beside them on the sidewalk.

Some miracles take place in broad bold strokes and yet, even though the dimensions of the 3100 mile race are colossal.  It’s visual imprint on passing eyes is subtle and not exactly spectacular.

The drivers of those speeding cars might be surprised at just how much of their hurtling trajectory is actually perceived by the shuffling band of 8.  Ushika told me this morning, “At one point we had a car accident at the highway bridge. ”

“So the police came, the fire department, and luckily no ambulance was needed.   But the people who were involved they had to wait there for hours, and hours in the blazing sun.”

“So when you identify with them, they were waiting and suffering.  It looked like the situation would never end.  The people had to wait and wait.  But on the other hand in just a few hours they were gone.  While we the runners are still turning and turning,  and continuing to move.”

“Things come and go and vanish here.  But we ever move on.”

Yesterday, despite heavy evening showers Ushika had his best day in 2 weeks.  He ran 55 miles.  “When I had to exercise patience last year, this year I have to exercise super patience.  It is so strong this quality.  I feel that I have to develop even more and more.”

“I am trying to devote myself to the race.  I cry and try to do more.  To devote myself more.  Not to back up, to go forward with more intensity.”

Ushika then goes on to describe a battle formation once described in the Mahabharata in which the members formed an impenetrable shield.  He sees that the 8 runners here by circling around and around are also forming a kind of cosmic energy field.  “We are turning and turning without any stopping.”

“Things are happening around here with the camp and the school kids.  Ever more people are exercising on the sport field.  We have so many events going on which are so present and in the moment.

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