Day 49…Our Thoughts & Our Deeds (August 3)

There are more than a few of us, those who are fans of Harita that is, who spent some portion the past few days worrying about her.  The symptoms she had were the kind of spooky variety where you usually gently suggest that they should just go home and take the day off and get well.

The Self-transcendence race is however not the kind of place that the runners who come here ever simply meekly follow the breadcrumbs back home.  Harita is not that kind of runner or that kind of woman.

There is a resilient toughness built into her along with a keen intellect, and I guess you better at this point add a healthy dose of poise and patience.  Harita’s dad Phillip who just came today said that even as a little girl she was advanced beyond her years.   As of last night she prodded and pushed a queasy body to 59 miles and seems to have found herself back in that final charge to the finish line.

“You never really know probably until the last mile.  I am feeling much better for sure.  I am still on track to finish within the 52 days.  Which is great so I feel very blessed.  I am feeling a lot better.”

During the rough spell she says she wasn’t too worried.  “One part of me was.  A huge part of the experience of this race is to just keep going forward.  When challenges arise you face them and try to figure them out.  Do your best and have faith, that everything will work out.”

“I was a bit sick but it wasn’t different than other challenges at the race.”

“Every day is so big.  I really want to absorb everything at the end of the race.  Right now I am having the experience of today.  I definitely have had a lot of hard times, challenging times, and really beautiful times as well.”

Harita says that she is not one who has high revelatory experiences.  I just feel so grateful for the opportunity to be able to serve God in his own way and really be at the forefront of my own capacity.”

“I think so often in our lives, that we fashion ourselves to be well within our comfort zone.  It is only when you challenge those comfort zones that you find real fulfillment, but some times you can trick yourself into what a real challenge is.  This race is definitely a real challenge.  It brings out a lot of things in me that are challenging but also so extremely rewarding.”

“Some of the nicest moments are running at night, when it is really peaceful, and dark and quiet.  You feel like it is just you and your breath.  The sky and stars.  It is so unusual and yet so profoundly normal feeling at the same time.”

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Day 48…Our Aspiration-Heart (August 2)

Sporting events have a unique way of capturing our imagination with defining moments of excellence if not transcendence.  Since I was quite small the image of Roger Bannister being the first to break the 4 minute barrier in the mile has always been a feat that continues to inspire me even though that mark has long been surpassed by so many others.

The reason I am impressed by that one in particular is that I have run many miles and though I am far from the caliber of Roger Bannister I can identify with 4 laps of the track at top speed.  But how many of us can even come close to fully grasping the magnificent accomplishment of Ashprihanal here today when he finished the race for the 15th time.

Once you take even a modest poke at all his statistics and records a veritable avalanche of data can inundate you.  I am not a very thorough journalist but I suspect there just may be no one else in the world who has come close to achieving what this 48 year old runner from Vihti Finland has accomplished here this morning on top of everything else he has done.

A letter from his counsel general in New York said, “our warmest congratulations.  You have shown us the Finnish strong will and determination, to make it to the finish line.  We are truly proud of you.”

Sahishnu said, “you are extraordinarily talented, kind, and considerate of your fellow runners and your fellow human beings.  He completed the race in 47 days, 1 hour, and 39 minutes.  An average of 65.864 miles a day.  That is the 36th best performance in the history of the race out of 156 performances.  You are still on top of the board of the 43 runners.”

“This is extraordinary.  You grace us with your presence at every race.  All these feats of incredible endurance, it is absolutely amazing.  I know Sri Chinmoy is beaming with joy, enthusiasm, and gratitude for you and for us being allowed to do this thing.  This 3100 is an amazing event.  As you well know and you grace it with your divine presence.  You are an amazing guy.”

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Day 47…Of Paramount Importance (August 1)

“I have to say I am so happy that my heart won over my mind.  To come here and run this year, my mind would never have made the choice.  My heart made the choice instead.”

In both 2016 and 2017 Smarana had very challenging experiences at the 3100.  Despite completing the distance 7 years in a row from 2002 to 2008 and taking a long break this great Austrian runner could not reach the finish line 2 years in a row.  It had to be disheartening because in so many ways he is so well equipped physically and had so much experience.  It just didn’t seem to make any sense that he didn’t do it, and also, what made even less sense was to come back to try it once again this year.

Yet as of this morning he is just 300 miles from the goal.  Smarana says, “it feels really good.  But there is still 300 miles to go.  I have a good cushion so it doesn’t pose any pressure on me.  Still, until you cross the finish line you have to be really focused.”

“You never know what comes.  Yesterday in the evening.  I pushed a little bit, and I fell.  All it takes is one bad one and your race is over.  So until the finish line you have to keep your focus, and keep it together.”

“So far it has been an amazing journey.  I have collected a bag full of experiences, that I will be happy to take out when I get home, and relive, and enjoy again.”

Smarana confesses that a lack of confidence was something that he has been working on since day one here.  “It has been working pretty good so far.  The race helped me tremendously to work on it.  You learn so much how to deal with it.  It is really amazing that I could be part of this journey here.”

Smarana looks back at the last 2 races as stepping stones.  In his earlier 7 races he was stronger and more confident.  He felt that there was a strong force from Sri Chinmoy that helped him to accomplish them.  But in the last of that series in 2008 he had some serious issues.  “I kind of burned out.”

Almost from the beginning of the race in 2016, he was thinking, “it is hot I want to go home.  My mind just wanted to escape.  It didn’t want anymore pressure.  I feel these 2 races were still stepping stones to get back into it.  To rid myself of the dramatic experience I had previously in 2008.”

“It looks like I have been through it and I now definitely have a lot of confidence.”

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Day 46…A Stronger Heart (July 31)

“Its never over until its over.”  Nirbhasa has had on paper at leas a great race.  As of this morning as he starts the day, in this his 3rd race, he is 9 miles ahead of his previous best.   It is a razor thin margin when you are calculating through all the thousands of miles that he has run.  Yet whatever his fate may be in the days ahead, when he goes home tonight the finish line will be less than 200 miles away.

The incredibly hot and humid weather has mostly passed, but its effects still linger in the faces and legs of those most devastated by it.  Nirbhasa was given a blow that he has still not yet fully recovered from.  “I am not entirely sure what happened.”

“During the really big heat wave about 10 days ago, I basically got heat exhaustion.  Especially during hot days I haven’t yet fully recovered.  It still flares up.”

“We had a period of sustained heat, the previous 3 days.  I just have to be very careful, and somehow deal with it.  It was my first time dealing with, particularly that level of heat.   It was 100 degrees in the shade, and the real heat index was something like 105.  20/20 hindsight is always a great thing.  You just deal with the situation you have, here and now.”

The qualities Nirbhasa feel that are most important to doing the race are patience and perseverance.  “You have to sense that the race is your job.  That while you are here, you are inspiring so many people.  That you are doing something beneficial.  You need a sense of dedication to that purpose.”

He says that when it comes to Joy, “you find moments throughout the day whenever you can.”

As for the finish line which is drawing so, so close.  “Yes and no.  If you start thinking too much about it you still have a job here to do.  I still have a few days left to complete.  You have to focus on the task at hand.”

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Day 45…An Unprecedented Journey (July 30)

“My last interview,” Ashprihanal says as he rounds the corner by the handball court.

I am standing of course just beyond waiting to greet him but what I see, rather than hear, is just how much he is smiling with an innocent glee.  For now with just a little more than 200 miles more to go he surely just has to reach across a few more days and lovingly touch the finish line here for the 15th time.

Ashprihanal says, “the last 200 miles is like all the other 200 miles.  It is not a big change.”  When he had 700 miles left he told Sahishnu that from that distance he could comfortably see himself arriving at the goal.  “You start to see you are getting closer to the end.”

He says it doesn’t get easier at this point and pretty much stays the same.  “But it is not getting harder either.  So that is nice.”

“This is like a pilgrimage so we all try and go together.”  He has not been focusing on the fact that he will be this years race champion.  “I am just trying to run the race.”

“It has always been clear to me that this is an outer race.  Then there is this inner thing.”  Ashprihanal believes as time passes he is experiencing the inner qualities of the race more and more.   “I am trying to feel that the spiritual inner part is more important than the outer part.”

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Day 44…Sweet Days and Bitter Days (July 29 )

I am not sure how long ago I first started keeping my fingers crossed and mumbling little prayers, hoping that Ananda-Lahari not only completes the full distance but also sets a new record for himself in the process.  It has also occurred to me that there are likely others whose twiddling fingers are as agitated as my own and whose lips are continuously quivering.

The odd thing of course is that the runner in question isn’t the least concerned about our worries for him.  He is not worried at all. When asked if he can feel the finish line’s call yet he says he doesn’t even know how far away it is.  “It is only today.  I know I have to focus on one day.”

Ananda-Lahari is a world class smiler and I ask him if he ever has to work at it.  “Yes I have to.  Especially when my stomach is messed up and I am not smiling.  Then I know, even if I force myself to smile then it will get better.  It is not a fake smile.  You just start smiling.  Focus on I want to smile.  I want to be happy.”

Ananda-Lahari is not completely unaware of how close he is to setting a personal record.  “I just can’t influence if I will make the record or not.  But it is nice to hear that I can do it.”  He feels he simply has to continue on and do his very best every day.

“I didn’t know how many times I would come to the race.  I just wanted to come as many times as possible.”

“I would say in general, on days I feel weak, then everything slows me down.”  He says it can be heat, rain, or humidity if he is weak then he will be affected.  “Once you feel strong then nothing slows you down.”

“I guess every moment is a mediation here.  But consciously of course it isn’t.  I talk, I eat, and there are times when I am not focused.  But I guess every step here is meditation in action.”

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Day 43…Easily Become Perfect (July 28)

“I think you have to stay focused until the last step.  You never know what awaits for you.”

This morning Kaneenika, the women’s record holder for this event quickly dispelled any notion that the race can get any easier in its precious few waning days.  A prospect that on paper at least seems possible.  Instead Kaneenika says, “you must concentrate on what you are here to do.”

“Now, since I am not in the race, I am thinking it is so exciting.  It is almost over.  Yet I know I can’t say that to the runners who are in the race.  Because I know how it feels when people tell you that.”

“I remember in one race someone told me, it’s almost over there is one day to go.  And I was like, you have no idea what it means to go one more day.  Even to go one more lap might seem like an eternity.”

Kaneenika says she is always surprised at just how much people are aware of what is happening here.  “I think people do feel that something special is happening here.  Very often you feel that some of the people who walk here and run here don’t understand what is going on here. ”

“But then they say something to you and you are surprised.”  Kaneenika then describes a man who used to come around the course quite often last year when she was running.  “Last year when it was really hot and humid he would actually give me the weather forecast.  He would say, tomorrow it is going to be cooler.  He did it just to encourage me to go on.”

There are many essential qualities that help the runners persevere the ordeal of running 3100 miles.  Kaneenika believes that being happy is at the top of the list.  “Happiness is very important here.”

She recalls a time when she was not having a good day.  “I saw somebody on the course and they made me smile.  Then when I came back to the camp I saw an aphorism of Sri Chinmoy saying, just one smile immensely increases the beauty of the universe.  I realized that it is important to be happy here, and to smile.  In that way we can give a lot to the world doing this.”

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Day 42…Enthusiasm Is Strength Indomitable (July 27 )

This morning was just about as spectacular as it gets at the 3100 mile race.  A set of tables groaned with an incredible assortment of goodies, a little machine was blowing an endless stream of bubbles up into the hot morning air, and yes Parvati and the Enthusiasm Awakeners were celebrating another anniversary of this understated but hugely significant group of girl singers.

It is really the simplest of things to drag yourself out of bed and stand with a bunch of other girls in matching t shirts and go through a hand clapping repertoire of songs that lasts about 40 minutes.  It is quite something else to do this with energy and joy and absolute commitment for more than a decade.  I am in awe and admiration for this little miracle that has played out for so long and so beautifully here at the race.

“July 27 marks the anniversary when Guru gave Parvati’s singing group the name Enthusiasm Awakeners. That’s today and we are celebrating here at the 3100 with lots of prasad,”said Paree this morning.

“We used to sing here at the 3100 starting in 2006.”  Innocently enough  Parvati chose the race as a venue to honor Sri Chinmoy’s 75th birthday that year by singing 75 songs a day for 19 days.

Parvati said, When I mentioned this upcoming project to Sri Chinmoy, he was delighted but also wondered how many singing group members would actually come — and how many would ‘make friends with the goddess of sleep’. To our delight, Sri Chinmoy would often drive by our group singing and later in the summer began to stop and teach us a brand new song.

Paree smiles and her hand reaches out towards the end of the block as she describes the daily arrival of Sri Chinmoy’s little red car.

“It started out as this limited project and then became a tradition.  There is such a special relationship between this group of girls singing and the runners.  It is so sweet.  We come out to support them by singing Guru’s songs, offering Guru’s songs which is what we can do.”

On their part some of the runners perform little skits.  “It is just adorable.  It is such a cute relationship.  It feeds everybody.  It feeds everybody on every level.”

“The runners enjoy it.  The singers enjoy it.”  Paree says the membership is simply open to any girl who wants to come.  “She has made it extremely easy for anyone.”

“It is so fun.  Somehow it is easy to wake up in the morning.”

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Day 41…To Achieve Happiness (July 26 )

I don’t exactly know, just how many times a day, I am struck by the realization of just how difficult a task the 8 runners at the 3100 actually have.   It comes almost like a flash of light or the sound of a big gong being struck a particularly powerful resonating blow.  It seems to be tied generally when I start to feel a little weary or a little sorry for myself.  Boom/ Flash, your task is nothing when compared to theirs.

I am genuinely in awe of all the runners of course but somehow Vasu was designed without complexity, with maximum sweetness, and a kind singular focus on transcending himself here like it is nearly impossible to believe.  Which is of course his 8th year in a row.

Asked why he loves the race, “you don’t know why you love it.  For everything.  For good consciousness, good people, you do the right things, and everything is good.”

2 days ago Vasu had one of his worst days ever with just 49 miles.   Yesterday he improved to 59 miles, and if I am correct at the speed we are running at this morning his total for day 41 will be very high indeed.  He is passing everybody and I am huffing and puffing like an old steam engine.

“A week ago I could not run.  I don’t know why, maybe heat, maybe my mind, maybe something else.” 2 days ago however Dr.Kausal came and started working with Vasu to help increase his speed.  Between a very painful massage and some remedies clearly something has worked.

“Yesterday in the evening I started to run a little bit faster.  Today, this morning I am very grateful for his help.  I hope everything will be good.”

“I am trying to feel more gratitude, and peace, and purity, and discipline.”  Vasu hopes to continue some of his spiritual practices when he goes home.  He wants to continue to make progress.

“I think it is good not just for me, but it is also good for the world, and humanity.  Here is a very special place.  I think it works for all the world.”

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Day 40…Time To Be Happy (July 25)

“I even had my jacket on this morning.  I love it when I freeze in  the New York summer.”  The weather here at the race has always been the most unpredictable force that the runners have to find some way to manage.   Days of heat and days of humidity and days of rain are the 3 foes of every summer time race here. You can’t beat them but somehow instead must resolve to work out a relationship of compromise and acceptance. Coax out of a hard day as many laps as you can and hope they add up to 109.

Today only 3 runners made it past 60.  Unusual unless you consider the devastating affect the weather has had over the past several days.  An inevitable price must be paid.  So Ushika, who wore a coat this morning says, “definitely the outer circumstances have brought more joy to my running.”

“Each and every day is different.  Each day has a  new challenge and a new joy.  There is always something new coming up.  Meanwhile I am always looking forward to see what is coming up, even if it is a challenge.”

“You crack one issue and then the next one pops up.  It is a nice game.”

“I just had an experience yesterday.  Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined, that I would think at one point that this race is too short.  But yesterday my mind was thinking that it is too short.  I want more.”

Ushika says he doesn’t fully understand but the experience was clear.  “I had a desire for more.  To dive deeper into the matter.  Dive deeper into the race.   Dive deeper into myself.  To discover more sooner. I got a taste for it and now I want more besides all the challenges.”

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