Day Six: Character Building

This is my first time in New York, and I am next to a freeway with winds, and rain which made an interesting night, but it was all character building.”  It is shortly after noon on Saturday and Martin Fryer has been running in the Self Transcendence race for a little more than 24 hours.  Despite the horrendous conditions he is running with shocking ease and fluidity.  At times the rain cascades down around us and creates a splashing mess on the road.  Martin barely acknowledges  the tumult and slaloms skillfully around the puddles.  His only nod to the inclementness  is to that he simply tugs the strings to his hood tighter and doesn’t miss a step.

Of all the runners here Martin Fryer is clearly the one everyone would like to keep their eye on.  It is not just his speed, and the lightness of his steps, it is also apparent that he just might keep up this fabulous flow and momentum, all the way to the end of day 6.  It is unfair to heap this kind of pressure upon anyone in an event that is just starting.   Yet Martin’s demeanor is also as light and hopeful as his footfalls.

The story of Martin’s entrance into the ultra world began with a move to Sydney where the club he joined there, the Sydney Striders had several ultra members. “Someone took me under their wing, a mentor, that was in 1997.  By 2004 I tried my first 24 hour race which I won and did well in and I thought I had obviously found a niche.  And a terrible niche as it is,” and he offers a light self mocking laugh.  “There is something very pure about these events.  What I have learned has made me a better person and a better runner.”

He is very serious about how participating in long races has transformed him.  “I think one of the big lessons I have learned over the past few years, I think early on I tried to control everything.  I think the last few years I have tried to run more organically, and realize you have to let go and surrender.  It makes it much more joyful, and I have had better results as well, so that was nice icing on the cake.”

“I think you have the potential to try and control it, but I have found you reach a point, what I call analytical thinking.  But after several days in these races the parameters all go out the door.  That is when faith and intuitive thinking become so much more important, and you realize that you are released from that, and all the analytical loops that you been caught up into, when you can’t control the parameters.  It has made a great lesson for me and the rest of my life too.”

I ask him what has drawn him to come so far from his home in Australia.  “Just the name of this race, Self Transcendence, I mean, that is exactly why I am here.  I know it is going to be ugly at times, but you need to expand your mind and uplift yourself, and to work through it.  It is a great metaphor for your whole life.  You are going to have tough times, but if you have the faith, you will come out through the other end of it.”

“I know outsiders find it all very strange and quirky.  They often see us all as a bunch of eccentrics.  But I think outwardly they see changes in you, and they go ‘gee, maybe they might be on to something.’  I guess it is all the ultimate karma yoga.  Just working every day, going around and around.”

Despite an impressive resume of Australian and Commonwealth age group records in several distances Martin has never completed a 6 day race.  He attempted only one before and had to pull out due to injuries.  He has come here with a wide spectrum of goals he hopes he can accomplish.  The top ones he describes simply as the, “big hairy audacious goals.”  Which translated into real numbers is 900km (485miles). “The bottom goal is to finish, so I have been a lot more careful in day one here.  Just sort of looking after myself.  Trying to run a bit more easily.  I think one of the things I have learned, from the first one I did as well was, I went in with the wrong attitude.  I came in with just a purely competitive attitude.”

He describes that for him how a light bulb came on, after being in his previous attempt and making it to day 3, and being stung by injury.  “O now I get it, so that talking to people and sharing the experience.   So this time I feel much happier about it.”

He tells me as well that he is not focusing on his competition what so ever.  He has made a decision not to look at the board.  “You need to run your own race.”

Click to play interview


Continue reading “Day Six: Character Building”

Day Three: Listening To His Own Heart

With so many nationalities represented and so many different languages spoken, sometimes communication can be a little awkward at the Self Transcendence race in Flushing Meadow.  But when you strip away the runners origins, eliminate personal habits, and simply just forget all the little idiosyncrasies that make up our fragile humanity something very powerful and genuine remains. It is of course the heart.  It beats in the core of each runner and is the true engine that powers each and every one who runs here.

Some arrive so naturally gifted that when they run you might think you are seeing some ephemeral mirage.  Yet within the super talented, if their heart and will is not strong,  you will sense pretty quickly, as you watch them run that something is missing.  It is perhaps what we all seek as well, that spark of indomitable life force.  When we see it in others it can ignite our imagination and inspire us, as we see it burning within them.

In others as well, you sometimes find such incredible determination and energy that their bodies can barely contain it.  Yet, despite this great capacity, the physical can only give so much.  The body not really capable of harnessing this phenomenal life force.

When you watch Yuri Trostenyuk, 47, Vinnitsa, Ukraine, you cannot help but notice that rare combination, of both a strong body and a superbly strong will.  A fellow Ukrainian admiringly describes him as the epitome of the Ukrainian spirit.  For him this is a resilient toughness, that simply never ever gives up.

There is nothing pretty about his running style, but it doesn’t take to long to appreciate that he has an efficient and economical stride, as much as anyone on the course.  He simply looks as though he is built to run, not at high speed, but simply to keep going and going forever.  This is the 5th time he has come, last year he won the race and set a personal best of 693 miles.  Currently, after 48 hours on the course he is leading with 189 miles.

I was able to run with him today accompanied by a translator.  He tells me that he loves the race because it gives him a special experience that he can get in no other way.  I wonder why he would pick such a difficult task like running 10 days to achieve this.  He laughs and tells me that the goal may be hard to find, but when you at last reach it you see that it was worth all the effort.

He tells me that his first race here was very difficult for him.  Yet despite this it was so fulfilling that he wanted to come back as often as he could, and do it again and again.  He compares each new race here as if they were individual lifetimes.  Each one evolving in its own way and hopefully reaching new heights with each attempt.

Even though he is leading the race at this moment Vladamir is just a few miles behind.  I ask him if he feels any pressure from those who are so close behind.  He tells me that the God that lives in his heart inspires him to do this, and so presumably he does not listen to the footsteps following so closely behind.  Instead he just listens to his own heart.

There is one, not so secret inspiration he has that he hopes one day to fulfill, and that is participate in the longest race in the world, the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race.  His message to all runners is simply to never stop.  Never be discouraged by problems, or when things get difficult, there is a sun in front of them.

click to play interview (English/Russian)


Continue reading “Day Three: Listening To His Own Heart”

Day One: “We Have To Have Faith”

“I think it really helps running with people when you are in a low spot.  I just did a long race 5 days ago and I am really struggling.”  It may seem a little peculiar for an experienced multi day runner to be having a tough time just a few hours into a 10 race.  There is after all still a lot of real estate between her and the finish line.

But for Sarah Barnett from Adelaide, as good as she is at modesty, she is undeniably world class when it comes to multi day running.  It will take me some time to check on what exactly the race was she ran a couple of days earlier.  As it turns out she had come here almost immediately from the Athens Ultramarathon festival in Greece where she placed 5th overall in the 1000 km race in 9 days and 12 hours.

When I meet her on the first day it is early afternoon and she has so far completed about 25 miles.  At that time she is running with Dasha Yashina a first time runner from Russia.  They are moving comfortably and their conversation seems like they have been friends for years and not just a few hours.  Sarah says, “people are being really kind.”  She was unable to attend last years race due to some complications involving a passport gone astray. She has regularly attended the race over the last few years.  Now she says, “I want to see if it is possible to put 2 races together.  Now I am wondering if it is such a good idea, and laughs.”  In the 2009 race she ran 684 miles.

“We have to have faith, and not put our trust in our negative minds.” Her goal is simple, to do better than she did 2 years ago.  After saying this she immediately adds, that if if she cannot do it, she will still be happy.  Sarah of course is an elite runner.  It would be easy to expect some bravado from such a talented athlete, but the opposite seems to be the case with her.  Her humility shines on a day when the sky is grey and the winds blow and push almost constantly.  Sometime later she will come up to me after our initial chat and say, that while she is here she wants to take the unique opportunity of being at the race and feel as though she is surrendering to her own spirituality.  Let it express itself through her running and let the results speak for themselves.

One can of course hope to come away from races, both big and small, with world records and great achievements.  This is after all the day it was announced that the record in the marathon was broken.  Self Transcendence however is something deep and it is something intensely personal.  The counters cannot mark it down nor can reporters with microphones record it.  We bystanders may be fortunate once in a while to see a certain smile and a glow about those who have stepped into a new realm.  We might, but most likely we cannot see beyond the boundaries of our own world and limitations.

Sarah has started something remarkable today.  A 10 day race so soon after a 1000km one.  It is impossible to predict any outcome for her this soon and with so far to go.  Yet despite this one still has to appreciate the strength and courage she has to undertake such a thing.  We all can be inspired by it, and wish her only the best.  Perhaps in just learning about a feat such as hers, a hope may be nurtured within us all, that maybe someday we too can perhaps attempt the impossible as well, and transcend ourselves from within.

Continue reading “Day One: “We Have To Have Faith””

It’s About Perfection

He is someone who not only has a keen understanding of the significance of the 3100 mile race but has also performed a very practical and vital role there as well for many years.  Pradhan is someone keenly suited to finding solutions to the obstacles confronting the runners on many levels, not just the physical.   In simple and practical ways his chiropractic treatments helps enable many of the athletes running there to perform at their maximum capacity, day in and day out.  He is a chiropractor of extraordinary talent and though he no longer maintains a professional practice he still has been able to serve at nearly all of the multi day races that Sri Chinmoy Marathon team has organized in New York.  This is no small feat as he is a resident of Chicago and yet has found time during his busy schedule to visit New York and willingly serve those who are trying to test the very limits of their physical capacity and endurance.

As exceptional as he is as a giver of chiropractic adjustments, Pradhan is also keenly aware of the world beyond the physical.  He knows first hand that these exceptional runners sometimes also need encouragement and inspiration on the mental, emotional and spiritual level as well.  Physical problems sometimes may be the least of the many obstacles the runners encounter when facing such a momentous task as running 3100 miles.  He has great and lengthy experience in dealing not only with the athletes who attempt the impossible but also understanding the great challenges of the spiritual life in general.  I had an opportunity during the race to interview him and ask him for some of his thoughts on what these incredible athletic events are all about.

Talk transcribed by Bhadra

Photos by Arpan, Prabhakar, Jowan

Utpal: Why do you think Sri Chinmoy created this world of multi-day races?

Pradhan: I think it was an actual extension of – you know –of his spiritual philosophy. It was something that evolved.   He used it as a metaphor for what we’re trying to do inwardly. On our path, there are people who run regularly all the time. And it is understood that the runner accomplishes his goal by placing one foot in front of the other.

And the multi-day races evolved.  In the early days, it was just a mile, two miles. I remember in the early days – it was like, the guys ran 3 miles – can you believe it? –it was unbelievable. We’d often have Games Days, or Olympic-style races – these guys would often run outside the field, they’d run out on the street. They’d go three miles, or five miles – then, applying the principles of self-transcendence, eventually it came to be a multi-day race. And the multi-day races, especially the 3100, lend themselves to an inner demand, where you have to go within in order to accomplish the task. So I think that’s why the multi-day races are such an important part of the Sri Chinmoy Centre.

Continue reading “It’s About Perfection”

Try And Do My Best Today

Every sane and sensible person is taking it just a little bit easier today in New York city.  Up and down much of the eastern seaboard, most people are taking special precautions because of the now official heat wave in the area.  In New York city and in other cities, cooling centers are being set up to take care of the elderly and those who do not have access to air conditioning.  Where ever you may be during this hot period the smart people are telling us to drink lots and lots of fluids to stay hydrated.

The human body likes to keep a core temperature of 98.6 F.  It really isn’t happy when it goes above or below this number.  In winter we have pretty much figured out how to stay warm but when it comes to summer and temperatures above 98.6 there is simply no easy fix other than to take it easy and drink lots.

(the weather map doesn’t even have a proper color for this kind of heat)

I started reading up on this subject recently and the information is just plain scary.  The body, in its desperate attempt to stay cool pushes more blood towards the skin surface.  It then grabs moisture out of the body and throws it to the surface of the skin in the form of sweat.  The body makes this its main priority and shifts its energy from all the other tasks it is supposed to do, like moving and maybe even thinking clearly.  When you factor in that the air around us, because of its added humidity it just cannot accept our body’s heat.  At this point a person under physical stress is potentially in for some real trouble.

The 11 runners here have heard the scary stories about the forecast and are living in the perilous reality that has now befallen the course.  They are drinking and they are slowing down, but they are also not stopping or giving up.

There is very little evidence that any creatures in nature are designed for sustained activity in high temperatures.  Yet the 11 runners are are doing just that.  They run slower, they run smarter, and they listen to their bodies closely and they listen to their hearts even more.

Continue reading “Try And Do My Best Today”