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.

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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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Day 26… This Very Moment ( July 11)

When Smarana went home last night he could rest easier than he had for some time.  Not only did he not just have a good day of 64 miles he also had pushed past the half way mark, a day and a half ahead of tonight’s deadline.  Being able to excel and succeed in this race was for 7 years straight an almost given.

Coming back from his long break 2 years ago things on the physical level at least did not go to plan.  Both in 2017 and in 2018 he was unable to make the distance and he had to gamely find joy in battling out for 52 days and yet was unable to cross the finish line.

This year the story appears to be something quite different. Smarana has re calibrated his attitude and perhaps as well his receptivity.  Incredibly strong outwardly to look at he now is showing an inner strength that is proving to be very successful.

I spoke with him as he was running with Todor.  I was curious just how much it helps to have a running companion.  “One plus one is more than two.”  He describes how each of their energies feeds off of each other.  “Every now and then you talk a little bit.  It is nice that somebody is there.  It feels like having an extra power bank.”

“I can draw a little bit from him and sometimes he can draw from me.  It is very nice.”

“This race has been quite different compared to all my other races.  I think I am getting there.  The first 7 races sometimes I pushed with brute force, and the last 2 races I tried to change my way of doing the race.  I tried to be more joyful, a little more surrendered.  To be in the flow and not have these mental goals.”

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“I see in the end you get your miles, but with much less stress.  You can see the world around you better.  You don’t have to have this tunnel vision.  I want to have more faith that everything will just work out, and be fine.  It is a nice feeling.”

Smarana says that he had a series of not so great days which reminded him a similar experience he had last year when he felt himself tumbling down a metaphorical rabbit hole, which he could not escape from. “I really crashed.”

When he felt things were not working out as he hoped he says he simply started changing things.  “It helped.   This was very important for my confidence.  I am not going down this rabbit hole.  So it helps me to run with someone and stay in the flow.”

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Day 25… Fixed On Your Goal (July 10)

Yesterday Todor had a good day, a really good day.   On his 24th straight day of running he was able to complete 120 laps of the course the most he has been able to do since day one.  For someone to be able to find new strength and speed after so many exhausting and challenging days is  a stark reminder to us all that the 3100 mile race is truly a place of miracles seen and unseen.

When asked about his performance he says in some aspects it is getting easier.  “My mind has become accustomed to the situation, but also there are some more difficult days.  Yesterday my morning was a little bit difficult for me more than usual.”  Todor was having a difficult conversation with his mind which was challenging him with the idea of how difficult it was to do all the mileage that still lay ahead of him.

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Smarana suggested that this was not a good approach.  “We should live day by day, which is much better. Don’t think about one or two thousand miles just accept today.”  The conflict between his mind and body he suggests is something that is unavoidable.

“Today I feel much better.  After some up and down days today I feel very good with good spirits as well.  I have been joking with the guys so today is one of the good days.”

“I am trying not to push myself.  To be smooth and try and flow around the track. To be smooth and avoid tension in the mind.  To keep my way of thinking positive.  To be more inside myself.  When I do that it is easier to do the daily mileage, to stay in a good mood.  It is all connected with the race.”

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Day 24… Inner Hunger (July 9)

There may be only 8 heroic runners in this years 3100 mile race, but the number who work long, hard, and selflessly to make it all work with clock like precision far exceeds that number.  I don’t know how spending 15 summers cooking for super ultra distance runners would look on her resume but I suspect Nirjharini  doesn’t really care. Her job here is secure.

She is as devoted to the event as it is quite possible to be.  Her skills as a cook in a restaurant in Oslo are noteworthy but her time in Queens, fine tuning the daily nutrition needs of these elite runners is remarkable.  “Every 2 hours we are sending food out to the runners.  They need to eat constantly.  Each runner needs 10,000 calories a day.  Otherwise they will lose weight.  Usually they lose weight but we try to keep it as little as possible.  Because they need the energy to run.  If they get too skinny, their muscles get smaller, and then they can’t run as well any more.”

“So we try and feed them well so they keep their energy and they are able to keep going.”

Nirjharini has a team of 4 girls helping her.  Mandra and Mirka were unfortunately on different schedules.

I ask Nayaja, who is also a long distance runner what similarities she sees in her job cooking and running.  ” It is self-transcendence in both cases.  You are always trying to transcend your capacity.  I do it when I am running and also when I am cooking.”  She says her day starts at 4am and continues till about 1pm.  “I like to start very early so that I can send something to the race before the runners start.”

“I was here 2 years ago helping in the kitchen.  So this is my 2nd time.” She has been in the Spring 6 day race but thinks the difference between the 2 events is huge.  “I can imagine the experience they are going through even though mine is much shorter. It is so hard but at the same time you get a lot of joy and light.”

Leila says that she is cooking here for the first time.  “I have heard about it but I have never been here during the race.  It is a really new experience for me.  For me it is a great experience to be of service.  To try and help the runners as best I can.  Also to learn to be more flexible as every day here is so different.  So you have to adapt to the changes.”

“It is a great experience to learn how to cook better and how to adapt better.”

Nirjharini says, “For me during the race time somehow disappears.  I am not thinking about the beginning or the end.  I am so much in the present.  I am not even thinking about this race ending, just today and now.”

“I love this race so much I could do it all year.  But for the sake of the runners there should come an end.”

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Day 23… Inner Cries and Inner Tears (July 8)

There are many people dedicated to the health and well being of the runners.  I had the good fortune on Sunday of being able to speak with Mario and Mitch, who are perhaps the backbone of medical at the 3100 but of course there are others as well.

Mario: “This is a spiritual race.  The people here are bringing more light to the rest of humanity with this race.  Being in this race is an honor. The runners represent all of humanity.”  He feels that by helping the runners keep going then all the world benefits with more light.  Any one who assists here is helping the runners bring more light into the world.

Mitch: “The runners are on a much much more different plane than almost all human beings.”  The race of course has been called the Mount Everest of distance races.  It is so an extraordinary event that whenever someone comes by they can see the light in the runners.  “They can’t believe it.  It is so mind boggling that anyone could run 60 plus miles a day for 52 days.”

“What I do is reagline the spine so that messages can come from the runner’s brain down to their core.  I helped one runner who was suffering from sciatica.  He is doing better now that I removed a pinched nerve.”

Mitch also says that all the runners will inevitably be in pain.  Suffering for them however is an option.  “The pain is always there.  It is a very strange .58 mile course.”

For him working on the runners he feels is a gift.  “I get motivated.  I get excited.  It is awe inspiring and also to be able to work with gifted healers like Mario.”

Mario:  “We ask the runners, do not quit this race.  Do as much as you can.”  When the runners are struggling he says, “we try and give the torch back to them.  It get the light, and you get the light, everybody gets the light, all humanity gets the light.   It is a blessing for me to be here, and get light from the runners.”

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Day 22… Bettering Yourself (July 7)

I have spent the better part of a day trying to find an adequate and meaningful way to describe Vajra.  When in a discussion with others about him there is almost always a universal nod of the head.   A thoughtful acknowledgement and understanding, that he is recognized to be as selfless, soulful, and dedicated as it just may be possible to package within a single human body.

Just to account for his absolute devotion to cleaning up litter around the 3100 mile course would set him apart.  But then he goes on to do an endless assortment of other jobs to help others, in the little and sometimes huge ways that make a difference.

He has counseled and adjusted hundreds of worried runners over the years, who felt their races were slipping away and then miraculously got them going again.  He has a saying that goes something like,  the course may hurt you but it also will heal you and make you strong.

“I remember this one particular time that Sri Chinmoy had a race and he had called all his students who were there at the time.  This was over on Wards Island and I had happened to have just run over there and got there in the nick of time to be there for that meditation.”

Vajra, who was living in Manhattan at the time found that from then on he would come on a regular basis.  “I had found my space, to be in medical.”  He remembers an occasion when he was working in the medical tent and Sri Chinmoy had come in and observed him at work.  There was no conversation but he felt there was an inner understanding that this was a path he should take.  “From that day on my duties were pretty much nailed.  I knew what I had to do.”

When it comes to taking time off or cutting back on his duties, “No, I don’t think any of those days have ever happened.” Vajra says that when he is serving as he does, it is for him constant enjoyment.  “I feel that I am not only fulfilling myself while also fulfilling something divine at the same time.”

“This has not only implications for me but also throughout the wider universe.  If I can go that far?”

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Day 21… Today’s Reality (July 6)

Whenever I try and talk about Ashprihanal, I somehow cannot help but get tripped up by the sheer volume of numbers associated with his accomplishments.  Even a casual glimpse at the number of races he has entered, wins, records, mileage, and the totality of a competitive career that appears little dimmed even as he has entered the 3100 mile race for the 15th time at age 48.

What is also incomprehensible is his manner of running.  Or perhaps it could be better described as more like flying in a low earth orbit.  If you watch for just a moment it might impress you as being awkward.  Gaze for just a little longer and you can see the endless poetry of his movements in which no verse is ever repeated.

Yesterday he had a very good day with 129 laps of the course which is a little over 70 miles.  Now you runners do your own math.  How many of you have ever had even one day of 70 miles?

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“Yesterday was good.  I finally got rid of my stomach problems.” Ashprihanal says that to put together back to back good days then everything has to be in sync for him.  “Sometimes it is one good day, one bad day, then one good day.  You don’t really know.”

He says that a big mileage day is not always a good day, “It can be a very tough day.  Or it can be a fairly easy day.  It is not the laps or the amount of mileage, it is the feeling.  The energy you have.  That is what matters the most.”

“Your frame of mind is often the most difficult also.”  Something, he laughs as he mentions the idea, he feels he has little control over.

We come close to the Enthusiasm Awakeners who are still singing.  “They are great.  My first half hour you are just starting to wake up.”  He says that their cheerful singing can often give him something to look forward to all day. “They come and it gives us enthusiasm and wakes us up.  It starts my day.”

“In 2006 Sri Chinmoy used to come by and wrote them new songs every morning, and then he continued into 2007.  It was nice.”

Ashprihanal says that to inspire himself he sometimes imagines Sri Chinmoy visiting the race and handing him a prasad treat.  Something he did very often over the years and particularly in 2007.

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