I was fortunate to have the opportunity to run the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team 6 day race in April 2000. I wrote this article for the New Zealand Ultra Marathon magazine shortly after I completed the event.
The race was around a 1-mile loop, and runners ate, slept and rested at trackside, attempting to accumulate as many miles as possible within the allotted timeframe. Other competitors amongst a field of 40 athletes included world record holder Dipali Cunningham from Australia, and, most uniquely, 81-year-old Ted Corbitt. In his prime Ted held US records for 40 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles and 24 hours. He is known as the “Father of long distance running in America”, and every step he took in this race was a world record, as no one at his age had ever attempted such an event. Whenever I ran past Ted, any feelings of self pity were dissolved in a most humbling wave of gratitude and inspiration.
To run for six days is an endurance test, both physically and mentally. I found that to be able to keep running through physical exhaustion and pain requires tapping into an inner determination and willpower. I found that it was important for me to have inspiration points to focus my attention on, especially when I was particularly exhausted or in pain. The saying, “every treasure is guarded by dragons” is highly applicable to this kind of event, because the sense of inner joy and satisfaction to be experienced is beyond description.
My main source of inspiration was the founder of the race, sixty-eight year old Sri Chinmoy, who has dedicated his life to the creative expression of the limitless potential of the human spirit. Sri Chinmoy himself is an artist, musician, author, meditation master and an athlete. He particularly encourages people to run, saying “Try to be a runner, and try all the time to surpass and go beyond all that is bothering you and standing in your way. Be a real runner so that ignorance, limitations and imperfections will all drop behind you in the race.”
Sri Chinmoy frequently visited the racetrack to encourage and support the runners throughout the race, taking time out from his own rigorous exercise programme. His recent achievements in the weightlifting world made television broadcasts all over the world, especially his calf raise of 1,050 pounds and an overhead dumbbell lift of 650 pounds in each arm, totalling 1300 pounds! His philosophy of self-transcendence has been an inspiration to thousands of people in their search for inner fulfilment and happiness.
I experienced many different emotions throughout the race, ranging from helpless tears and exasperation to uncontrollable fits of laughter. Yet I always felt such clear-headedness, such simplicity in my mind. The track became my whole world. There was a bond between all of the runners, which was not formed by words; a quick acknowledgement or smile confirmed that we were all running together. I received much joy and strength from running with my friends. Gael Ballantyne, from Auckland, made me laugh with her sharpwitted, down-to-earth sense of humour. I always looked forward to seeing her. Niribili File, also from Auckland, was competing in the 10-day race. I could always count on Niribili to flash me a beaming smile. Dipali Cunningham was the winner of the 6-day race. I loved to run with her as she radiates an incredible life force, which seemed to energise me most powerfully. While running, I often felt the presence of ultrarunner Subarata Cunningham, who recently passed away. When she was alive she was always a tremendous inspiration to me. She lovingly and enthusiastically encouraged me and many other NewZealanders to run. Her inspiration is still very much alive in my heart. Whenever I thought of her, her sleeplessly heroic perseverance and determination seemed to enter into me. I am extremely grateful to have had such an inspiring role model as a friend.
Most runners had a full time helper. My helper, Simona, was an absolute saint. I cannot even begin to image what state I would have been in without her. She took care of the practical side of things, so that all I had to concentrate on was my running.
I ended up completing 337 miles, finishing third amongst the women. It is impossible for me to describe the experience. Now, when I look back, those six fleeting days seem like an entire lifetime. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such an event. Any difficult experiences have faded from my mind. All I remember now is a beautiful little world where the most important thing is to be happy and to share your happiness with anyone you can; where everyone is going far beyond the limitations of the reasoning mind; and where everybody – runners, counters, spectators and helpers alike, all belong to one family, each one playing an equally significant role in creating a miraculous dream–reality. I cannot wait for the time when every day is like this.