by Rathin Boulton
Let me just say, at the outset, there are NO PICTURES in this document to break the monotony of the seemingly endless lines of text. There was, until recently, a burgeoning supply of photos from the 2003 race online, which have now disappeared. Such is the ephemeral nature of the medium. So, to the truly brave and dedicated reader, I invite you to share with me my recollections from the 2003 Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race.
I first heard about the 3100 mile race in Brisbane; from time to time, we would get faxes from New York sharing information about what was happening. And occasionally we would hear about this incredible race, that went round and round a half-mile concrete block in Queens, seemingly forever. Half way round the world, we knew the names of all these pioneer hero-runners who never seemed to stop running.
In 1999, I saw the race first-hand. That summer was the hottest in years, with nearly a week of 100-degree fahrenheit temperatures. I didn't like even being outdoors in that heat; I couldn't imagine what the runners were going through. And yet I was drawn to this race; amongst ultras, it loomed up like the peak of Mount Everest. A couple of times, I ran around the course, trying to imagine what it would be like to do it day in, day out, for weeks on end. I was there for most of the finishes; in this race, the distance between finishers was measured not in minutes or hours, but in days. I saw Namitabha complete the distance on what was his 3rd attempt; just another milestone in a running career that is inextricably linked to the race. And I began dreaming of one day taking part in the 3100 mile race.
Of course, my first goal in multi-days had always been the 10-Day race; I helped out at the race on my first visit to New York in 1997. The field was quite small, mileages were not the highest they had been, and the atmosphere was not quite what it was in subsequent years, but it was still very inspiring. I told myself that I would do this race. Next year. And ever year, I didn't do the race, and told myself, next year. In 2000, I finally got a little serious about my goals, and did the 24-hour Self-Transcendence race in Adelaide. I completed 131 km, which I was happy with, and saw it as preparation for the next 10-day. But, as the time drew near, I once again found myself in a perennial predicament; I didn't have enough money to do the race. So I missed out again. But my intention to do it was still there. The next 24-hour I did was in 2002; I entered on the day of the race, on what you might call a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had run the 47-Mile Race and the Self-Transcendence Marathon in New York, so I was in reasonable shape, and I completed 152 km. And then, true to form, I missed out on the next 10-day race.
May 2003: Sri Chinmoy made a surprise announcement that he wanted to see seven starters in the 3100 mile race. And the entrance criteria, previously restricted to those with a proven multi-day track record, was considerably relaxed. Now, marathon experience was sufficient, and applications were invited from potential participants. When I heard about this, I felt as if my soul was leaping in my chest, with utmost eagerness, begging me to apply. I'm not one to usually profess to know what my soul wants, or what it is doing, but this was an exception. At the same time, my mind was furnishing me with several good reasons why I couldn't possibly consider doing the race; I didn't have any multi-day race experience, I hadn't trained, the race was only two weeks away. I listened to my mind, and ignored my inner feeling. At first. I felt unhappy over the next few days, and I knew it was because I hadn't applied. I felt as if a door of opportunity had opened before me, and I had allowed it slam shut again. After a few days, I talked to the Canberra centre leader Prachar about it, how I wanted to apply, and yet I felt that I needed more experience in the ultra-running world; I needed to do the 10-day race first, to see what my capacity was. Prachar managed to convince me that perhaps I didn't want to know how I would fare in a 10-day; perhaps it would be so horrible I would never want to do another ultra-distance race! And where do you stop with preparation? Do you do a 5-day race before you do a 10-day? Do you do a 2 1/2 day race before a 5-day? So, I decided to plunge in to the unknown, and sent in a last-minute application. I felt there was nothing wrong with just applying; after all, there would be many applicants, and I would never be chosen would I? That's how I fooled myself into preparing an application. As I saw it feeding through the fax machine, beyond the point of no return, that's when I thought: What have I done?
The next couple of days, I was plagued with anxieties. What if I was selected? I sent the application Friday; on Sunday, the phone rang. It was Rupantar, race director for the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, in New York. "Good news!" he told me. Sri Chinmoy had selected me to run the 3100 mile race. I thanked him, and hung up the phone. An all-pervading dread possessed me. I felt like a condemned man; there was no escape....
So, one week before the race was to start, I got the phone call, confirming my entry. The first person I told was Prachar, who seemed to be thrilled that I was going to be in the race. I felt stunned and dazed. How could I possibly contemplate undertaking such a monumental task as the 3100 mile race?
Anyway, my first job was getting a flight to New York. I had just accumulated enough United Plus miles for a free flight, thankfully. Unfortunately, all the flights to JFK were booked out; they weren't giving out any free flights on points. Briefly it seemed I might have an excuse for not doing the race! But then it occurred to me that, even if I couldn't fly direct to NY, possibly I could fly somewhere comparatively close, such as Washington DC, or Boston. I enquired, and discovered that I could get a flight all the way to White Plains, only an hour's drive from Queens! So I made a booking. Meanwhile, the Australian centres had generously offered to pay my entry fee for the race, something I was supremely grateful for, when I discovered later how many other expenses would accumulate. Canberra centre even started a fund to pay for new running shoes; and if I knew one thing about the race, it was that I was going to need some new shoes.
I told my boss at my catering job that I had suddenly decided to go to New York for a race; I was leaving in two days, and I would be away for three months. I was prepared to be told that my sevices would no longer be required, but my boss simply wished me well, and told me to call when I got back.
On Wednesday, the day before I was due to fly out, I went to the Runner's Shop in Canberra, to buy shoes and running gear. I selected two new pairs of Asics 2080s; in a couple of days I would learn that I would need a few more pairs of shoes, and if you’re running a multi-day, you don't buy shoes in your "normal" foot size.
So, Thursday morning early I took the bus to Sydney, and boarded a United flight to San Francisco. I had many hours of travel ahead to contemplate the epic struggle that lay before me.....
So, there I was, flying over the Pacific Ocean, watching movies, reading magazines, and trying not to think about the inescapable fact that the start of the 3100-mile race was just days away. Needless to say, I was not very successful. I was oscillating between a giddy excitement, and a fearful dread, with a good measure of self-doubt thrown in. On one hand, I felt like I had escaped the boundaries of my self-limiting mind, just by being chosen to do the race, and I was swimming in the sea of boundless possibility; on the other hand, my mind was letting me know that it didn't think much of me going into this great unknown territory that lay before me. My mind was afraid; it didn't know what to expect, its comfort zone had been torn into pieces, and the shreds of it lay miles away, back in sleepy Canberra.
I told the immigration officer in San Francisco that I had come to the USA to take part in the longest race in the world, and no, I wasn't actually running from somewhere to somewhere else, I was going to run round and round a concrete paved city block in Queens. He seemed bemused by the idea. Next, I flew to Dulles airport at Washington DC; the weather was bad, so I had to wait around for a few extra hours for my plane. I had to call NY a few times to say my flight was still delayed; after wandering around the mostly empty airport, trying to get change for the phone, I was very grateful to a nice employee at the American Airlines desk, who gave me a complimentary phone card. And I wasn't even flying with them!
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Sri Chinmoy was in Washington that day, meeting some people. I believe that just as I was landing at the airport, Sri Chinmoy was leading a meditation at the Washington centre. I wouldn't actually see him for another two days.
No-one really knew what was going on with my flight, first we all had to move to a different departure gate, then we waited another hour or so until it was suddenly announced that the plane was ready for boarding. It was still raining when we touched down at White Plains; Sahishnu and Sandhani were there to pick me up at 2am, three hours later than expected. During the drive to Queens, we talked about the race; I said I had two pairs of shoes, and Sandhani told me that five pairs was about the minimum I could get by with. Sahishnu told me how Sri Chinmoy came to accept my application for the race; the field of seven had already been chosen, but one runner, a Russian, had to withdraw for some reason. So, Sri Chinmoy looked at the remaining half-dozen or so applications, and somehow I was selected. The least-qualified, most inexperienced runner ever to front up for the 3100-mile race! We got to where I was staying, and Sahishnu told me to come past the Smile of the Beyond, the vegetarian diner of which he is the manager, for breakfast in the morning.
I think I must have gone shopping down in Jamaica, Queens, the next morning. I had to buy an alarm clock, and lots of socks, amongst other things. At any rate, it was more like lunchtime before I got to the Smile of the Beyond. Abichal was there, a seasoned multi-day runner who, like me, had just recently found out that he was going to be doing the 3100-mile race. He smiled at me; there was a slightly worried look in his eyes. Later, he told me that I looked absolutely terrified that day. I guess that describes how I felt. We talked a bit about running. I also met Smarana for the first time. This Austrian boy had finished the 3100-mile race in 2002, on his first attempt. He inspected my shoes, and solemnly told me that they were too small. He told me to buy shoes at the Sports Authority near Jackson Heights, they were having a sale where you get 50% off the price of a second pair of shoes. He also gave me lots of advice on treating blisters. (Blisters would soon become an all-consuming topic of conversation. World politics pales into insignificance when you've got a nasty blister on your foot.) According to Smarana, tea-tree oil, from the Australian tea-tree, was the only way to go when treating blisters. A natural antiseptic, the oil also helps to dry out the little blighters. I added it to my shopping list.
I think I ate at Annam Brahma restaurant that night; when you've just arrived in New York, there's nothing better than dhal, naan bread, and a big mango lassi.
Next morning was Saturday, the day of the Self-Transcendence two-mile race. Two 3100 runners, Smarana and Namitabha, took part, along with several dozen others. I abstained; I didn't feel like running anywhere. I was "saving myself". That morning, Utpal interviewed me, as Aparajita captured it all on videotape. I had to wait my turn, as Suprabha, the only woman ever to complete the 3100-mile race, was first. During the interview, I tried to sound more confident than I felt. Everything felt unreal; it was like the experience was happening to someone else. Privately, I didn't know if I would last longer then a couple of days in the race.
Next, I went shoe shopping at the Sports Authority. They only had one pair of Asics 1080s in size 11.5, 4e width; I bought that and 3 different pairs of New Balance. My selection was mainly based on the sizes available, I wanted the widest shoes possible; I knew my feet were not going to remain the same size after a few days' running. I bought some more running clothes as well.
There was a concert by Sri Chinmoy that night, featuring his debut on the sitar, at age 71. Sri Chinmoy never tires of trying new things. It was a special occasion; tickets were sold for the performance. My cares were swept away as Sri Chinmoy, dressed in a blue kurta and dhoti, plucked some of his immortal melodies from the strings of his sitar for the best part of two hours. For a time, I could forget about the fact that the 3100-mile race was going to start at 6am the next morning....
I didn't get much sleep the night before the race. I packed my bag with everything I thought I'd need, before I went to bed. I got up before 5am and tried to meditate. I thought of my preparations. Had I forgotten anything? At about quarter past six, I headed over to the start on foot. It was only about half a mile away. The day was cool, and the sky was overcast. Warm weather was yet to make its presence felt.
A small crowd had begun assembling at the start. It was on the sidewalk, near a baseball field, across the street from the Jamaica High running track. Two ageing vans sat by the kerb; one had a trailer with two portable toilets on it, the other had a trailer with a small refrigerator, and food supplies. Inside each van was a wooden bunk bed, clean towels, and some medical supplies. A board hung on the chainlink fence bordering the field, it displayed all the runners' names, and beside each was a bare velcro strip, where our miles would be recorded using removable numbers. A table and chair sat beneath it; here the lap counter would sit, and record all those endless laps. I was shown to my place; a metal chair had my name inscribed upon it in felt-tip pen, beside it, a plastic container with a drawer in it sat upon a long wooden folding table, by the red van. All the runners had a similiar place. The other runners were arriving. Abichal,the Welshman, Smarana, the Austrian, and the mighty Namitabha, the quiet Yugoslavian who had taken part in the 3100 every year since its inception. And Suprabha, the only woman ever to complete the distance, who had also been in, and completed, every 3100-mile race, and also its predecessor, the 2700-mile race. After this year's race, the miles she would have accumulated around this block alone, would just about equal the circumference of the globe. Despite this achievement, you could possibly never meet a more sweet, humble, unassuming individual. Suprabha was also the only American in the event in 2003. Trishul Cherns, the Canadian ultra-runner who had completed more multi-days than anyone else on Earth, arrived, and shook hands with all the rest of the runners. And Tusheet Warum, another Austrian, rounded out the field. Like myself, he had been selected by Sri Chinmoy only recently to race; unlike me, he actually had some multi-day running experience. Tall, blonde, and constantly smiling, Tusheet was the youngest of the field, a mere 29 years old; I was his senior by a month.
As we waited for Sri Chinmoy to arrive and start the race, Sahishnu announced all the runners, and listed our achievements (my resume was a little thin in this department.) Then Sri Chinmoy arrived. Seven runners assembled at the starting line. Sri Chinmoy approached us silently. He was wearing running shoes, dark blue shorts, and a pale blue polo shirt. A hush fell upon the crowd. Sri Chinmoy stood in front of us, meditating. He looked at each one of us in turn, for what seemed like a long time. It seems he was injecting us with light, feeding us with the strength and capacity for the long journey ahead. I tried to push all thoughts out of my mind, and just receive what Sri Chinmoy had to offer, but as I looked at him part of me was thinking: are you sure that you want me to do this? My mind still thought that my presence here was still some kind of a mistake. But Sri Chinmoy must have detected something in my being, either capacity, or simply eagerness, and that's why he chose me for this. Then he bowed, and moved aside. The race began.
There was no time for self-doubt anymore. That's the great thing about actually starting something; you just have to do your best, and that's that. We started off, not too fast. The little ultra experience I had had taught me that when you're in for a long haul, you have to pace yourself. And when the finish line is 51 days away, you really have to pace yourself. So, we headed out on our first lap; a slightly downhill jog to the corner, then turn right. Beside us, the baseball field gave way to a children's playground. Around the corner, you pass basketball courts, then handball courts. This stretch is quite well shaded. Then you turn the next corner, and you're on the Grand Central Parkway. There is always traffic here. You run beside the service road; a deep gully is carved into the ground, there lies the real Parkway. Although "Parkway" is a less than apt description for this concrete and asphalt canyon, from whence noise and carbon monoxide arise, night and day. The handball courts are still on your right, then you're on the other side of the baseball field; you can look over and see the "camp", on the other side. Then you're running past the rear of Thomas Edison High School; scaffolding extends over sections of sidewalk, to protect passersby from the crumbling architecture. There's an uphill section of about 100 metres leading up to the corner; the casual visitor barely registers it, but to a 3100-mile race runner, it was a hill. Trishul started walking this section from the very first day; I wondered why. Frankly, he knew what he was in for (or thought he did.)I almost always walked this section after the first day.Turn right at the corner, and you're heading towards Jamaica High. I could never work out if this section of sidewalk had a slant to it; in the end I decided that it must be just about dead level. There was a Verizon pay phone along this stretch. In the heat, this was the hottest, least shaded section, until the afternoon sun began casting the shadow of Thomas Edison High across the sidewalk around 3pm. But, at this stage, the weather was still cool and overcast. There's another uphill bit to the last corner, then right into Joe Austin Way, and downhill past the school, back to where we started. One half-mile loop. The crowd was cheering, and Sri Chinmoy, seated in Tusheet's metal chair, smiled at us as we ran past. He seemed to be getting a lot of joy. I had never really considered before, or perhaps I had simply forgotten, how much importance Sri Chinmoy places on this race, and what role it plays in his vision for humanity. I was to learn over the days and weeks to come just how important it was, and is. A few laps later, and Sri Chinmoy had left, off to attend the next duty in his busy schedule. The cheering throng had also departed. It was just us and the selfless, dedicated race crew, which was how it was going to be, most of the time.
Rupantar early on told me to change my running style; I was striking the ground too hard, and heading for an injury. I had to learn the "ultra shuffle", which is something halfway between walking and running, lifting the feet from the ground as minimally as possible.
I think we got breakfast that day from Lucille's, a local diner. Lunch was from Annam Brahma. Dinner? I can't remember.
I sat down and took a break after four hours; it would take a while to learn how to organise my schedule, and how to split the day up into sections.
Each lap was just over half a mile. To finish within the time limit of 51 days, you have to average 60.7 miles, or 111 laps. That first day I did 111 laps.. I stopped at 11 pm. Runners can continue until midnight if they wish, but I wanted to be a little conservative; I had no idea what the coming days would bring. I didn't want to exhaust myself completely. Smarana was first for the day with 81 miles. Tusheet got 72, and Namitabha had 71. Suprabha had 68, Trishul 65, Abichal 62.
So, after completing my first day of the 3100 mile race, I got a ride back to where I was staying. I had a few hours ahead of me in which to sleep, then another early start. Day 2 loomed large before me already...
My 111 laps placed me last for the day, a position which I would have to become used to holding. But, anyway, day 2 dawned, my alarm went off, and before I knew it, it was quarter to six and Rupantar was knocking on my window. I had thought that because the race started half an hour late, we would start 6.30 every morning. I was wrong. I hastened to get ready, and went outside to where Abichal and Rupantar were waiting for me in the car. Rupantar told me he wanted a key to my place, in case direct intervention was required to get me to the start line. In this race, if you don't get to the start in time, you're out. I never did give Rupantar a key, and luckily, he never needed one.
We drove the short distance to the race, picking up Tusheet along the way. We had a couple of minutes to prepare, then, too soon, we were called to the start line. After a brief meditation, Rupantar started us off. "Runners take your mark....GO!" And we were off. The only difference to the first day was that we changed direction, and now we were running anti-clockwise around the block.
The first day's results had given me a little confidence. I had run almost 62 miles; why couldn't I do the same everyday? I soon discovered that it wasn't going to be that easy. We had 18 hours a day in which to run, and to make any kind of distance, each runner had to spend as much time as possible out there on the course. Breaks had to be carefully planned, and I had to become a miser when it came to giving myself rest time.
The main challenge was mental. Running around a block can be boring. Let's face it, there's lots of things we like to do in life; visit new places, watch TV, read books, write postings for the Inspirations group. Just doing one thing can be tough. Especially when that one thing is pounding the footpath all day. Or is it a sidewalk? So, we runners tended to chat a lot. Two or three of us would fall into step, jogging or walking, or both; and talk. There was no end to things we talked about. Though there were exceptions: Namitabha ran his own race, very seldom talking to other runners. And Suprabha, for the most part, only spoke to her handlers. The rest of us, well, we would chat for miles. Occasionally, every runner wants to be alone, sometimes when you're feeling good, and sometimes when you're feeling terrible.
It was a schooldays; the students of Thomas Edison High were finishing up for the year. Now, I don't know why this is, but kids in my country seem bigger than they used to be, and in the USA, high school kids are often HUGE. Mostly Afro-American kids from Jamaica, they loved hanging out in groups in front of school, and if they had cars, they LOVED sitting in them, by the kerb, hip-hop music pumping out of their stereos. The sidewalk often became an obstacle course as we threaded our way around groups of kids, who were mostly oblivious to the fact that the longest footrace in the world was happening right here in Queens. And where the kids hang out, the NYPD School Safety cops hang out, in their big vans. And just as well; I saw one boy come running down the street with blood streaming from his head; he had been stabbed. Thankfully, this was the only violent thing I saw during the whole race. I think the cops nabbed the culprit.
By the end of the day, I had managed only 52 miles. So much for my big dreams of 60 miles a day! But, I figured I might make up those lost miles later.
By day 3, the morning pattern was starting to become established. Rupantar would come past just after quarter to six, I would climb in the back with Abichal. He'd greet me with a cheery "hey dude", or something like that. Sometimes he would be shaving with an electric razor. We'd pick up Tusheet. Rupantar would drive us to the course, almost invariably saying, "Here it is boys- Kurukshetra!" Now, one could hardly think of a more appropriate metaphor. Kurukshetra is a battlefield, and that half-mile loop of concrete is also a battlefield, except out there, your opponents are fatigue, injury, and your own thoughts.
Day 3 would also establish another pattern, which continued for me for the rest of the week: 92 laps a day, or 50 miles. Officially, the minimum distance you could complete, in order stay in the race. And I was struggling to get there.
Day 3 was Tuesday, noteable for two things. One, the vans get parked on the opposite side of the street until midday, because the streetsweeper truck comes. Two, the county Sheriff is busy impounding the vehicles of people who didn't pay their parking fines, and the streets around Thomas Edison High are used as a dumping ground, as all the colourfully painted Diamond Towing trucks bring in the offending cars. Then, the cars are ticked off a list, videotaped, and loaded three at a time onto flat bed trucks, before being carted off to the impounding yard. I can still hear the whine of the machinery that tilts the backs of the trucks and winches the cars on. Trishul explained the whole process to me, and how much money it costs to get your car back when its been impounded.
That first week was tough for me, but I would be lying if I were to say that things didn't get any worse! The mental strain was taking its toll. The last few laps at night became torturous. My feet hurt. Sometimes I would stop walking, and just stand there, my body in rebellion, refusing to take another step. The soles of my feet were on fire. This was something I hadn't expected; this intense, ferocious pain, at that crucial place where my body met planet Earth. I would just have to grit my teeth, then force myself to take a step, and then another. I had heard that Sri Chinmoy said that you just have to take it a lap at a time, and sometimes, one step at a time. I picked out markers around the course; signposts, trees, fire hydrants. And I'd just concentrate on getting to the next one. I felt like my mind was going to snap, and sometimes I secretly hoped that it would, so I could just leave this race. When the night was over, I'd get a ride home, then struggle not to fall apart. Emotionally, I was raw. The prospect of getting up in the morning and doing it all again was too much....
So, if you read my last posting, you will have realized that my first week in the race was no beds of roses. But I was starting to get into a rhythm, I learnt that the 18-hour day was best broken up into 3 6-hour sections. It seems the other runners also adapted similiar patterns. I would try and run steadily in the mornings, aiming to reach around 37 laps. Around midday, I would take a break, between half an hour and 45 minutes, in which I would take a nap. Believe me, I was looking forward to that break all morning! The nap itself would last between 10 minutes and half an hour. I learnt to tell the lap counter how long I wanted to rest; left to my own devices, there was no telling if I would get up or not! Trishul is master of the power nap. He'll keep going until he is almost sleepwalking, then crash for about 10 minutes, face down on the floor of the van, with his running shoes on. I always took my running shoes off when I took a break, and applied moisturiser to my feet before putting them back on. Rupantar gave us all foot-rollers, a bone-shaped wooden cylinder with a bulging middle, which had grooves cut into it. Seated,you roll your foot back and forth over it, and it stimulates all the nerves and ligaments and muscles in the arch of your foot, like a massage. I used mine every day, and still do.
The afternoon seemed to be the worst time of the day. Of course, in the morning, I thought the morning was the worst time of the day. But the midday break gave my body a chance to stiffen up, and the first few laps back on the course were downright unpleasant. It was a good time to listen to music. The music gave me something outside the immediate environment to concentrate on. (Which reminds me of a joke I heard during the race: did you hear about the man who lost his job in the orange juice factory? He couldn't concentrate!)
But, eventually, six o'clock comes around, and then its the evening. Time can really start to fly, and you realize there's only a couple of hours left to make up whatever miles you're aiming for that day. I know, when you're doing a two-mile race, ten minutes or quarter of an hour can seem like a LOOOOOOOOOOONG time. But in the 3100, the intensity of your effort is different. You have to be kind to your body, or as kind as possible, so you don't get injured. The pace is slow, steady, and measured. You're doing about 3 miles an hour. As Abichal said, "you have to find a really low gear- and stay there!"
The first few days, I took a massage in the evening, when it was available. But, after a while, I realised that massage didn't really help. It's a nice excuse to lie down. But when I got back out on the course, I didn't feel any better! Still, I have to thank Vajra, and Tejaswi, and Arpan, for making themselves available to perform this service. Sometimes it can really help, though I found the benefits to be mostly psychological.
So, on the 7th day, a Saturday, we started out as usual. I was running at a fair pace; I knew the morning was the six-hour period when I could get more laps in than any other part of the day. I think I was aiming for 40 laps, or more. All the runners tend to think about laps in this race; in fact, I could go for days without even looking at the mileage board! But I almost always knew which lap number I was on for the day. Anyway, an hour or so into the day, I suddenly felt a twinge in my left knee. It very quickly intensified into a stabbing pain, and I had to stop running. And start walking. Every time I tried to run, the same stabbing pain came back. It felt like I had torn some connective tissue. This was my first injury of the race. My plans were thrown into disarray. I had wanted to break through that daily 92-lap barrier I had come up against; now it seemed I wouldn't make even that. 92 laps is 50 miles, the official daily minimum needed to remain in the race. So, I was quite upset at the prospect of not being able to make this minimum. I reached only 62 laps that day. (I soon learned there was a bit of flexibility attached to this minimum quota!)
About the same time, Tusheet was feeling the effect of injuries; shin splints and blisters were his nemesis. He had great capacity as a walker, but daily his blister problems were slowing his pace. On the 8th day, we both managed 70 laps.
Around this time, the weather changed. The clouds departed. Summer had arrived. It became hot, though fortunately not as hot as that terrible week in 1999, when temperatures soared above 100 deg fahrenheit. Still, all the runners felt the effects of the heat. A sandwich bag with ice in it, under my cap, became an indispensable item for those hot afternoons.
Arpan loaned me a strap device for my knee; made from some kind of rubber, it wrapped around the leg about the knee area, and provided some relief, by immobilizing that area to some degree. Sri Chinmoy from time to time wears similiar knee supports. I couldn't run, so I just walked for a couple of days. I wondered if I had any future in the race. Surely this injury wasn't going to get better if I kept going.
Sri Chinmoy had visited us almost daily, but a few days into the race, he left for Europe, to play a concert, and meet with people. A lot of New Yorkers went with him. So it was pretty quiet at the race at times. As I said, I didn't think my knee was improving. Yet, somehow, by day 11, it did. I could run again. I did 92 laps, a daily total which I found disappointing in the first week, but now seemed a massive victory! That was the day I overtook Tusheet, whose injuries were unfortunately not improving. Next day I ran 95 laps. Perhaps I was pushing too hard, because day 14 I only managed 73 laps. This time, a shin splint injury was to blame. A welcome phone call from my Australian comrades unfortunately couldn't cure this. Nor could Vajra's cabbage leaf application the following day (supposed to draw out the inflammation). This was a low point. I rested too much in the morning, wishing I could just take the day off. Though the weather had turned cool again, I couldn't enjoy it. That day, I made a measly total of 50 laps. It could have been worse- Tusheet's blisters had been made worse by infection. His valiant crusade to persevere was almost at an end. He made only 29 laps that day, which was his last day of the race. At the end of day fifteen, I had come 684 miles. Abichal was 100 miles ahead of me. Trishul was 85 miles ahead of Abichal. Suprabha was 50 miles ahead of Trishul. Smarana was 11 miles ahead of Suprabha. And Namitabha was 33 miles ahead of Smarana. One good thing that happened was that Sri Chinmoy arrived back from Europe that day, and although we didn't get to see him immediately, we all looked forward to him visiting us on the course in the week to come.
So, day 15 was disappointment; I only did 27.44 miles. On day 16, I got a message from Sri Chinmoy. He wanted me to complete at least 40 miles a day to stay in the race. Now I had an achievable goal. The official minimum of 50 miles a day had proven to be too much for me. It seemed to be that as long as I was doing my best, Sri Chinmoy was happy to adjust the race rules according to my capacity. This was a real blessing; I no longer had to feel like a total failure each time I didn't make 50 miles. 40 miles was 73 laps. That was my new daily goal, but I was still determined to try for 50 miles.
That day, I reached 85 laps, just seven behind Abichal, and eight behind Trishul. Of course, the heat was playing a big factor in Trishul's race. He really didn't like it. From that day until the end of the race, he would only reach a daily total of 60 miles twice. But, most days he would finish up in the high 50's, which was enough to ensure that he was a continuously receding blip on my radar screen. (Although he was steadily drawing away from me, we would still walk together a lot. That's one of the wonderful things about this race: someone can be hundreds of miles ahead of you, but you can still, walk, run, and share your experiences with each other. In fact, in the afternoons, when I was slowing down, he'd be my engine. He was always determined to get at least six laps in every hour.)
Abichal, by that stage, had set his sights on 2700 miles for the race. He needed about 95 laps a day to reach his goal. Secretly, I was trying to catch him, but slowly, steadily, he made good his lead. Rupantar thought I should aim for 2500. That was about 90 laps a day. Unfortunately, it was looking like my capacity was a little less than that. I was battling shin splints, in both shins, and it was a while before they left me. Once again, I had an injury that I thought couldn't possibly improve as long as I was in the race. Once again, I was wrong.
I left out an important detail from my last posting. By day 9, I had had it. It was hot, I was injured, I couldn't run. I made up my mind to withdraw from the race at the end of the 10th day. After all, that was a reasonable effort for a first-timer. Wasn't it? Yet something at the end of the 10th day made me reconsider. I had completed a total of 463 miles. Surely I could continue on to 500 miles. So, I did, and things got better on day 11. I did 50 miles that day, and decided to keep on going. That landmark, 500 miles, gave me tremendous enthusiasm. And, as we Australians tend to think metrically, I knew that 1000 kilometres was just around the corner. Well, it was about 100 miles away. Everything's relative.
Now it was July. We had run right through the second half of June. Now, if I could just survive the long, hot month of July, it would be August, and the race would be just about over. Or so I thought. I remember the 4th of July. The morning was eerie. Being one of the biggest holidays in the US, there was no-one around. It seemed everyone had packed up, gone upstate, gone to the beach, or whatever. I remember Ketan was guarding at the course that morning. In his hands was the new Harry Potter book, hot off the presses. Over the next few weeks, it seemed like everyone was reading it. Being something like the size of a phone book, I didn't get the chance to read it during the race. And I still haven't read it. But I want to get the talking book version for the next race!
So, the race continued. I fell into a new pattern, 40 miles one day, 50 the next. I usually went home around 11 pm, the first runner to do so. It seemed like the extra rest I gained that way was necessary for me. Smarana told me that in his first 3100, he had been able to do 60-odd miles a day, and finish up around 11pm. But this time he was doing it harder. His mighty and much commented-on calf muscles were not giving him the same thrust this time around, and he had to stay later in the evening. I think this field, more than any other, excluding myself, tended to hang in there as late as possible. Analysing it now, if you add up all the hours I didn't spend out on the course, you would find yourself with about 2 and a half days. Should I have run more? Or did I need my rest? It's hard to say.
Day 22 was a big day for me. I only did 75 laps, but that was the day that I finished 1000 miles. "1000 miles- that's no joke!" as Sandhani put it. I stopped by the mileage board for a photo, and then the journey continued. I was very, very happy that at last, like all the other runners, I had a four-figure number next to my name. I had cracked the ton. But with this came the realization that this was far from over. Each milestone was just another starting point, along Eternity's Road.
And by the way, for the coolest photo of Abichal in existence, visit http://srichinmoyraces.us/ultras/3100_miles/standings/day_23
About 8.30am most mornings, we would look forward to Sri Chinmoy visiting us at the course. Around 7am, he would go and practice running and walking at Aspiration-Ground. Fortunately the 3100 mile course is only a short distance from there, so Sri Chinmoy would usually drive past the race before returning home. When we ran counter-clockwise around the block, Sri Chinmoy could just wait in one spot for all of us to pass by; when the direction was clockwise, he would have to pursue us around the block. We would keep an eye out for him, yet quite often we would be surprised by the car gliding quietly up to the kerb beside us. We would look over and see Sri Chinmoy smiling at us, giving us his blessings. This was always the most special part of the day; we knew that although our journey was stretching out into weeks, we hadn’t been forgotten.
The summer heat was proving to be not so bad. The initial heat wave had subsided. The afternoons, though, were still pretty hot. A sandwich bag of ice under my cap helped to make the heat bearable. All the runners adopted this as an effective way to keep cool. I should add that this was not my idea- I think Suprabha, or one of her helpers came up with this.
On day 29 I reached another mighty landmark: I completed 1300 miles. Only one other Australian, Ian Javes, had run so far in a certified race, on a measured course (though his time of 17 days, 22 hours was a little faster.) What this really meant was that from this point on, I was setting a new Australian distance record with every step that I took. I might be in last place, but at least it counted for something! I knew that some Australians had run further; quite a few have run right around Australia. But when it comes to setting records on a certified, measured course, all the action was happening right here in Queens, New York.
Two days later, I reached a daily goal I had been pursuing since the second day. I managed to complete more than 100 laps. I hadn’t broken 100 since the first day. I felt energized that evening, and attacked the laps voraciously, passing and lapping other runners in my enthusiasm. Smarana told me later that he felt like telling me to slow down, for my own sake, but decided that I just had to learn it for myself. I felt great, and fancied that I might finally crack 60 miles. But alas, it was not to be. I reached 100, and the inner fire left me. It seemed that I had achieved the goal I had set for myself, almost unconsciously, and soon found myself bereft of energy. Smarana and Abichal passed me. “I thought I was Superman there for a while!” I said. “We know what that feels like,” replied Smarana.
“We also know what the post-Superman feeling is like!” commented Abichal.
Of course, it’s all relative. Smarana did a colossal 67 miles that day. I did 56. But my mileages were increasing, and I felt that I had better days to come.
About this time I got some nice new shoes. Two new pairs of Asics 2080s arrived by mail order. Also, some nice blue “Ultra” inner soles, made of some space-age compound that was supposed to absorb 93% of the impact, or something like that. The first thing I did was get a pair of scissors and cut the toes out of the new shoes. There’s something satisfying in performing such wanton vandalism on perfectly good shoes, and feeling justified in doing it. You’re saying, “I know better than all those experts at Asics what’s good for me.” The reason was that, despite ordering shoes in a big, extra-wide size, my feet were swelling. The pressure on the top of my left foot was such that some nerve running down to my big toe was being squashed, and stroking that part of my foot produced an unpleasant “zinging” sensation (there’s no other word for it.) After a while, I even cut the bottom of the tongue of the shoe, to give my foot some relief.
So, aside from my rapidly expanding feet, things were looking good. And two days later, I would do something that I didn’t even imagine was possible.
On day 32, Sri Chinmoy had driven by the course, as usual, to offer us his blessings. What was different on this day was that as Sri Chinmoy looked at me, I experienced what I could only describe as an explosion of light inside my heart. Now, it’s not often I receive what one could describe as a “spiritual experience”, so when it happens, I take note. Temporarily, it seemed, the mind was unseated from its position as supreme arbitrator of my existence, and I experienced a great feeling of joy within my heart, unfamiliar because of its rarity.
That day was not exceptional running-wise; I completed 41 miles, in keeping with my pattern of (relatively) high mileage one day, low the next. But it was as if Sri Chinmoy had planted a seed within my heart, which didn’t blossom until the following day.
On day 33 I felt good in the morning, which was rare. I told myself that today I was going to run strongly. My first lap, on most days, was usually the slowest, as I worked the stiffness out of my muscles, and waited for blister pain to subside. But today was different. I took the lead on the first lap; I couldn’t believe that the clock was showing a (relatively) blistering time of 6 ½ minutes when I passed it. Neither could the race crew. I thought I would have to slow down, or burn out, but I kept up a brisk pace all morning, and was still in the lead at midday. I passed the 50-lap mark around 12.30pm, where I would usually take a break, but thanks to all the bunks in the vans being occupied, I decided to go a bit longer. Salil surprised me by bringing Gareth, Prachar’s nephew, also from Canberra, and his friend Peter, down to the race. We exchanged greetings, had a photo together, then I continued on. I slowed down a little, and was expecting Namitabha or Smarana to catch me in the afternoon, but it didn’t happen. It felt really strange, but good, to have a lap total that I usually only reached well after the sun had gone down. Namitabha advised me that now I should find my “middle pace”, not too fast, and not too slow. Inwardly, I promised that I would find my “middle pace”- just not today. Sanatan, who was race director that afternoon, told me, “Don’t forget to drink- you’re burning up the track!” At 4pm I took a break, with 80 laps under my belt. It was probably the worst break I ever had, with much animated discussion going on outside the van, shattering the hoped-for peace and quiet. Still, it ensured I didn’t linger, and after 10 minutes, I put my shoes back on, and hit the pavement.
Late afternoon was a trying time of day, as the rays of the setting sun crept under the brim of my cap. But I still felt I could notch up a (personal) record-breaking 120 laps, quite comfortably. But Smarana admonished me, “70 miles, Matt! Come on- you can do it!” Sometimes he can sound a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger, with that Austrian accent. It was a persuasive argument- 70 miles was 128 laps. I decided to make that my goal, although it meant that I had no time to relax; I had to maintain, even increase my pace. So I did. The hours just seemed to melt away, that entire day. I just existed in the moment, and the running seemed easy. Somehow it didn’t seem half as hard as it did on days when I ran a lot less miles, because I was enjoying the experience.
I finally reached 128 laps at about 11.45pm; and declared myself finished for the day, after I double-checked the lap scorer’s sheet, to make sure I really had done 70 miles. Sahishnu and the crew gave me an ovation. I had surprised them as much as I had surprised myself. I was nearly nine miles ahead of Namitabha and Smarana in the daily totals; they tied with 61.456 miles. Madhupran had averaged a monstrous 72 miles a day when he set the world record; so just for one day I could experience what it was like to run almost as well as him. I probably don’t have to add that this was my best day. Fortunately I couldn’t see into the future, and look at all the injuries, discomfort, and exhaustion that was in store for me, before it was all over…
I don’t think I intended my reminiscences of the race to go on this long- almost 9000 words, and counting. And there are still so many things about being out there on that block, that miniature universe that I haven’t even mentioned! I haven’t really gone beyond saying “I got up on such-and-such a day and felt good/bad and did x number of laps.” Anyway, for better or for worse, I’m not going to stop writing until I’ve reached the last day of the race.
Some of Sri Chinmoy’s students would structure some of their regular activities around the race. For instance, Databir and a few boys would come down regularly in the morning, once or twice a week, and play Frisbee on the baseball field. The air would be filled with enthusiastic shouting for an hour or so- mostly from Databir. At the conclusion of the game, they would gather in the centre of the field, and recite the “Frisbee prayer:” three times: “My Supreme, my Supreme, My Supreme, Your Victory is my heart’s only dream. My Supreme, my Supreme, my Supreme.” Often Databir would shower and come back for one of his famous guard shifts: sitting in his car, engine running, aircon on, he’d applaud and cheer us enthusiastically for a couple of laps, then we’d see him slumped in his seat, head back, mouth open, sleeping like a baby.
On day 34, I ran 45 miles. I didn’t expect to do much more after my big 70-miler the day before (that day soon became semi-legendary, thanks to the daily results being posted on the internet: I was showered with congratulatory e-mails, mostly from the Australians who were keeping a close eye on the race.) In the evening, day 34, it rained. Sometimes it’s nice to be out there in the elements. It was one of those strange nights when you could swear that your all alone out there; you don’t see a single other runner for an hour or so. You wonder if everyone’s gone home. In reality, everyone is out there, doing more or less the same speed, orbits never intersecting. I was feeling a pain in the sole of my left foot; it had been present before, but now it was becoming harder to ignore. But for the rest of the evening, I tried to put it out of my mind.
I had my best morning of running on day 35. Once again, I led the field from the first lap. It was a Saturday, so we had the excitement of seeing the 2-mile race across the street from us. After, all the 2-mile runners gathered near the 3100 mile “camp”, as Sri Chinmoy usually came down after the race. Today was one of those days when he did come. Everyone waited in silence whilst he sat in the car and meditated. Then he recited a prayer he had just composed. It felt strange running between Sri Chinmoy and all the people, who were silently meditating, but I had learned that while I was at the course, it was my job just to keep on running. It might be someone else’s job to meditate, to sing, or to count laps, but it was my job to run. Next lap Rupantar told me, “Sri Chinmoy wants to give you Prasad!” so I went up to the window of the car, and Sri Chinmoy gave me a chocolate chip cookie, which I tried to eat soulfully, as I ran. The next lap, Rupantar delivered some truly shocking news to me. “Sri Chinmoy said that you can run as much as you want, up until August 13!” Now, the original time limit for the race was 51 days, or 6am, 5th August. Going by previous races, we expected that Sri Chinmoy would give Suprabha a few extra days to complete the race, if she didn’t finish in time. And some of us had thought that we, too, would get to keep running, as long as Suprabha was running. But this new extension Sri Chinmoy had made, just for me, blew my mind. The finish line had receded even further into the future. Worse, I calculated that if I did 60 miles a day, I could actually finish the race! Therefore, I decided that that goal was what Sri Chinmoy had really intended for me, when he set the new time limit. I felt a massive burden of (self-imposed) expectation descend upon my shoulders.
The lesson here is that when you interpret something that Sri Chinmoy says, you do so at your own peril. No-one had any expectations of me when I started the race. All I had to do now was keep on doing what I had done since the start- the best that I could. The extension was a blessing, not a punishment. It would take time, though, to fully appreciate it as a blessing!
Anyway, I managed a steady 8 laps an hour for the first six hours. 48 laps, or just over a marathon. Six hours is not a fast marathon time on the regular world, but in the 3100 mile race, it’s blistering. After 50 laps, I took a break. When I got out on the track again, for the afternoon session, it was a familiar feeling. All the momentum I had in the morning had been lost. Everything hurt. It’s a supreme irony that taking a break does this to you. If you soldier on, everything comes good again. It was one of those afternoons when running was just too much. I walked. I felt a little depressed as I watched the time slipping away; I wasn’t going to equal my 70-mile record of two days ago. But I shook off this stupid feeling. I had had a truly fantastic morning of running. I could walk for the rest of the day, and still do OK. If you can do a good total for the morning, “it sets you up!” to quote Abichal.
Madhava, a chiropractor from Chicago, checked us all out in the afternoon. He tested our responses to various stimuli. We were all advised to stay away from sugar. He also told me that psychologically, there was some conflict that just “wasn’t working”. He had picked up that burden of expectation I had assumed. He told me, more or less, to drop it. So, more or less, I did.
I completed 110 laps for the day, or just over 60 miles, tying with Namitabha for second place in the daily totals. That felt good. Little did I realize that this was the last day I would get within 5 miles of this figure for the rest of the race!
Day 36. I woke up, feeling a little less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Yesterday’s 60 miles were still haunting every fibre of my being. But I was so used to the routine by now that getting up around 5.30 and heading out the door to await the arrival of Rupantar’s chariot was at least achievable. We drove to the course. Once there, I sat down in my chair. All too soon we were called to the start line. I was thinking, “Someone please shoot me.” After my best couple of days running, I was spent. The fun was over. Standing at the base of the big concrete mountain (which was my analogy for standing on the start line, with all the day’s miles still ahead of me,) seemed more daunting, more challenging than ever. Rupantar called “Runners, take your mark…go!!!” and we were off. Trishul noticed that I was looking more of a wreck than I did most mornings. He gave me a little pep talk that at least helped me get started around the track. Thanks, Trishul. We all took it in turns to try and keep the other runners inspired. Everyone had their ups and downs. That day, I was down, down, down. (Somehow, I still remember the day fondly.) After a few laps, I did feel a little better. But I knew that there was no way that I would be completing 60 miles today. And therefore, my hopeful notion of reaching 3100 miles was finally dissipated. I resigned myself to doing the best I could. After all, I was still setting Australian records. I reached my 40-mile minimum that evening, and then called it a day. “That was harder than the 70 miles!” I remarked to the lap scorer. And I wasn’t joking. The day I did 70 miles, everything seemed to just flow. Day 36 was an uphill battle. But I did reach the tidy milestone of 1700 miles. And it didn't escape my attention that it was exactly 1000 more miles to reach 2700. I wondered if I was ever going to get there.
Well, it’s been nearly two months since my last posting about the 2003 Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race. It has taken longer to write about it than it took to do it. But if anyone out there is still interested, and even if no-one is, I feel compelled to continue with my memoirs. Which isn’t easy, because looking back now all I see is one big blur. Do I really remember how I felt on day 37? Let me look at my day-by-day scoresheet and attempt to scry deep into the long-lost past….
I did 100 laps that day. That’s good for me. 54.88 miles. And the next day, I also did 100 laps. I had reached my goal of running consistently from one day to the next. Or so I thought. The following day I just scraped in with my minimum 40 miles. My left foot was really bothering me. The toes were numb, and at the same time they felt like they were being crushed. Worse was the sensation in my arch; it felt like I had a piece of garden hose lodged in there, that I was treading on with every step. Some muscle, or tissue, or something, was doing something weird. Occasionally the “garden hose” feeling would disappear, and I felt like I was walking on a layer of chewing gum. Not sticky, but strangely elastic. Worst was the pain on the outside of my foot. Every step I took, I felt like I was walking directly on the outer bones of my left foot. Perhaps my foot was rotating outwards to protect the arch. It felt like my foot had been replaced with a brick. A brick with nerves in it. I wasn’t enjoying myself.
It was a slow day. By 5pm, I had only completed a marathon. I knew I had to do something drastic just to get to 40 miles. So I started running. And I kept running all through the evening. And I made my 40 miles.
There were a couple of chiropractors who generously donated their expertise to the 3100 mile runners. We were all extremely grateful on the days when one of them came by to check up on us. One was called Jamie. The other gave me his card, but I can’t find it. Unfortunately, I can’t recall his name. This particular chiropractor looked at my foot and diagnosed what I had suspected: the arch had fallen. This was causing pressure on a nerve, that was resulting in my toes feeling (uncomfortably) numb. The chiropractor recommended rolling a golf ball around under my foot, to stimulate the afflicted area. I didn’t have a golf ball at the time, but I did have the wooden foot roller that Rupantar gave me. Right now, I am in fact rolling my foot over a golf ball, which does a world of good for all those nerves and muscles that never get to work properly, encased in a shoe all day. I alternate this with the foot roller. I can wholeheartedly recommend this to all ultra runners. You will find it invigorating to do these exercises when you’re taking a break during a race.
I had wasted a lot of time one day trying to counteract the pain by taping bits of cut-up inner sole to my foot, trying to take the pressure off parts that hurt. Before long, it looked as if I was wearing a shoe inside my shoe, as a result. And it wasn’t helping. So I tore all the tape off, and actually felt better. Arpan did show me a simple way to tape my arch, which helped. I taped it up this way every day for the rest of the race.
Abichal gave me a pair of inner soles, designed to support the arch. These made a huge difference. Hard moulded plastic under the arches helped them to work the way they are supposed to, distributing the shock of impact evenly throughout the foot. If you’re going to do a multi-day race, I’d definitely recommend having a pair of these kind of inner soles in your race kit. Undoubtedly, custom-made orthotics are best, but if you’re like me and can’t afford $300 - $500 to get them made, a pair of $30 inner soles can make a difference. I had to trim mine a little, as they started causing blisters after a while. When I cut away the offending bits, the blisters disappeared.
So, I struggled on through the long, hot summer. Stay tuned for more sensational ultra revelations in my next posting!
On day 43 of the race, I reached another unprecedented milestone in my running life: I completed 2000 miles. Trishul, Abichal, Smarana and Abichal posed with me next to the mileage board for a photo. And looking at the shortness of my hair in the picture, it seems that it must have been taken not long after Sundar brought his clippers to the race and trimmed our flowing locks. Now that’s service!
The next photo after this in my album shows Trishul, Abichal, Smarana and myself running with Durdam. I’m not sure which day that was exactly. Durdam, upon discovering that the gates to the Jamaica High track were shut, decided to come over and do a few laps with us. He really helped us pick up the pace. Eventually our pack caught up with Namitabha, and he also joined us. Soon after, Sri Chinmoy drove past. He stopped in front of us, and we also stopped. Sri Chinmoy meditated on us all in silence for about a minute. Then he drove away, leaving us to continue our race, and try to absorb what he had offered to us.
On day 48, I completed 50 miles, the only time I did so in the final 20 days of the race. I’m telling you this because it’s printed on the results sheet, but I have no recollection of it. At this point of the race, I was going to bed every night resigned to the certainty that the next day would be my last. You might think that because I had survived this long, everything had become easier. But I felt that ever since day 38, I had been more or less just hanging in there. But happily I was wrong about the next day being my last. Somehow I survived each day, and avoided major injury.
It was becoming quite apparent that Namitabha was going to win this race, and that he was going to finish in the next few days. Namitabha has participated in every single 3100 mile race, but had never before finished in first place. It was quite exciting to contemplate that this eternal journey actually had an end, and we were looking forward to his finish as much as he was. On day 49, he started out with a total of 3023 miles, and the possibility of finishing the distance that day must have been at the forefront of his mind. But he had to wait until day 50 to reach the finish line. A cheering throng had gathered to congratulate him as he breasted the tape. Chanakya gave him a jersey emblazoned with the word “Yugoslavia”. He was given a laurel crown and a big bouquet of flowers. Sri Chinmoy was there to applaud him, and congratulate him personally.
All that was left for Namitabha to do now was to complete a leisurely 13 more laps, to bring his total to 5000 km. Then he gratefully left the course for another year.
On day 51 of the race, Smarana finished. With two runners gone, the place definitely felt emptier. Abichal reached his goal of 2700 miles, plus an extra 47, two days later. There were only a couple of well-wishers there to see him finish late at night, but that didn’t matter. We could see how happy he was to have reached his finish line. It took a few more days for Trishul to complete 3100 miles; he crossed the line on day 56, clutching his faithful dog, Dharma. Like Namitabha and Smarana, he continued on for another 13 laps, to 5000 km, still wearing his victory laurel wreath, with the blue finishing tape around his neck, the words “Never Give Up” emblazoned across it in gold. A day later Suprabha finished, for the seventh time. The women of the Centre made sure that it was a big occasion, with balloons and decorations adorning the finish area. Suprabha didn’t bother going on to complete 5000 km. She had done it once, in a time of 49 days +16:50:45, and that was enough.
And then it was just me, out there all alone, on that big eternal loop of concrete. The solitude was eerie. Sometimes there was literally no-one else around, save for the sole race official now manning the lap-counting area. The baseball field was empty, the handball and basketball courts were deserted, and the swings and climbing equipment in the childrens’ playground had no-one to play on them. Okay, perhaps I’m using a little poetic license; the high school was undergoing major maintenance work, which involved a couple of dozen workmen. They were using a couple of big cherrypickers to get at the windows, and sometimes they parked them right on the sidewalk, requiring a detour out onto the road to get around them. They made a loud beeping noise whenever they moved anywhere, which could be heard from some distance away. But aside from the workmen and their machines, the block was often devoid of human presence.
Sometimes I liked being alone out there; sometimes I didn’t. Fortunately there was always someone around to keep me company at night. The best part of it was that Sri Chinmoy still drove past to see me on those last few days. To try and relay what an honour, what a privelige that was, is beyond me. The singers, also, still came down in the evening to sing Sri Chinmoy’s songs. It was incredible to think that now this whole race was just for me. Or, to be precise, for the Supreme in me. But that is a reality that I am not often in touch with. If ever.
It was a big shock when the last day arrived. Day 60 of the race. I am confident that I had at this stage established the world record for the longest time spent doing a multi-day race. I had hoped that I would be able to crank out some big miles on the last day, perhaps matching my best of 70 miles. But it was not to be. That didn’t matter too much to me then. I was gleefully counting down the hours to the end. All of a sudden, it was evening. Then just as suddenly, it was the last hour. I had known all along in my mind that this race was finite, and would end, but I had been going around that block for so long that the idea of finishing was completely abstract. A crowd of mostly Australian supporters gathered at the finish. I borrowed a watch so I could time my finish to coincide with midnight, the time that Sri Chinmoy had suggested that I finish. And then I was on my last lap. I ran quite fast, and had to stop and wait just around the corner from the final stretch, to get the timing right. Then I was running towards that blue ribbon with gold writing on it, and finished on the stroke of midnight. My final total: 2818.0880. All the Marathon Team guys were there. I was handed a cake and a big bunch of flowers, and gave a short speech thanking everyone. Then Prachar asked me if I wanted to see Sri Chinmoy, who was still at the Wednesday night function at Aspiration-Ground. Before I knew it, I was in the back of a car, driving the half-mile to Aspiration-Ground. It was a strange feeling stepping through the gateway into the function. Sri Chinmoy was sitting in his chair, underneath a marquee. There were quite a lot of people in the seats, all clean and dressed for meditation. Of course, I was wearing my running clothes. I felt like a soldier who had just returned from the battlefield. Sri Chinmoy said “Ba!” (Bengali for “good”), and started applauding me. Everyone else joined in. It was a unique moment in my life, after a very unique experience. And here ends my retelling of the 2003 3100 Mile Race. Somehow, I didn’t get around to writing about everything I wanted to. There were a lot of unusual characters out there on that block, and quite a few noteworthy observations that perhaps I will never get around to recording. But perhaps I have conveyed some of the feeling of the race, and that’s enough. I would like to express my gratitude to Sri Chinmoy’s unparalleled vision, which has made the 3100-Mile Race a reality, and also to his compassion, for letting me take part in it.