The 2005 Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race – Abichal Watkins

The 2005 Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race

June 12th – August 14th, New York

Abichal Watkins

I open my eyes and my little black clock says 5:30. I have to get up now. I have 18 minutes before I must leave. I meditate for a few minutes sing three songs and dress. I check my email and its time to go. Sanatan is outside in the van as I exit the house. Inside the van, Srdjan sits in the front, Asprihanal is lying down in the back as I scramble in beside him and also lie down. Time in the horizontal position is at a premium. 2 minutes lcrw_0348ater we pick up the last member of the morning crew, Stutisheel and head on over to the start.
Emerging from the van is surprisingly difficult – every morning, and by now we have about 7 minutes before the day begins. The runners are assigned to a van and there are three vans, two red and one yellow. I’m in the yellow van. This short time is spent applying lubrication, second skin, tweaking shoe design, drinking, pill taking before the final call from Rupantar, the morning race director “One minute to go’ and the 13 runners shuffle toward the starting line. Thirty seconds – then Rupantar calls for a moment of silence. The street ahead is clear and quiet.” Runners on your marks, get set, go” and he starts the clock.

Everyday the runners switch direction – “uphill”and “downhill” one of the little things that affect how the runner manages his day. Downhill means that if you are in the yellow van you visit the bathrooms and aid tables before you reach your own table which requires extra planning as one approaches the camp. Pre-planning every stop is essential if one is to reduce time spent hanging around the tables getting this and that. It’s very easy to relax the pace and to lose focus. Their seems to be a lot more available energy in the camp and of course there is always the opportunity to take a break – something to distract one from one’s job.
And this is how Trishul viewed the race as an 18 hour a day job then in his mind he goes home to sleep. He would take it day by day and not think in terms of anything bigger. Easier for the mind to deal with. Trishul would invariably walk the first few laps and generally take it easier in the morning and in the afternoon and then would put in extra laps in the evening and was usually last man to leave the track at night. Being an experienced runner, having run multidays and ultras for more than 20 years and having several Canadian age group records to his credit, Trishul came to the race with two years of preparation during which time he had the good fortune to find a sponsor and with whose generous support was able to have a helper full time most days.
At the start of the race Trishul had been hoping to reach 3100 miles within the time limit. A goal denied in his last attempt two years ago so he was back to reclaim his dream. The first week ended with him on course however he hit a bad patch and it became cl

3100 mile race start

ear to him that this wasn’t going to be the year either. Day 11 saw the creation of the Commonwealth games, a little extra entertainment for Trishul, representing Canada, Rathin, the Australian and I carried the Welsh flag. This competition generated a lot of joy for Trishul who eventually won, and would sing a modified “We are the Champions” every morning to whoever had come first between us the previous day. So overall Trishul finished 7th in the race and even though he declared his retirement during the race, at the award ceremony after the race he said he would be back in two years.

Whereas Trishul would walk the first lap, Stutisheel was first to take the corner most days throughout the race and would get his miles in earlier rather than later. Returning after his debut last year at this distance Stutisheel brought his daughter along as his helper and from the first day Alakananda devoted herself to serving all the runners and entertaining the whole camp everyday After finishing 3100 miles for the second time in 54 days 7 hour 5s and 15 minutes Stutisheel said AOut of the 365 days in the year I consider these 55 days as real life. Why real life? The longest race in the world requires all your strong qualities and even those that you are unaware of. Being under the pressure of physical load and time, you are mastering pain and tiredness and there is also the feeling of the fulness of time. There is only the present moment that we are living in and in this moment you have to move forward on maximum. All feeling becomes sharp. Everything is sincere to the limit and thus true.

By the end of the first lap the runners were strung out over the course and Rainald and Smarana had clicked into their 7 laps an hour rhythm. These two Austrians spent hours together for days on end and finally finished the race only a few hours apart and within the 51 day time limit. If some one else was up to it they would try and keep up with Smarana who usually enjoyed company. This was Smarana’s 4th 3100 mile race and he ran like a metronome and though he did have a few injuries during the race they were something he was able to overcome and remain cheerful. Rainald, making his debut at this distance also had a very steady race set a new record for being the youngest finisher in the races history. This was to be a short lived record however as Tsvetan Tsekov crossed the line some 24 hours later to claim the position.

Breakfast usually arrives around about 8 a.m. Eggs, oatmeal, french toast – everyone is hungry by this time and calories are vital to maintain a constant supply of energy such that the body is able to provide the necessary power, day after day. Even though there are the main meal times, there is a constant intake of food and water made possible by the half mile loop. The summer heat in New York is accompanied by high humidity, 42 of the 64 days were in the high humidity category, and this requires careful attention to the bodies hydration needs. By 10 a.m. its warming up and the day is gradually unfolding and by 11 a.m soup arrives. This year there was a soup specialist amongst the cooks and this was a real treat between meals as it is a convenient medium.

High noon marks the first third of the day and most people take a break sometime between 12 and 1 although Martin often found he was moving at a rate that limited his breaks to a few minutes throughout the day. At the end of the first week, Martin had an ankle problem and one morning there came a doctor to look at his ankle. AIt was young doctor who had no experiences with this kind of races. So he said I should not continue in the race. I should stay in bed for a few days, not to walk not to speak about running. Then I decided. I wanted to continue until I could walk at least. And I told him that. But I decided something else too. I would not walk anymore. I would run even through the pain. Either it will break down completely or it would be cured. In few hours the pain vanished and I could make 100 laps that day. The swelling of the ankle disappeared in a few days.
At 6 o’clock Chanakhya would arrive with his cheerful outlook and then the heat of the day would start to subside. Dinner was at 7 – always looked forward to and sunset was a 8:27 p.m. for the start of the race and was 7:58 on the last day. By 9 it was dark and the day was down to the final 3 hours marked by the evening snack. Some people would have their most productive hours in the evening, most notably Trishul who would lift his pace and ran every night until 11:50 by which time he was usually the last man on the course.

Not everyone survived so. On the third Kuranga who ran so well last year abruptly left, citing the intense heat as the problem. It isn’t just the physical issues that one has to deal with in this event. Dealing with the mind can become just as, if not more important. Robert Zuscin was the smallest runner in the field and also had his fair share of injuries and he too remained cheerful throughout the race Along with his fellow Czech runners Martin and Pranab trained over 500 k/300 miles a month in the months leading up to the race
Many people have said and many more think that the endless miles must make it a very boring experience running on a half mile of sidewalk but as Stutisheel said, “this is the real life.” Rathin, running his in third 3100, when asked what he thought about while you’re running all day replied “I’m often thinking something along the lines of “I wish these laps would go by a little quicker!” In my daily schedule, I would usually try to complete 50 laps before taking a break around 27 miles. In the first hour, I would get about 5 laps, then try to pick up the pace, hopefully to around 7 laps an hour. I would reach 50 between 1 and 2 pm, after 7 or 8 hours of running. Then I’d take a break. When I resumed, I would continue on to 80, 85, or even 93 laps before taking another break. Then finish the day off, hopefully with at least 100 laps (54.88 miles). I would finish around 11.30pm each night. Any later and I risked getting less than 5 hours of sleep before the alarm sounded at 5.22am. I felt that I couldn’t get by with any less.”

The race director changed shifts about 1 pm and quite often Sanatan would have the shift and he would bring coffee for Tsvetan and myself. Tsvetan, who won the 700 mile race in 2002 and 2004, became a firm believer in the usefulness of coffee to help get things going when they seem to be stuck and seems to have been a significant factor in his success. Tsvetan had a mixed first three weeks but on day 31 passed Stutisheel to take 5th spot which he maintained for the rest of the race. Asprihanal and Tsvetan were also frequently to be found running together. It makes time seem to pass much more quickly when you run with someone especially if they have good energy. Asprihanal began the race with several problems that limited his mileage though it was some time into the race before people began to feel that Srdjan was going to maintain his position such is the perception that Asprihanal has generated due to his amazing run of multiday events since his first 700 mile race in 1999 and his previous performances in this race. In the end he was happy to finish in second place without serious injury and it was only a day or so before he flew back to work in Finland.

It was day 6 before Srdjan took the lead and while Asprihanal stayed close for some time Srdjan gradually drew away having found a comfortable pace. When I asked him afterwards if he had had a plan he said “I didn’t have a fixed schedule, I just followed my feelings and I never went to the end of my capacity. I always left some strength for the next day and I left early every day at 11:10. I was finishing early especially in the first 10 days because I didn’t know what the next stage would bring. I was careful. I did well but always left something for the next day. Then in the middle of the race I increased my speed. My second 1000 miles was faster than the first”.

I also asked him how he had prepared for the race: “My preparation was not only running but I did a lot of biking, I did Egoscue, I did a few yoga asanas for relaxing. For mental preparation I was meditating and concentrating and I wanted to learn rather than compete with others as it was my first time. After a few days, the body is totally exhausted and you have to rely on spiritual things because the body doesn’t work any more. It’s like being dropped in the middle of the Atlantic and then they say you have to swim to the shore. But you surrender, not to the run but to surviving because its so long. You surrender all your effort and results to God. Inwardly I felt really fulfilled.”

For some of the runners the daily striving was as much an inner opportunity as an outer experience and especially so for Suprabha Beckjord, the American women’s record holder for 700, 1000 and 1300 miles, running in her 9th 3100 mile race. I asked her what her race was like this year.

img_0994“Even though this was my slowest race, I feel it was my best race because starting from the very beginning I had to go beyond the idea of reaching 61 miles a day. I could tell that I was not going to be able to accomplish that, so from the beginning I had to surrender or transcend that idea. I was able to stay more in my heart because I wasn’t as much involved in the laps and the numbers and so forth that maybe I have been in my previous years and I felt that I was able to focus on being happy and other aspects of the race.

You can’t run this race always looking over your shoulder and trying to just stay ahead of everyone. I think you have to go inside and have to, at some point, surrender whatever it is each person is struggling with in themselves. Because there is a little bit of struggle I think for any runner out there. You are going around on this hard sidewalk and you have the traffic, trying to stay on-track with your laps and times and everything like that and these are all things that bring your mind in but then there is the other side which is to have a really nice experience out there. For me that’s when staying in the heart comes into play.”

At the awards ceremony Sahishnu Szczesiul, one of the race directors summed up his thoughts on the race.

“This race saw the biggest field of 14 runners in the world’s longest race, the most finishers 13, the best first time performance, the most individual finishes by male and female, the most first time runners at six. But it also saw an amazing feeling of oneness and concern amongst the runners themselves. The inner running was palpable and vivid. The serenity of the athletes was perceptible and admirable, even during hostile weather and difficult conditions. The athletes have created a special feeling that will permeate our consciousness long after this event has been forgotten. Their courage, determination and dedication to the task at hand was not only admirable, it was often unbelievable, as the race unfolded day after day. The runners believed in a better world, and with their hearts and with their feet have scaled the linear Everest that is this race of 3100 miles.

Many volunteers were involved in the race plus the good wishes from people all over the world came via the internet each day and touched the runners deeply. The runners would like to offer their gratitude to all the helpers and to Sri Chinmoy for his care, concern and vision. This race is an inspiration for the running community, a truly international community that year by year has grown in size and strength sharing and living the belief that:

Is not only a dream
But also
A most powerful reality

Sri Chinmoy”

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