Tzvetan Sopan Tzekov born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1980, better known in the ultrarunning world as simply Sopan, has practiced sports since his early childhood especially swimming, track and field, and bodybuilding. At the age of 17 he started running longer distances – training for his first marathon (26.2 miles). At 19 he made his debut at the Sofia City Marathon finishing in just under 4 hours. The following year Sopan took part in the invitational Self-Transcendence 47 mile race in Queens, New York August 2000 finishing in 9 hours 53 minutes.
In the Spring of 2001 Sopan took on one of the greatest classic running distances – the 6 day race in Wards Island, New York organised by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. Running a 6 day race is itself a remarkable achievement but what’s even more significant was the fact that he was 20.
In ultramarathon running or at least in multiday running the golden age for a runner is considered to be between 30 and 50. Of course every rule has exceptions but it is generally considered that at this point in a runner’s career he has more endurance – physical and mental. A runner can endure more physical struggle for extended periods of time and can endure more repetitive activities like running with the same pace for hours and hours, day after day. So it is no wonder that the best performances in multiday running are achieved by runners at ages 40 and 50. For example, female record holder Surasa Mairer from Vienna, Austria set a world record for 700 miles at the age of 43. Dipali Cunningham from Australia set a women’s 6 day world record at 51. Madhupran Schwerk from Germany set a world record in the 3100 mile race when he was 51.
Starting to run ultra long distances at an early age (relatively speaking) can be an advantage. The runner has many years to develop the mental endurance and physical strength critical in multi day running and provides an extended period to gain experience which is probably the most important factor in extremely long races where the smallest mistake in preparation or during the race can prevent a finish.
Less than 18 months after his first multiday Sopan won the Self-Transcendence 700 mile race for the men in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York. In 2003 Sopan ran 622 miles in the 10 day race in New York for 2nd place and the same year he won the 1000 mile race for the men with 901 miles. In 2004 he was 3rd in the 6 day race in New York with 400 miles and in September the same year he won the Ultra Trio 700 mile race for the second time. He still remains the current champion of the Self-Transcendence 700 mile race since this was the last time the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team organized the legendary Ultra Trio which had featured world famous runners with world record performances.
In 2005 Sopan made a giant step forward in his multi day running career when he entered the Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race, the worlds longest certified footrace. Completing the distance in 51 days+16:55:47, Sopan became the youngest finisher in the history of the race.
In 2006 Sopan returned again to run this gigantic distance and improved on his previous performance by 27 hours finishing in 50 days+13:48:57.
Later he said “The 3100 mile race was a life-transforming experience. In this race runners have to face not only the physical challenge of enduring to the end of the race but something much bigger your own imperfections.” The race has a 51 day cut off and one more grace day in case of unexpected problems along the way which makes covering the distance a true challenge. Every runner has to run an average of 60.7 miles per day and they have to face their own worst enemy, their own self. “It is true that the more harmonious you are with yourself the easier and with less pain and injury you will finish the race”, says Sopan.
He continued, “Because of the length of the race, the race becomes a mental challenge. Any negative thought or emotion can become an unbearable burden if not let go of. What it comes down to is that you have to constantly let go of your imperfect negative self to a point where you become a better person and this helps you go on.”
The founder of the 3100 mile race is Sri Chinmoy who believes that “We are all truly unlimited if we only dare to try and have faith.” Sri Chinmoy is an Indian meditation teacher who with his philosophy of Self-Transcendence inspired countless people from all walks of life around the globe to live a happier life and in this way contribute to a better more peaceful world.
Sri Chinmoy passed away in October 2007 but his spirit continues to inspire the runners of the Self-Transcendence races which he founded. Sopan felt that without Sri Chinmoy’s inspiration he couldn’t reach the seemingly impossible goal of 3100 miles. He says,”Sri Chinmoy inspired me to start running and continues to inspire me to keep running.”
Sopan’s goal for the future is to improve his own records in the multi day running world and the 3100 mile race in particular. He is planning on being at the starting line again for this years race which takes place June 15th – August 6th in Jamaica, Queens in New York.
He is the current Bulgarian National Champion Record holder for all distances from 700 miles to 3100 miles. At the age of 33 he has many years ahead to reach even higher heights.
We wish him good luck.
Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race 2006 – 50 days, 13 hours.
Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race 2005 – 51 days, 16 hours.
Youngest in the world to attempt and complete the distance at the age of 24.
Self-Transcendence 700 mile race 2004 – 10 days, 20 hours – 1st place
Self-Transcendence 1000 mile race 2003 – 1st place
Self-Transcendence 700 mile race 2002 – 11 days, 18 hours – 1st place
Self-Transcendence 10 day race 2003 – 622 miles – 2nd place
Self-Transcendence 6 day race 2004 – 400 miles – 3rd place