Why run 3100 miles?
3100 miles (or nearly 5000km) sounds like an eternity and believe me, it also feels like an eternity. Very often, I have been asked why am I doing such a long race?
This is not a question that you can answer in a few words; it needs a lot of background description. First of all I love any kinds of sports and I started running when I was six years old. Running is so simple, you just need your running shoes, a running shorts and a shirt. When I was 10 years old, I did my first half marathon, just for myself. I was never really a very fast runner, but I liked the movement, the challenge and the feeling of satisfaction, after the training. So I was running with no real goal, but for the satisfaction of running and feeling fit itself.
Things changed rapidly, when I got in touch with Sri Chinmoy, who became my spiritual mentor. A major part of Sri Chinmoy's philosophy is "Self-Transcendence" in every walk of life - that is to say, whatever you do, you can improve and you can go one step further, transcending your previous achievement. That was and still is something for me, that strikes me and inspires me in everything; to go beyond yesterdays achievement. Many restrictions are creations of the limited mind and we think that this and that is not possible, but once we try it, we find that it is not only possible but also attainable - if we believe in it and cultivate patience. One of Sri Chinmoy's students, Ashrita Furman is a shining example of self-transcendence in action. Ashrita has set more than 200 Guinness records and he is still going on.
I think every runner has at one point the dream to finish a marathon. In the beginning it is a far fetched dream, but as you start training, it becomes more and more a reality. Then the big day is coming, you are standing at the starting line and …
Hours later you cross the finish line and you are in ecstasy, you did it; a mental barrier has been lifted. Years back, many people thought the marathon runners to be crazy folk, and now you see 30,000 participants in the New York Marathon; marathon running has become something honorable.
After I did my first marathon, I heard about a 700 mile race in New York and I was thrilled about the idea. The problem was, that I thought that I did not have the capacity to do it. But there was a voice inside me that inspired me to try it and I finished it. Gradually I improved my stamina and my mental capacity to run the 3100 mile race. Who would have thought that one day I would run such a distance? With patience and determination and grace, is there anything that is impossible?
The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, as it is called, is a very special race in many ways and on different levels.
- the eternity of our progress in life
- the challenge of life
- the endurance we need for our life
- the patience for achieving something
- the mental poise we need in every situation of our life
- the helpfulness of a positive mind…
What makes this race so special for me is that you can learn so much about yourself in a relatively short time. The distance of 3100 miles has to be done in 52 days, that makes 59.6 miles per day. Everything gets very intense in this race. For 52 days you have to be very focused and endure rain, heat, humidity, injuries and lack of sleep. You are really pushing the limits and you can learn day by day, how to tackle problems in a better way.
Here at this point I have to say that the longer the race is, the fitter your mind has to be. You can create so much energy when your mind is cheerful and poised. When your thoughts are running amok and are becoming negative, you are loosing your energy and you are just seeing negative reasons to continue. At this point meditation is very helpful, it helps you to control your mind and gives it a positive momentum.
I want to tell an incident from a runner. At a 100km race in Vienna a friend of mine was running and he had done already 70km and he felt quite fresh, when his wife came and told him, “You look tired, you will not be able to finish the race.”
Sure enough five kilometers later he had to quit; the power of the mind.
During the race it is like a roller coaster, you have your ups and downs. Is it not the same as in day to day life? There are days we do not want to go out of the house, and life seems like a barren field. But if you continue you see that even after a very long tunnel you are going to see the light again. You just have to hang in, look for the positive and you will be rewarded. Here in the race you get plenty of opportunity to practice this experience and overcome it again and again. After such a race so many problems seem to be negligible, non-existing.
I simply love the opportunity to get this intense training of problem-solving drills. At the race you can not back off; you are confronted with the problems and you have to find a solution, or it will haunt you the next day and the following day.
In normal life you go and watch a movie or do something else to escape of the problem. Not at the race - "Face the problems and solve them!" is the motto.
You have to start the 3100 miles with your first step and many are to be followed. If you always think of the whole race, your mind can not take it, so you have to break it into smaller portions, laps, hours, days… so it becomes digestable. Similarly, in our life if we think of everything that we have to do, then it looks like an impossible task, so we also have to start with the first task, the second…until everything is done. Is this race not a great teacher for our life?
Sri Chinmoy took a very personal interest in this race and came nearly every day to encourage the runners. Everytime he came to the race I feel my spirit lifted and it gave me additional physical power.
Al Howie, an ultra-running legend in the 80's who became the first person to finish the 1300 mile race organised by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. He said, "Every time I am coming here and I am running a race, I am leaving as a better person." Yes, that is why I am also running this race - to become a better person.