The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team was formed in the fall of 1977 by members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, who were students of the Indian meditation master, author, poet and philosopher Sri Chinmoy. The athletic looking teacher had been a champion decathlete, sprinter ,soccer player and volleyball coach at the spiritual community where he lived for 20 years. He had begun requesting his students to place more emphasis on their physical fitness as a means of enhancing and complimenting their practice of meditation. He felt that running was a perfect sport to enhance fitness and well being. Many had begun to practice athletics, particularly long distance running, walking, cycling and swimming.
In 1976, 33 members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre organized and ran a continuous , non-stop relay through all 50 states, carrying a flaming torch and calling themselves the Liberty Torch Bicentennial Relay. Sri Chinmoy wished the runners to spread the message of dynamism and kindle the flames of love of country. They covered nearly 9000 miles of running, many runners averaging 100 miles a week in the process. Soon members of other countries conducted relays to show that spiritual people could also be dynamic, responsible members of their communities. We also entered 200 members in the 24 hour bike race in Central Park, garnering numerous awards and developing an appetite for training and racing.
As a service to the running community, the Marathon Team was formed to organize races of various distances. Sri Chinmoy felt that holding races for the public would give the running community joy and an avenue for friendly competition. He encouraged his students to train daily and compete often. On October 2, 1977, our first race of ten miles was held in Greenwich Ct. To make it special Sri Chinmoy had us offer split times every mile, have water and refreshment drinks every mile as well, and to provide enthusiastic support along the whole course. We even had singers line portions of the course and sing uplifting, encouraging songs about running and transcending.
A few weeks later about 60 members of the SCMT participated in the five borough New York City Marathon, starting a tradition that still flourishes today. Sri Chinmoy himself began long distance training, running every day and practicing for any and every local race. His enthusiasm was contagious. We began to search for courses in parks and on the streets of New York. We would even look for the hilliest stretches of road for important resistance training. A giant chart with everyone's weekly mileage was erected on the wall of our meeting hall and gym. Much inspiration was gained from seeing our daily and weekly totals in full view of everyone. Sri Chinmoy began to train for marathons and eventually ran 20 himself, with a best of 3:55:07 at the Heartwatchers Marathon near Toledo, Ohio, on March 25, 1979, at age 47.
We also conducted a monthly lecture series featuring famous local and national runners, who gave talks about their running and encouraged us in our training. Some illustrious athletes included Ted Corbitt, Joe Kleinerman, Nina Cusick, Tom Fleming, Cahit Yeter, Craig Virgin, Bob Beamon, Calvin Smith and Carl Lewis.
Our first ultra race
In August of 1978 Sri Chinmoy suggested a 47 mile race in celebration of his birthday of 47 years. We hastily organized a 47 mile invitational race amongst the students, with help and advice from Ted Corbitt, the legendary runner and father of ultrarunning in the USA. Fifty-six out of 57 starters finished the race. Our interest in ultramarathons was being created. This particular race provided a springboard for excursions into longer and more demanding events. Talent began to emerge as well from our own group. Virendra Gauthier's time of five hours nine minutes still stands for the men, while Dipali Cunningham heads the women's standard in just over 6 hours, as well as having won the race 14 times for the ladies. Sri Chinmoy himself entered the race a few times and completed it in 1979 within the 13 hour limit with his inspiring determination.
As the number of competitors began to grow so did the number of races. 1979 saw our first marathon and half-marathon offered in Flushing Meadow Park, as well as shorter races and even triathlons. In 1980 we formed our first 24 hour race in Greenwich, Ct. In this race Marcy Schwam , the pioneer American runner, set three women's world track records for 50 miles, 100km, and 100 miles. The following year in the same race Cahit Yeter from New York set a North American 24 hour best of 155+ miles, and Sue Medaglia set a women's 24 hour world record of over 126 miles.
Branches of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team were formed in 20 other countries, and have expanded to nearly 100 around the world. Today, the Sri Chinmoy Triathlon in Austrailia is the National Long Course Championship, as well as the 100km road race. Our 24 hour races in Europe are highly respected, particularly in England, France, Germany, and Switzerland. In the 1993 24 hour event in Basel, Switzerland, some 120 runners from 15 countries took part, with the President of the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU), Malcolm Campbell, calling it " the best 24 hour event ever staged".
The cornerstone of Sri Chinmoy's philosophy is the expression of self-transcendence- going beyond personal limits and reaching new levels of inner and outer perfection. This vision of the complete seeker-runner was also practiced by his students, many of them discovering talents they didn't know they possessed. Some began to train for marathons and ultramarathons, others began long distance swimming training.
As the enthusiasm for running began to grow, Sri Chinmoy felt that standard procedures for his races must be kept. We began to organize races on one-mile or two kilometer loops, using flat courses, so that runners could always expect a chance to do well. Water and refreshment drinks were to always be available, as well as accurate scoring and enthusiastic support. The number of our races began to grow, as weekly two mile events and sprints for children and seniors were offered. We also began to offer much longer races- 70 miles, 100 miles, 24 hours and 5 days.
World record performances
I984 saw the appearance of the Greek legend Yiannis Kouros at the New York Road Runners Six Day Race, in which he set new standards for 48 hours, and broke the 100 year record for six days by running 635 miles. A few months later Yiannis came back to New York to run our 24 hour race, in which he established new road bests for 100 miles in 11hours 46 minutes, and smashed the 24 hour absolute best by 7 miles with 177 miles. A year later in the same race, but running in the teeth of high winds from Hurricane Gloria, Yiannis broke his own record with 178 miles. In the 1997 Adelaide Sri Chinmoy 24 hour Race, Yiannis Kouros set the new and probably unbreakable world record of 188+ miles( 305 km).
In 1985 we offered our first 1000 mile race in Flushing Meadow Park, the first of its kind in this hemishere in this century. Three runners actually completed the distance in the allowed timeframe. Leading the group was American distance pioneer Don Choi from San Francisco, California.
The Marathon Team also began holding monthly marathons at Flushing Meadow Park, hoping to inspire the runners to increase their capacity at the 26.2 mile distance. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team also developed a special and unique relationship with the New York Road Runners Club, the largest running club and organization in the U.S. We would often help them with the scoring of their National championship 100 mile race, as well as their 6 day affair at Randall's Island. We have often participated in the New York Marathon, having had over 350 SCMT runners the last several years, as well as offering support in its organization and providing aid stations along the course and clean-up in Central Park after the race.
Sri Chinmoy took up weightlifting in 1985, slowly working his way up to eventual massive numbers of pounds with his special one arm lift, plus adding unusual lifts and feats of strength. His chronic knee injury prevented long distance running, but did not terminate his boundless energy for excelling at any sport. We had a special 200 mile race in honor of Sri Chinmoy's 200 lb one arm lift, in March of 1986, in which over 30 men and women ran 200 miles in his honor.
We began to offer track and field meets for athletes over age- 40, men and women, with our annual Sri Chinmoy Masters Games in 1985. Many former regional and national champions and some former Olympians including discus legend Al Oerter have taken part in the Games. Similar events are now held on the West Coast and in Europe. Sri Chinmoy himself practiced sprints and throwing events, as well as weightlifting, a number of one -arm lifting and calf-raise events. In 1991 Sri Chinmoy surpassed his best times in this country for the 100 meters, 200m and 400m set in Puerto Rico in 1984.
In 1987 Sri Chinmoy increased his vision of the running world. He felt that a longer race of 1,300 miles would inspire a challenge for the ultramarathon runners. The Ultra Trio was born- a set of three ultra races of 700, 1,000 and 1,300 miles. World class distance specialists began to attempt the increasingly difficult mileages. This unique race is still contested every fall.
Running for Peace
That same year a new running adventure was born- the Sri Chinmoy Oneness -Home Peace Run, a relay run through 55 countries around the world, carrying a flaming torch for peace. The public was encouraged to participate, and local and national officials embraced the event. Over 250,000 people ran with the torch and took part in ceremonies that designated peace as a primary objective for world harmony- one person at a time, one step at a time. The Peace Run is now a biennial event, attracting millions of participants in over 70 countries. The U.S. event runs through all the 50 states, with thousands of runners joining in. Politicians,monarchs, heads of state, celebrities and people from all walks of life take part and hold the torch.
Sri Chinmoy's students began to excel in running and swimming as well. To this day over 40 of his students have swum the English Channel, and several others hold or have held distance records for running in various countries, including the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Hungary, and Japan. Others have recently taken up mountain climbing as a means of testing their limits.
World Championship Ultras
The Marathon Team held national and world championship events in 1988 and 1989 at Flushing Meadow Park. The 1988 1,000 mile event was the I.A.U. (International Association of Ultrarunners) World Championship. Yiannis Kouros of Greece ran 1,000 miles in 10 days,10 hours, breaking the previous record by 1 1/2 days. Suprabha Beckjord of Washington D.C. won the women's 700 mile race in American Record time. Sandra Barwick of New Zealand set a new world standard for women at 1000 miles in 14 days,20 hours. In 1989 Rae Clark of California set a new U.S. standard for 100 miles and Ann Trason did the same for the ladies in the 24 hour event, besting the entire field for the National Championship, as well as setting a new world women's standard for 100 miles. Later that year Al Howie of Scotland became the first person to complete the 1,300 mile distance in a certified race (17 days 9 hours).
1989 saw the women's world best for 1000 miles claimed by Suprabha Beckjord as she broke Sandra Barwick's time by a mere 27 minutes. In 1991 Ann Trason broke the women's world best for 100 miles in 13 hours 47 minutes in our 100 mile road race. The 1991 Ultra Trio had a field of over 60 runners for all three races- unheard of considering the great distances being attemted. Al Howie came back to break his own record for 1,300 miles by 13 hours and Sandra Barwick became the first woman to run 1,300 miles in a certified race; enroute she smashed the 1,000 miles standard by two days! In 1992 Suprabha Beckjord returned to join the super elite group who have run 1,300 miles in a certified race, which currently totals ten men and six women. In the 1993 1,300 miler, Istvan Sipos of Hungary broke Al Howie"s record by nearly two hours. In 1994 Antana Locs of Canada won the 1300 miler overall, and was the first person to ever complete the 1300 three times. In 1995 Georgs Jermolajevs of Latvia broke the world mark for 1300 miles in 16 days 14 hours.
The world's longest race
In 1996, the Marathon Team increased the Seven Day Race to 10 days. Latvian Georgs Jermolajevs won by a slim margin over Australian Dipali Cunningham, 725 miles to 723. A more astounding event took place in the summer of 1996. Six runners toed the line on a flat paved course around a park and a school in the neighborhoods of Jamaica, Queens, New York, only a few blocks from our Headquarters. The worlds' longest race of 2700 miles lasted 47 days, with a remarable five finishers out of six runners. Georgs Jermolajevs of Latvia again prevailed, setting new world marks for 3000km and 4000km as well as 2700 miles, in 40 days 11 hours. Suprabha Beckjord of Washington ,DC finished first for the women in 43 days, one hour.
In 1997 Sri Chinmoy increased the world's longest certified race to 3,100 miles, hoping the runners would again transcend their capacities and inspire the running world . Edward Kelley of Huntington Beach,Ca. won the race in 47 days, 15 hours, even running an additional 7 miles to reach the magical 5000 km barrier. Suprabha Beckjord followed Kelley two days later to finish the 3100 miles as the first woman ever to run that great distance in a certified race. 1998 saw Istvan Sipos of Hungary smash the 3100 record in 46 days, 17 hours. Miss Beckjord repeated as women's champion with another sterling effort in 49 days, 14 hours. In 1999, in the heat of a record hot July, Edward Kelley won the 3100 mile race in 48 days, 12 hours. Suprabha Beckjord also completed the distance for the third time. 2000 had only four starters, but also the youngest finisher in Ashprihanal Aalto, a 29 year old Finn who dominated the race in 47 days, 14 hours. Beckjord again finished, making it four in a row. Rimas Jakelaitis, a native of Lithuania, set a new 1300 mile world best time of 16 days+00:28:10 in another remarkable performance at Wards Island Park. In 2001, Dipali Cunningham from Australia returned to break the women's six-day road record with 510 miles. Ultra pioneer Ted Corbitt, 82, astounded the world by running 303 miles, an octegenarian record thst exceeded the previous record,his own, by 63 miles. Rimas Jakelaitis set a new 10 day event best of 901 miles as the field for the two events swelled to 59 runners. A month later, Ashprihanal Aalto repeated his 3100 mile victory in 48 days 10 hours. Suprabha Beckjord continued to amaze with her fifth finish in a row. In the last race of 2001, Paula Mairer rewrote the women's 1300 record with an astounding performance of 17 days,21 hours, breaking Sandra Barwick's ten year old record.
Madhupran Wolfgang Schwerk rewrote the record books in 2002 with an amazing 3100 mile race of 42 days+13:24:03- some four days under the previous record. In all, Schwerk broke 74 marks for miles, kms and days throughout. In the fall of 2002, Paula Mairer broke two women's world bests-1000 km and 700 miles, both marks set in 1991 by Sandra Barwick , in the 700 mile race of the Ultra Trio.
The horizons of the running world are still expanding according to the remarkable vision of Sri Chinmoy: Run and Become. Run to succeed in the outer world. Become to proceed in the inner world. As we attempt to manifest Sri Chinmoy"s dream for the continuous progress of mankind in all endeavors, we offer our best wishes to all the seeker- runners who share a dream of going where few have ever gone. The challenge and the joy of transcending is the greatest gift and the best opportunity at true satisfaction in human life. Our oneness with their efforts is our true joy.