by Bhikshuni Weisbrot
Day 12: One builds a 700, 1,000 or 1,300 miles race the same way those high risers in New York go up - one step at a time. By 272 hours 17 minutes and 57 seconds into the run, the leaders in their respective races have racked up miles that look like this: 700 mile race - Antana Locs, 596 miles; 1,000 mile race - Pippa Davis, 594 miles; 1,300 mile race - Marty Sprengelmeyer, 819 miles.
Contrary to the popular opinion of the wear and tear of time, race leader Marty looks limber, cheerful and about as good as he did on Day 1. He has maintained the lead since Day 2, when Yiannis Kouros dropped out to have knee surgery after completing 150 miles in 24 hours...Dan Coffey at 786 miles in the 1,300 miler and now second place holder, is a veteran and one of only 14 people in the world to have completed 1,000 miles in a race - in last year's Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team's 1,000 miler. He has returned to compete for 1,300 miles and maintains only a 32 mile lead over Canadian Masters champion Michel Careau.
The 1,300 mile goal indicates a new challenge over last year's 1,000 miler, with the novel twist of three races being run simultaneously. This race is innovative and unique and has drawn an international field who belie the definition of an "ultramarathon runner". There are chaps like Dan Coffey, in a very British-style Nottingham Running Club T-shirt; and the steel-tough Gaulic running greats Bernard Gaudin and Arlette Touchard, who together with the diplomatic French-Canadian Michel Careau, two other French entrants and Bernard's handler Yves Pol (world record holder for the backwards marathon - 4:38) make this an event francaise. There is the mad sportsman Ray Krolewicz, the practical and earthy Pippa Davis and local favorites like the diminutive, graceful Izumi Yamamoto, the humble Tom Grace and the ageless 70-year old Willie Rios. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team is represented in the running ranks by 7 women and one man, all ultrarunning veterans. This runner's village is a blend of the homespun & the exotic!
Photo: Chanakhya Jakovic rests in the pool at the foot of the Unisphere.
The support for an 18 day race is extensive. NYRRC president Fred Lebow drops in from the Shea Stadium 100 miler across the street, surveys the scene and asks: "You've got a small town here! Who's mayor?" Again the SCMT provides 24 hour medical, counting shifts and race personnel; sleeping quarters and a kitchen fully equipped with stove, potholders and a slightly shorter than wall-to-wall linoleum floor. The menu is bland, vegetarian and high in carbohydrates - widely agreed to be almost perfect for most. Occasional vats of Baskin Robbins ice cream are the signal for Bruce McNeely to serve as town crier, circling the 1 mile loop while enthusiastically announcing "ice cream! to every runner he passes. Bruce is a hang-loose Californian, now teaching in Spain. This is his first multiday, as it is also for Marty Sprengelmeyer, who is an accomplished 24 hour runner.
Day 13: Midnight, June 16 - 12 hours before the close of the women's segment of the 700 mile race. The scoreboard shows checkmarks next to 9 men who did not make the 12 day/700 mile cut off: 4 remain. Izumi's mileage is 678, Pippa's 675. Izumi is having her finest race ever and maintains a brisk pace whenever out on the course. Pippa, in her indomitably spirited way, just keeps going. Arlette is having problems, but with the heart of the true champion that she is, she keeps moving on.
Time ticks by and the clock reads 303:01:47. Antana Locs needs 33 miles by noon to complete her 700. A buzzer rings endlessly as a 3 am wake-up for Sulochana Kallia fails the first time. Counters agree to nudge again at 3:30. The night air is tinged with expectancy as the first race is nearly finished, respective cutoffs are being met and other goals ahead are still in the realm of possibility. One can only express gratitude and wonder during this run as history is made, shins heal and runners for the most part arise alert from their tents after mere catnaps in weeks of no-sleep.
A multi-day race puts life in perspective by simplifying things to running and the tasks that surround it. Take away the complexities, the hustle and hassle of the outside world and it's surprising how many heartfelt experiences can be had in a moment or an hour. In such a lengthy race, the excitement lies in the consistent air of transcendence that the runners lay down layer upon layer each time they go one more mile into personally uncharted realms.
Photo: With a twist here, and a poke there, Pradhan Balter helps keep the runners on the track during the Sri Chinmoy 1,300 Mile Race
Under a half moon, race leader Marty Sprengelmeyer begins at 303:50:00, at mile 894, 25 miles ahead of Coffey. From the floodlights of the Unisphere, counters can make out the shadowy forms of runners as they near the counting table. Bernard Gaudin's style is unique: he never walks but runs in an upright patter and politely thanks his counters each time. When attempts are made to call out his mileage in French, he is delighted and responds "Good French!".
As the rose-tinged dawn appears, the most often asked question by both onlookers and the runners themselves comes to mind: Why run? For Sri Chinmoy, the founder of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team and athlete extraordinaire, the answer lies in the fundamental philosophy of the team - self-transcendence. Sri Chinmoy defines self-transcendence as man's natural evolutionary struggle for perfection. In a race, by competing with oneself and going beyond a previous achievement even by one mile, an individual gets tremendous joy and the inspiration to go one step farther towards his own perfection. An event like this 1,300 mile race creates the opportunities for self-transcendence to take place.
For those who are familiar with Sri Chinmoy and his own activities, it is clear that self-transcendence is his own personal credo. When he one-arm lifted 7063 3/4 pounds on January 30, 1987 - the heaviest lift ever achieved in history - the English language failed his students. In watching the miles increase here, the same feeling permeates the air. One wonders if, in this new age of transcendence, Sri Chinmoy's own method of word hyphenation, will replace more paltry expressions - "aspiration-mountain-achievement" instead of "incredible" or "awesome" to describe what these runners are doing.
Early morning philosophy is interrupted by the emergence of Dan Coffey from medical. He sees Marty Sprengelmeyer - who has not yet, and never will, grace the medical tent with his presence. Marty is running slowly by, in his eternally zen-like calm. Dan: "You didn't get much rest, did you?" Marty: "Well, after 900 I'm going to sleep a little more - I believe in moderation." Dan: "Yes, moderation. That's why I never run more than 100 miles a day."
The women's cut off arrives. Antana Locs is lead woman in the 700 mile division, with 691 miles. She leads the race holding the Canadian women's ultradistance records from 48 hours up. Only Izumi and Pippa have made the cut off and will continue on to the 1,000 mile mark.
Day 15: Only three men remain: Marty Sprengelmeyer, with 1050 miles; Michel Careau in 2nd place with 1007 miles and Dan Coffey in third with 1002 miles. The number of people who have run a 1,000 mile race has increased to 16 - Marty now in 6th place with 14+04:45:44. Michel in 9th with 14+18:54:57 and Dan's last year's record maintaining him in 7th place. Marty's wife Donna has flown in from Iowa, encouraging him as he keeps moving forward into uncharted territory, the reason why he should continue running now lost to numb weariness. He keeps logging the miles that are taking him into history as the person who has run the most miles in a certified race.
Photo: Marty Sprengelmeyer, winner of the Sri Chinmoy 1,300 Mile Race.
Day 16: Pippa Davis and Izumi Yamamoto bow out, at 832 miles and 825 miles respectively. But in the process, Pippa has logged the most miles ever run by a woman in a certified race and Izumi has established new Japanese women's records from 48 hours up.
Day 18: It is over. Marty Sprengelmeyer has run 1250 miles, Michel Careau 1152 and Dan Coffey 1125. Marty has set the world record for 2,000 k (17+17:59:27) and for the most distance ever run in a certified race; Michel now holds all Canadian Masters records from 24 hours up; and Dan several British and world age category records.
Photo: Pippa Davis (l), women's winner of the Sri Chinmoy 1,300 Mile Race.
Tom Grace jokes and calls it the race nobody finished. But from the opening day, when each runner ran a lap with a lit peace torch, in the spirit of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run (history's longest relay), to the exuberant float ride of the awards ceremonies, it was the happiest event anyone ever has seen. In all, over 22 national and world records are set - and over 100 helpers learn how to count in French! As Pragati Pascale, the American women's record holder for this race, says: "It was a oneness-home-family-affair." Y'all come back now, y'hear!