photo: Abhinabha (left) at the award ceremony with previous record holder Angikar
The annual 12 Hour Walk is a walking race held by students of Sri Chinmoy to commemorate their spiritual teacher’s arrival in the United States on April 13th 1964. The Walk starts at 7 p.m. on April 12th and finishes on the morning of April 13th at 7 a.m. If April 12th happens to fall in a weekend, then the Walk is held during the day, starting at 7 a.m. and finishing twelve hours later in the early evening. The walkers circle a city block in the burrough of Queens New York and their laps are counted by volunteers from the Sri Chinmoy Centre.
Some take the Walk as a spiritual pilgrimage and are not concerned about the distance, others try to challenge themselves by trying to cover as many miles as they can. For them it is a pilgrimage and a race. Sri Chinmoy himself loved to challenge his own abilities all the time, so it all done in his spirit.
One April morning several years ago – it must have been 2006 or 2007 – I was sitting at Aspiration-Ground when the awards for the 12 Hour Walk were given out by Sri Chinmoy. Although the winner had covered quite a few miles, it wasn’t close to the existing event record of 65.1 miles set by Angikar in 1998. Sri Chinmoy then said, “I really want that record to go.” Being a fast runner my only athletic concern back then was the marathon. I didn’t intend to enter into the walking world any time soon, since I was afraid it would infringe upon my running capacities, so I never participated in the 12 Hour Walk. Still, after hearing Sri Chinmoy’s comment I thought to myself that one day I would try to break the record. A tiny seed of inspiration was planted in my heart.
It wasn’t until the beginning of this year – 2015 – that the seed finally sprouted into an aspiration-plant and I decided to start training for the 12 Hour Walk to challenge Angikar’s record, which still stood unbroken for the past 17 years. His distance of 65.1 miles (104.8 kilometres) meant an average speed of 5.4 miles (8.7K) per hour.
For three months I made a complete switch from running to walking, training every day of the week. Most days I would do walks of one to two hours. On the weekend I would do a long walk, starting with four hours and gradually lengthening the time to six and even eight hours. After that eight hour walk I felt confident that I had the capacity to complete twelve hours at the necessary speed to break the record.
Race day April 12th fell on a Sunday, which meant that the Walk was held during daylight hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The course was a half-mile block on flat concrete sidewalks. I started at a fast clip, covering 18 miles in the first three hours and building a comfortable cushion for the record. With about a hundred walkers participating the course was pretty crowded. It meant an added challenge, since I often had to slalom my way through the slower walkers in front of me.
How to get through twelve hours of continuous walking? For me meditation was the answer. Inwardly I kept chanting mantra’s to keep my mind blank and empty of thoughts. One of the mantra’s I used was my own spiritual name. Sri Chinmoy had said that one’s spiritual name is the best mantra one can use, since it brings you directly in touch with your own soul. I had a very good experience walking this way. Often I felt a higher, vaster consciousness opening up within me, where everything became peaceful and the monotony and pain of the sheer physical effort vanished into the background.
I was fortunate to have many wonderful helpers during the Walk. Rabinath and Unmukta, both from the Sri Chinmoy Centre in The Netherlands, helped me with all my eating and drinking needs. Perhaps the greatest help I received from the previous record holder, Angikar, who had come to watch my record attempt. Before the race he had already given me priceless advice on what to eat and drink. And during the race he provided me with more invaluable advice on my technique. He told me to swing my arms and use my hips more, which helped to increase my stride length. Nobody seemed more eager for me to break the record, even though it was his own! I am forever grateful for his selfless service.
My counter Uddipan, another great helper, constantly kept me informed about my lap times and made sure I stayed within the necessary limits to break the record. I was grateful for my long training walks, which gave me the needed endurance to continue hour after hour at approximately the same pace – although I did slow down a bit in the last three hours. The hardest time was from ten to eleven hours, when fatigue was peaking and I still had two hours in front of me. That one hour seemed like three!
When the eleventh hour struck suddenly everything became light and easy. I felt the pressure cease as the finish came in sight. I knew with certainty I was going to make it and the confidence gave me added strength. That last hour I felt a deep spiritual connection. It was as if a great peace descended and I almost felt like I was walking on clouds instead of concrete pavement. A big crowd had gathered at the start-finish area and every time I passed them a great roar of encouragement went up. The enthusiasm of the crowd gave me tremendous joy! I couldn’t help but break into a huge grin every time I passed.
With twelve minutes to go I passed the start-finish area and realized I could still complete two more laps if I increased my speed. I broke into a speedwalking sprint and managed to do two more laps in just over ten minutes. When the horn blew for the end of the twelve hours I had completed 120 laps plus a little more, totalling 65.9 miles, just over 106 kilometres.
I felt extremely happy to have been able to fulfil Sri Chinmoy’s wish to break the record, and extremely humbled that I was given the capacity to be the instrument to do it. I always try to feel that it is not me who is doing the running or walking, but the Divine in me who is acting in and through me. In the end it is the divine grace that grants us the capacity to go beyond our preconceived limitations, to transcend ourselves.