Georgs Jermolajevs,55, from Riga, Latvia had just finished a 1000 mile race in Nanango, Australia in the middle of March, and was here to defend his race record of 725 miles in the Ten-Day. Istvan Sipos,38, from Szeged,Hungary, was on the rebound after an off-year in 1997. He had won the 1300 miler in 1993, the Trans America race(2925 miles) in 1994, and the 1000 miler in 1996. These two men were the class of the field. Georgs bounded out of the blocks with only the young Hungarian Norbert Karolyi taking chase. Jermolajevs piled up 127 miles in the first 24 hours- a fair total for any 24-hour race- but maybe too much too soon. Istvan stayed back in the pack with 78 miles. Sipos is the master of even pacing and consistent effort. His multiday wins have been punctuated with rock-steady mileage and proper rest breaks.
The ten-day is an odd distance in the annals of multiday running- it got its beginning from the earlier SCMT Seven-Day and Five-Day races. The Six-Day is the standard, traditional multiday challenge. Records have been established from the late eighteenth and 19th centuries, yet, the 144-hour timeframe scares the average ultrarunner. Why would anyone want to run for so many days? The challenge. The Mountain. This is the only six-day in North America. Trail running has all but eliminated road multis in the US. The Ten-Day was conceived to break the rigid thinking of the past. Two-hundred and forty hours. The combination of the two races made for a mix of the past and the future, as new talent emerged and old warhorses continued to move along nicely.
After three days, Istvan Sipos had climbed to within 22 miles of Georgs Jermolajevs' lead, and after a third consecutive day of 72 miles on Day 4, he was only eight miles back!
As the Ten-day folks concluded their fourth day amid showers and fog, the six-day people began their journey. David Luljak was one of the favorites to start, having captured the 24- hour national championship last year, as well as NYRRC best local ultrarunner title. David checked in with a cautious 103 miles, carefully monitoring himself for the five remaining days ahead. Intermitent showers did not seem to faze 50 -year-old Tom Smith from Maryland, who roared around the course for 132 miles in his first multiday, leading thefourteen men. Dipali Cunnmingham from Melbourne,Australia led the mostly novice ladies group( nine-runners) with 104 miles as there were now 35 people on the course. Dipali had run the third fastest 1000 mile time for women last fall, and was in great shape. Only Pippa Davis from Massachusetts gave chase with 94 miles. Of the 24 people in the six-day, 17 were new to the distance.
During a brief thunderstorm near midnight, Istvan Sipos pulled ahead of Georgs for the first time. By the end of Day Five, Istvan had fashioned a five mile lead, and was seen smiling on the course. As Day Six concluded, Sipos had increased his lead, but showers and winds had drenched the course for hours, making life a little more miserable. Sipos passed Day Six with 421 miles to Georgs' 408. These totals were far below what this duo was capable of running, but the conditions were tough. Dipali had a one-mile lead over David after two days- 186 miles to 185, but the Luljak machine was just revving up. On Day Seven, David ran 100 miles on his third day, a brilliant total, distancing himself from his female rival and the rest of the field. A fourth day split of 96 miles brought his line to 381, an average of 95 miles per day. He looked in control and in good spirits, with no real problems. Later that evening, as we speculated on the possible records that might fall, the rain that had been sporadic the last few days suddenly picked up its intensity. The strong rains and wind were to stay with the race till its end.
As Day Nine ended, with no relief from the rain in sight, David had accumulated another 95 miles, giving himself 476 after five days. If he could somehow muster one more charge of 101 miles, a new American record would be his. Dipali garnered 417 miles, and had a fair chance of a women's road record, given her penchant for blitzing the last 24 hours. The rest of the field was scattered behind, somehow remaining cheerful as the toughness of this sport was testing their mettle. The rain continued in its intensity as the last day began. The course was now flooded in many areas, particularly under the bridges where runoff had nowhere to go. At this juncture, most of the runners were just hanging on. But the runners and helpers also bonded together, as our little family needed each others' help and concern to survive. Shoes and clothes were seen hanging anywhere that was dry, including the generator house.The tent area was under a lot of water runoff, making access to the tents difficult, and rest harder to come by. The clothes driwer never stopped running. It was hard to tell runners apart, as everyone was forced to where heavy rain gear.
Georgs Jermolajev tried running close to Istvan Sipos, bridging their gap as near as seven miles, until late afternoon fatigue brought him back to his tent to rest. As the last evening approached and the rain and wind intensified, the runners sucked it up for one more push. David's shins were not allowing any good speed to happen- he took two long breaks during the night hoping for a minor miracle to assist his mighty quest of 577 miles( unofficial US best by Stu Mittleman). Dipali was being hounded by the fatigue demon. She also implored the higher powers to intervene and give her strength to move quicker around the loop. Georgs tried an all-out crusade to catch Istvan before the time limit. Istvan never let up until the wee hours, chugging through the puddles with an eye on the scoreboard each time he ran past camp.
The casual observer might think- this is crazy, why, bother. The average ultrarunner might remark- too much running, not enough trees and hills. But the multiday runner often relishes the challenge, the opportunity to test his limits and abilities.There are people that can run super-long and live to talk about. They are specialists. To achieve new standards, whether personal or national, is one goal. Experiencing life apart from the ordinary, and to encounter one's inner ability to deal with difficult situations in a noble way are the memories of a lifetime that each multiday runner can explore. They are pioneers in a sport that has little understanding from the public but much to offer all of us. They are champions of life because they seek to conquer themselves.
With the clock ticking away the final hours, Georgs strode past Istvan time and again to try and make up the difference of 15 miles, only to fall short by one mile at the end. Istvan used the last four days as training for the 3100 mile race in June. Georgs ran a 6:40 last mile, his fastest of the race, to secure the closest finish in Sri Chinmoy multiday history. David came back to the track to trudge through the puddles for 65 miles the last day and 541 miles total- short of his goals, but a brilliant six-day nonetheless. Dipali pushed herself all night for 87 miles on the final day, emotionally drained from the effort. A new women's world road best of 504 miles was established. She became the third woman to ever run over 800 km in a six-day race.
With the advent of this ultra-duo in the Spring, the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team is grateful to the many volunteers, professionals and to Sri Chinmoy himself, who all make it possible for gifted runners to express their talents or discover their abilities as we all travel life's eternal road. Good luck to all ultrarunners.
- Sahishnu Szczesiul