Moments in Paradise: a personal account on the Self-Transcendence 10 Day Race 2010 – Shashanka Michael Karlen
No, no, no! It is not that I was running10 days in paradise! On the contrary, many hours were physically and mentally very hard work.
No, no, no! This is not 10 days of vacation from work with easy jogging in a nice park. On the contrary, several of the 75 runners, already on day 2 or 3, would have probably preferred to be at work than at Flushing Meadows Park.
Soon after the start you realize the dimension of the endeavor. You realize that you are in for a multilevel experience where every aspect of your being from body to soul is involved. Experiences on different levels often follow each other in almost breathtaking cadence. The experienced old-timers like Stutisheel Lebedyev call this “the real fullness of life” and he adds immediately that he find this fullness nowhere as tangible as in these multiday races. Don Winkley, the oldest participant at 72 years, always had an uplifting story from his many years of ultrarunning, and calls the difficult moments “the character building miles”. I definitely had many of these – time will tell whether my character reaped the benefits of them.
One thing is sure: these races expand your capacities - physical and mental. Who would believe that at fifty you can run 531 miles or 850km in 10 days. And other runners did more than that. But it is also qualities like faith, perseverance, determination, patience, cheerfulness, inner focus and balance among others that are constantly trained and expanded. You are learning about your limits and you are trying to find ways to push the limits further or to go beyond them. In this “self-transcendence” lies one of the main goals of the race and also one of the main joys and fulfillment. Carl Lewis once said: "believe me, the joy that comes from 'going beyond' is the most incredible feeling in the world…" The ultimate joy comes from performing one’s absolute best, no matter one’s order of finish. I believe this statement by the legendary sprinter proofs also true for most of the participants in these ultra long distance races.
And then there are those magic moments when you unmistakably feel the close presence of your teacher, you experience the “perfect” running, the movement, the speed, the strength. If this running flow continuous it may develop into a kind of a trance where you do mile after mile almost effortlessly. Or suddenly you are running together with someone on the same speed and a team has been born. The teamwork may be only running together in silence, with a deeper inner understanding or you may chat along as the miles go by.
For me the best experience was on day 5 which was also the start of the 6 day race. It was a beautiful day, no cloud in the sky, absolutely perfect. At some point in the morning while listening to some devotional kirtan music on my Ipod, suddenly my whole perception changed. I saw not only the few meters in front of me but I looked up and saw the whole course with all the runners. I felt the tremendous aspiration of all the runners and I felt absolutely one with it. I also saw and felt nature around the course as never before. The different trees, the leaves, the grass, the lake, the birds, with all the creation there seemed to be a direct connection or oneness. It was emotionally overwhelming and tears of gratitude were flowing. This moments in paradise lasted for several hours and it was clear that for that experience alone it was worth to have done the race.
The real challenge of the race came with the following days and strong long lasting rains that flooded many parts of the course and that at certain parts brought up associations with the legendary “Woodstock Festival” where rain turned everything into mud. There were times when it felt like an epic battle against the elements. Later, a very strong wind, further challenged body and mind and when you add the permanent traffic and noise from the 3 surrounding highways and close-by La Guardia airport then you can imagine the difficulty of the conditions.
“Keep moving”, told me Louis Rios - another old timer, is the secret of most of the great ultrarunners and this is what you have to remember in these moments. There was definitely something of a heroic spirit in the air.
In the end there is a deep feeling of accomplishment and gratitude. Gratitude also to the organizers, the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, and the many volunteers that spend days and nights at the race to make it happen.
10 days at Flushing Meadow- not always paradise but a spiritually very rewarding