Why would anyone want to run 700 miles (1,126 km) in 13 days? Aucklander Subarata Cunningham explains why, and how, she did it...
I've run marathons before, but the 700 mile race I ran in New York last year (1997) really put me to the test- especially as I had to finish it in 13 days.
The race is called the Sri Chinmoy Ultimate Ultras race and it's held every year at Wards Island Park in New York. I started the race with 24 others but only nine of us crossed the finish line. I was the only runner from New Zealand. The race was very hard and at times I ran so slowly I might as well have been walking, but I never thought about giving up. They would have had to carry me off before I'd have given up.
On the first day I fainted twice from fatigue, but I still managed to cover 112km. It was important to set a strong pace from the start, because anyone who didn't cover at least 565km in the first six days had to pull out- they would never have made the distance because it was only going to get harder the further we ran.
Over the next 12 days I averaged daily distances of 80 to 95km. And in my final running 'session', I ran for 28 hours and had only two one-hour breaks because I was running out of time.
Sometimes I could slip into a rhythm and just run for hours, but other times it was really tough going. I stayed positive by thinking about how good I would feel when I finished and about the positive impact this would have on my life. My mind didn't wander much, especially towards the end of the race, because I was just so tired. I thought about basic things, like how many more laps I needed to do before I could take the next break.
I kept my energy levels up by eating small amounts of food after every 1.6km lap but most of the time I wasn't really hungry. I never left the park and slept each night in a tent for two to three hours. Some days we were running in temperatures of up to 30 °C.
In those 13 days, I somehow managed to avoid getting any blisters or shin splints, but my feet killed me. They were very tender and swollen. We all cut the toes and heels off our shoes to reduce the pressure on our feet. After the race, all of the skin on my soles peeled off.
I became very close to the other runners. Those of us who ran for the duration were like a family. We ran together, encouraged each other and joked to lighten the situation.
So why did I run this race?
I wanted to discover what was inside me. I'm a student of Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual guide and teacher who has a following of about 5,000 people. His philosophy is that the spirit is limitless, and that, through self-transcendence, people can do anything they want to if they dare to have faith in themselves.
You rise above physical difficulties. The mind tries to stop you constantly- with Sri Chinmoy you reach down into a much deeper part of yourself to find inner strength. I've learned, and am now a teacher of Sri Chinmoy meditation and self-motivation.
I'm not a great runner but I've been doing it for 15 years and it's the perfect partner to meditation. Running clears your mind and so does meditation- you can run inwardly and outwardly towards a goal of inner peace.
I finished the race in 12 days, 21 hours and 20 minutes. I was totally exhausted, but I felt fantastic- very happy, peaceful and calm.
I may run the race again. Even though it's very physically tiring, there's something inside me that wants to do it again. Finishing it has made me feel very good about myself. There are no obstacles that can't be overcome, and nothing is impossible.
Written by Subarata Cunningham after completing the 700 miles in 1998.
On the completion of this race Subarata became New Zealand's second ranked ultra-distance runner, with her times and distance for the 700 mile race bettered only by New Zealand's immortal Sandra Barwick, a world record holder in the 700, 1000 and 1300 mile distance.