Szczesiul, Sahishnu. “The Sri Chinmoy Ultra Trio: Survivors After all These Years.” Ultrarunning. December 1994.
On a patch of asphalt directly opposite the teeming metropolis that is the Big Apple, surrounded by green lawns, sailing ships, and passing oil tankers, beneath the monstrous suspension bridge anchored in three different boroughs, with the occasional overhead truck bashing a pothole en route to the Bronx or some unknown destination, lies a stretch of land that has become home to the annual gathering of runners that indulge in one of the few amateur pursuits still left on earth. It is Ward’s Island, New York, the former Potter’s Field, that serves as the venue for the running adventure known as the Sri Chinmoy Ultimate Ultra.
On the Cover of Ultrarunning December 1994: The women were superb at the Sri Chinmoy Ultimate Ultra: Dipali Cunningham (left), first overall at 700 miles; Silvia Andonie, first woman and second overall at 1,000 miles; Suprabha Beckjord, second overall at 1,300 miles; and Antana Locs, first overall at 1,300 miles. Photo: Pulak
The eighth edition of the trio of super-long races was held beginning September 12 and 13, with six veterans of multi-day combat back to try their luck one more time in the 1,300-miler. Suprabha Beckjord of Washington, D.C., and Antana Locs of Ottawa, Canada, both two-time finishers, were confident of their ability to withstand yet another test of their physical and mental strength. They started with 93- and 88-mile days, respectively, Suprabha, looking somewhat stronger physically than in years past, while Antana appeared to be quite untrained and straining just a bit. These two women had both completed 1,300 miles twice. Izumi Yamamoto was also trying to conquer the demon 1,300, knowing full well that 670 miles a day for 19 straight days is a formidable opponent.
Twenty-four hours later (the men’s time limit was 18 days, a day less than the women) three men started the race. Al Howie, the only two-time men’s finisher and former record holder of the 1,300, was back to redeem himself after last year’s injury-plagued performance, where he dropped out with a bum knee at 535 miles. Al ran a leisurely 105 miles the first day, keenly aware that Istvan Sipos’s record run of 1993 as built on steady, even pacing throughout, (Istvan showed his ability this summer, winning the 64-day Trans America race by over 40 hours). Dan Coffey, the cagey veteran of many multi-day excursions, seemed a little overwhelmed but glad to be back at the starting line. His low 63-mile first day, however, due in part to an aching stomach and a groin muscle injury, seemed to signal big problems. Nicola Sinisgalli, an Argentinian national hero at 1,000 miles, was heading into unknown territory but confident of his ability to cope. Nicola, built like a middleweight boxer with thick muscled legs, speaks little English but exuded happiness and strength as he moved. His 79-mile first day looked easy. The all-time competition list for 1,300 miles has had only eight names placed on it in this century. Would the list grow larger this year?
The tenth edition of the 1,000-mile race would start two days later, amid gay skies and humid conditions. Silvia Andonie from Mexico had returned with a crew of seven, hoping to finish the only race that has stymied her in 12 years of international competition. Last year she came up short with 918 miles. In recent years she has become an accomplished triathlete, having completed three-, four-, five- and ten-times Ironman Triathlon events. Monika Achenback-Konig came from Austria well trained and hungry to repeat her triumph from last year’s 700-miler. She felt 1,000 miles was well within her capacity.
Silvia and Monika had run together in last year’s Trio, albeit in different races. This year their head-to-head encounter was one of the most exciting stories of the race. Monika posted 93 the first day, with Silvia close by with 86 miles. Veterans Nirjhari DeLong and Karin Bolliger were also in the field, ready to extend their ultra capacities and have fun getting exhausted. As the women were preparing to start, I sadly learned that Dan Coffey was dropping out after only two days. His hands were beginning to bother him, his stomach was worse, and he sorely missed his dear departed mom. That night he grabbed a plane back home. A few days later Dan called from England to inform us that he had fallen down early in the race and x-rays revealed two broken bones in his wrist. With a cast on his arm and some sparkle in his voice, he declared his entry for next year again.
As the men’s field was assembled for their start a day later, the women leaders in the 1,300 were already approaching 300 miles. Suprabha was leading Antana by a scant five miles, and Al Howie had dug into half of the women’s one-day head start lead. Al complained of having difficulty sleeping, which seemed almost unthinkable when one considered that he had run for 20 or more hours every day since he started.
Marty Sprengelmeyer of Davenport, Iowa, one of America’ s best multi-day runners, had been training heavily this summer and returned ready to do battle in the 1,000. The men’s filed included Don Winkley from Corpus Christi, Texas, who had finished first male in our Seven Day Race this past May, and Miki Shiraki, a young Japanese runner living in Kansas, who had once doe 130+ miles for 24 hours, but was in totally unknown territory in such a difficult race as the 1,000-miler. Runners would have to average 68 miles a day to complete the distance within the 15-day cut-off. Multi=day runner, Trans America Race Director and ultrarunning journalist Jesse Dale Riley of Key West, Florida, was back to test himself in the multi-day arena. His summer of bicycle riding and chaperoning a group of awesome athletes across the breath of America was perhaps the right training for his own endurance adventure. Chanakhya Jakovic from England and Bozidar Stavric from Yugoslavia rounded out the field of kilo men. Marty bolted from the blocks and ran a smooth 111 miles the firs day, pulling the nervous Miki Shiraki (108 miles) along in his wake. The rest of the 1,000-mile filed was strung out 20 miles behind.
By the time the 700 women were to start, Antana Locs and Suprabha Beckjord had established themselves deep into the rhythm of the race. Locs especially looked fitter now than at the start of the race, with stomach ailments and a lack of training as only distant memories. She ran three straight days of 70 miles and was looking smooth. Suprabha still clung to a one-mile lead. She looked confident, running as well as this observer had ever seen her after six days. The weather seemed to be cooperating this year as well, with only a few days of light showers or an occasional downpour. Last year the elements were relentless with 13 days of rain.
The 700-mile field included Dipali Cunningham, the Australian speedster who won the 1,000-miler last year, Dhvaja Dorn, the promising young Canadian in her second multi-day; and Indu Tamborini, well trained and ready to improve on her performance in the Seven Day earlier this year. Also joining the filed was running neophyte Mariana Nagy, a 21-year old from Budapest who had won the first ultra she entered (in Basel, Switzerland, this year, with 115 miles in 24 hours). Cunningham took it out hard the first day – she ran a comfortable 104 miles, 24 miles ahead of her nearest competitor – and was never threatened. Finally, a week after the 1,300-miler had started; the 700-mile men toed the line. Two young rookies, Aleksandar Arsic from Yugoslavia and Andreas Puntigam from Austria, began their first multi-day, along with two over -60 men; New Yorker Dictino Mendez and pedestrian Method Istvanik. Walker Bob Wise rounded out the field of 25.
As the race was now in full swing, I began to wonder what made these people tick. Here they were, many from foreign countries (12), running their guts out, for no monetary gain, p[probably causing strained relationships both at home and work, and they were still enjoying themselves after so many long days and sleepless nights. The sheer love of the sport or the ‘doing’ part of it was the supreme release. Even if they didn’t make the cut-offs, or the total distance, to be able to say you were in it, way back in ’94, was the real treasure. However, everyone has their own reasons for ding a multi-day. One must conquer the course, conquer sleep, and remain clear in mind and spirit in order to finish these things. A multi-day can be an escape from reality, or a whole new world of understanding.
By nine days, Al Howie was still eight miles ahead of record pace, but was facing a real crisis. His inability to sleep had caused him to have letdown days – period where he could hardly move. His lift knee, he same one injured in last year’s race, began to cause him considerable pain and problems. Al, being a consummate competitor, would not yield to the signs, but something was definitely wrong. ‘I feel like a wounded animal. I feel like I’ve let ya down,’ was his explanation. In reality, his whole left side was rather weak and smaller than his right. His muscles were shutting down because of the imbalance. Just past 900 miles, he laid in his tent, exhausted, for nearly 36 hours before giving up the race. Luckily for the race, Al stayed on to count laps and make himself useful. Another sign of a champion, Nicola was nearly 100 miles behind Al at this point, but did not catch him for another 48 hours.
Meanwhile, in the women’s 1,000, Monika had forged a 30-mile lead just before the six-day split, and seemed to be in control of the race. She had no significant injuries and was headed for a strong finish. Silvia, however, was using a great strategy. Every night when Monika went down for sleep, Silvia would get on the course and whittle away at Monika’s lead. By 700 miles, Silvia had halved the lead and was looking terrific. Each evening she would receive several calls from family and media people in Mexico, who were closely following her progress. She pleaded with her handlers to let her run undisturbed. In the men’s race, Marty was on cruise control by six days. The distance scared Miki enough so that to chase Marty was now impossible. Don Winkley briefly overtook Miki for second, but swollen shins and an unquenchable sweet tooth seemed to pull him back to earth. Jesse plodded on only sporadically after making he cut-off, taking long breaks to rest his weary legs.
At this point Antana assumed the 1,300-mile lead for good. She was ahead of her own Canadian 1,300-record by five miles, reached 1,000 miles for the sixth time in six years and was on pace to take a couple hours off the Canadian record. Suprabha had set personal best for 700 and 1,000 miles, and had just enough cushion to make 1,300 miles under the limit. Dipali cranked 70 miles on her seventh day in the 700-miler. She would cruise to victory in a few days, the first to finish one of the races.
The race always takes on a slightly different feel at this point. Those who are in position to finish can plan their breaks and dream about life in a hot tub or a vacation somewhere (anywhere!) away from the race site. Rest assured, they will finish. Those on the bubble – needing maximum mileage out of a nearly dead pair of legs – can only plod on, hoping for the best. And finally, the rest of the field can only look for personal bests or long painful walks in the park until race end. The cutoffs at six days (350 miles) and 700 miles (12 days or 13 days) always sift the wheat from the chaff, but the survivors, the runners left to continue on, have a little bit more resolve and determination. Their noble qualities always shine through. This race is like a big mirror of life. But the recurring vision is always the same: that things will be okay, if we try, participate, help others, and observe everyone’s progress as our own.
During the evening of the 17th day, Silvia and Monika were virtually tied at 900 miles, but Monika elected to sleep her normal amount. This time Silvia slipped ahead for good, running a very smooth race throughout and finishing in great spirits in 14 days 18 hours. Her crew was ecstatic, hugging everyone in sight. Monika made it to the finish line six hours later, happy and relived, but perhaps capable of going even faster. Dhvaja finished second in the women’s 700, almost two days behind Dipali, but grateful for the experience. Later that evening Marty finished his 1,000 miles in 14 days 8 hours, with everyone present to salute his unique self-reliant approach and smooth style. This was his third completion of the kilo or longer in our race since 1987. During the night, Aleksandar and Andreas limed in to finish the 700, relieved that their ordeal had ended but change forever in their own self-evaluation.
Hours later, the final survivors made it to the finish, with rain clouds threatening. Antana concluded her finish of the race with a huge smile, the first three-time finisher in the lucky 1,300 – 18 days, 18 hours, and still able to smile. Suprabha made it under the 10-day cut-off as well in her third completion of the 1,300-mile distance, her fifth time over 1,000 miles in the last six years. Indu reached 700 miles, still looking at the slippery tarmac, her teary eyes telling the story. Nicola struggled in with his survivor shuffle – 18 days and an ironic DNF, but ecstatic nonetheless.
Although the field was smaller this year than in past years, the total number of finishers from all three races equaled the highest total every – ten people. But the lasting impression was the peaceful and serene feeling that was created by a group of athletes put to the test in a difficult situation of time constraint, endless miles, and constant motion: ever the survivors, always the inspirers. Deep thanks must go to Sri Chinmoy for constructing the mirror that is the multi-day mosaic in New York. Ten years of surviving and shining like a gem.