Mark Dorian has been a friend of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team for decades, as well as a frequent participant in and volunteer at our multi-day races. Mark competed in this year's 2016 Six and Ten day race and offered the following insights:
The wind-driven rain flying north off Meadow Lake cut at the faces of tired runners. It was the afternoon of Tuesday April 26th. The 6-Day racers were in Day 4, the 10-Day competitors day 8. The end was not close enough to be "in sight," and most of the 80 runners moved a tad more gingerly than they had a few days earlier. My inner "red light" was telling me LOUDLY to stop!
I was cold, wrinkled, and ready to get in the car and drive the 5 miles to Uncle Arpan's warm, cozy house in Jamaica Hills. My wife and coach Helen phoned and suggested I simply walk the 9 or so minutes across the pedestrian overpass of the Grand Central Parkway to the Holiday Inn (something I and other runners have done in the past, but usually only when we had endured days on end of rough weather). I just could not get into any kind of rhythm, and ultimately Day 4 would be one of my lowest volume days (just 34 miles) of any of at least 15 multi-day races over the past dozen years.
Of course, as fate would have it, this was the day that several once-in-a lifetime running and life experiences greeted me. Until this point, each day of the race I looked forward to the 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. time period. Former race announcer and longtime helper Sanatan "Sinatra" Curchack would park his mini van at the far east end of our 1 mile loop, partly to keep an eye out for wayward speeding vehicles and loose dogs and other animals, but also for any runners who might head off the wrong way at this hairpin right turn and confusing round-a-bout. Plenty of runners have gone wrong briefly here, but generally late at night when sleep-deprived and being chased by seven foot tall skunks and raccoons.
I gave my customary wave and "Hey-hey!" to Sanatan (decades ago runners nicknamed him "Sinatra" because of his beautiful baritone speaking and singing voice, as well as the similarity of his name to the maestros Frank and Frank Jr.). Walking the short uphill turn, I saw many wet Cricket players just ahead. Cricket is a major sport in New York City, with many high schools having Varsity teams that draw crowds at games equal to what the schools' baseball teams or track meets do. A few times I have had Cricket balls come close to hitting me in the 300 meter stretch between pitches ("fields"), but I had also found a few abandoned, worn out balls in our path which allowed me and runner friends to have short games of toss and catch.
Fast forwarding a few miles and getting towards sunset, I was dreaming about the best restaurant (I think) in all of New York City (this would be the Oneness-Fountain-Heart, and conveniently for me it was close to our park AND they made deliveries!) To be clear, the race kitchen and food were amazing - the Head Chef, Nipura Brown from New Zealand, was charming and all agreed had the appearance of a movie star; she could easily have a reality cooking show in the USA. I enjoyed the race cafe's food around the clock, but the Oneness-Fountain-Heart is a gourmet establishment and offers several of my favorite dishes in the world, including "Royal Rice" and Cantonese-style noodles with broccoli, soy sauce and various other trimmings. (And did I mention their critically acclaimed desserts?) Like clockwork, my friend Galya Volodia Balatskyi, a world class runner originally from Ukraine came out to tidy my hopelessly messy car and table. Last summer, Galya ran over 70 miles every day - for 42 days - enroute to finishing 2nd to "the Flying Finn," Ashprihanal Pekka Aalto's world record 40 days+ in the world's longest ultra, the New York 3100 mile. Each runner has half of a table to place small essentials on, the table being under cover and mere inches from the running path. Within minutes my dream food from the Oneness-Fountain appeared at my newly tidied spot. More importantly, the smiling, well-known Chef Karlen himself had delivered it and cheered me up while walking a short ways with me. While I was still wet and miserable on the outside, I felt a warm glow on the inside.
Tales from the Medical Tent
One reason I could not get into any rhythm on this day was that I seemed unable to go 4 miles without having to visit the medical tent for one thing or another. Blister prevention, diarrhea prevention, chronically sore and swollen feet, bad back, bad breath - these all bled time from the unforgiving race clock. Luckily for me and all runners, we had a stellar crew of professional massage therapists, doctors, nurses, chiropractors and assistants at our disposal. Twice during the race we were beyond fortunate to have Dr. Sakhshat W. Flowers drive all the way out from suburban New Jersey to use his cold laser on limping or injured runners.
Doc Flowers, himself a stellar 400 meter runner in his youth, spent about 12 minutes each time working around my left foot and ankle, which were swollen and painful. And - miraculously - the swelling went down and the function of the ankle improved markedly. It seemed anything other than the Nike Odyssey or Structure caused me foot pain and blisters. A new pair of shoes brought out to me all the way from Manhattan by my lifelong friend and training partner Maurice Shalah also gave me new life - I wore Maurice's new shoes the last 115 or so miles of the race!
I was escorted from the medical tent (perhaps overstaying my welcome) by a muscular, unshaven, tough-looking Hungarian massage therapist. Fortunately, this tough-looking guy - Dr. Shivabhakta Tamas Agoston - happens to be one of my best friends at the race and favorite people in the world. He knows how to make me laugh when I want to cry, and is also good at giving me a kick (and I mean a real hard kick!) to get me to stop whining and start moving. Little did either of us suspect that as we walked along the first part of the course we would make a discovery worthy of any reality TV "Treasure Hunt" type show.
After 5 hours the rain had stopped and the weather had actually warmed. Near the sharp right turn where I had chatted to and waved at Sanatan a few hours earlier, I noticed - wedged against the curb - some empty paper bags from fast food restaurants, a few paper cups, and - what looked like a leather wallet! .....
Important questions with 2 days to go:
- What was in the wallet?!
- Would this author and all the other runners survive two-and-a-half more exhausting days of running?
- Would the magician and multi-Guinness world record holder Ashrita Furman manage to set a world record for catching ice creams thrown at him at Bartolo Colon (famous Mets' pitcher)-like speeds??
- WHO would win the 6 and 10-Day races, which were still close as the clock wound towards 48 hours to go??
- Who would win the annual "Most Smiley" Contest among runners, Big Andrei Andreyev or Little Sergei Leschenko of Russia, one of the famous Sykorova sisters (Manoshri and Gautami) of Canada, or some newcomer??
- Would race announcer/ manager Devashishu Torpy catch the young prankster who ran along the course alternately kicking over and tossing off into the bushes the hundreds of traffic cones marking the proper running route??
I was not paying direct attention to the soggy, thin leather wallet I grabbed off the top of the curb of our scenic, twisting running path around Flushing Meadows. I had been in the midst of telling my great friend and massage therapist Dr. Shivabhakta a long-winded story. Interrupting what I thought was a spine-tingling tale of almost being struck by lightning near a plane wreck way up rugged Kaaterskill High Peak in the nearby Catskills (just north of New York City), "Uncle Shiva" (a nickname given to him by my son Toby during a trip to San Diego some years ago) stated loudly "I feel like a snow man!"
Glancing at him, I noticed a "Kaaterskill Falls" (world famous 250' vertical, powerful, deadly falls near the above peak) of perspiration pouring down his face! I also questioned aloud why on a warm, steamy night (every night of the 6 day this year seemed warm, calm, and humid) he was wearing enough layers for a polar expedition. As old and skinny as I am, I wore only a long sleeved shirt and tights. To be fair, it had been wet, windy and chilly all afternoon and he had been standing giving non-stop massages and blister treatment in the drafty medical tent. So my friend "peeled off" at the 3/4 mile mark, where the bike path passes close to the finish straightaway before making a sharp turn down-and-back on "Sri Chinmoy Street" - the real name of a lovely tree-canopied pedestrian lane on the way to the lap finish.
I stumbled around the sharp right turn. Unfortunately, in perhaps 15 places new underground wiring for the old-fashioned looking street lights on our course had been covered up hastily by shoddy, rough temporary pavement - these "stripes" that felled even the most nimble of runners came to be known as "THE DREADED BLACK STRIPES"! Looking up, I saw an elderly lady runner stagger off the path and trip over a tree root. Luckily, a college-aged woman runner much fresher than I jumped to the older runner's aid. Readers may be gaining an appreciation of why runners laugh when asked by shorter distance runners, reporters and bystanders "isn't it boring doing lap after lap out there?!" There is rarely a dull moment or a time when even a sleepy competitor does not see or experience something unique or interesting.
As quick as lightning
- Sri Chinmoy, Encouragement
The above inspiring aphorism appears on the back of race t-shirts from a trail ultra my wife and I direct. I also quoted this to Mr. J.B. (massage therapist and blister expert) and Nurse "Super Mario" Cardenas in the medical tent while continuing to narrate my own saga of various near lightning strikes I have experienced, from the one on High Peak (almost the same ridge as where the legendary Rip Van Winkle fell asleep during a summer lightning storm - you can look it up!) mentioned above to the lightning many runners in this year's races ran from - umbrellas in hand - at 4 to 5 a.m. on day 3. Therein lies another thing spectators and newcomers question - why run with an umbrella? This too may cause experienced multi-day runners to smile or chuckle knowingly.
All the while I was shuffling around the course and making endless trips to the medical tent, the pro athletes were cranking out fast laps, seeming to only slow to a fast walk the first 250 meters of each lap to grab drinks or easily-consumed food in a large cup from their helpers or well-organized tables. On day 5, I managed to run at least 6 miles with eventual 6 day winner Aidas Ardzijauskas from Lithuania, and discovered that he was actually not going so fast - certainly not as fast as ultimate 2nd placer (and Swedish national record setter) Johnny Hallneby. Aidas's secret was that he never stopped! I slogged along next to him as we passed the timing tents and camp area - and he did not even break stride.
For 3 laps Aidas ran at normal speed right through the middle of the camp - not even grabbing a cup of water. When I again ran a few laps with him and his countryman Rimas Jakelaitis (for many years one of the very best multi-day runners in the world, and one of just 14 people in history to have reached 600 miles in a 6 day race - and Rimas did it as a SPLIT in the 10 day race!) on day 6, again the same thing - no stopping or slowing at the end/ start of a lap! Straight through the middle of camp and back out towards the Long Island Expressway and wild brook and swamp from which snakes and muskrats watched us.
Not to be outdone, the top women were speeding around the course as well. At many times of the day the fastest-moving runner - period - on the course was legendary Australian Sarah Barnett. Smiling and encouraging all the "mere mortal" runners, Sarah flew towards her 4th win in the 10 day. With no helpers, she would often stop for a moment at her table to jot down some thought for an upcoming article or book while grabbing a piece of one of her many gourmet chocolate bars (she once gave my now 16 year old daughter Amalia - who was helping me at the time - some chocolates that had been given to Sarah by the Princess of Monaco after a win in the famous Monte Carlo 8 day!)
The USA's "walking diva" Yolanda Holder, a world class walker from Orange County, California, chased Sarah relentlessly, ultimately eclipsing the coveted 1,000 Km (622 mile) mark. And hot on Yolanda's heels came "the speeding server" from the famous Peace Garden Restaurant (as seen on TV) in Ottawa, Manoshri Sykorova (reaching an impressive 609 miles). I am still trying to wrap my head around the stat that in addition to the above three ladies, NINE men surpassed 600 miles in 10 days. So many great runners, so many great stories...
AND what of the "purple light" that flooded the race course several nights? Keeping in mind that one of the all-time great musicians - Prince - had passed just before the race - and the New York Mets (who play ball not 800 meters from the race course) have access to all manner of klieg/ strobe/ giant search lights - the mysterious and inspiring hues in the clear night skies are easily explained. Not to be outdone, several of the many wonderful live musicians who came out to entertain the runners at all hours of the day and night played snippets of some of Prince's songs. Sakshama Koloski - direct from Macedonia - played lovely bluesy, David Sanborn-style saxophone until the wee hours, greatly inspiring late night runners.
The talented world musician Kodanda seemed to have a dozen instruments at his disposal at any time, impressing the great runners from Mongolia with tunes on folk instruments from their country. But as at so many races, he truly shone on electric guitar, which like legends from Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix he makes "sing." It seems like yesterday that Guru Chinmoy himself was standing next to the race course musicians, clapping for them and ENCOURAGING them. I for one certainly miss having him along the race loop cheering for us.
And while the music played . . . questions and conundrums remained unanswered . . .
- What WAS in the soaking wet wallet?
- DID the race directors ever catch the "traffic cone thief"?!
- Is there any truth to the rumor that night time race director Rupantar P. LaRusso, Esq., gets to "run a tab" and get "free donuts" (limit for race: 30 - thirty - dozen) at the close-by Dunkin' Donuts on Horace Harding Expressway??
- WHY were runners, helpers and race workers rolling on the floor with laughter at the big post-race celebration at the wonderful local Panorama Cafe?!
- WERE some finishers really just using this as a "long training run" for the world's longest ultra - the Sri Chinmoy/ Self-Transcendence 3100 mile - that starts on Father's Day (June 19th)?
- DID an extremely sleepy race finisher sleep through the awards ceremony - and until after all race personnel had gone home late at night - AND all the way until the next day?
- DID 10 day 2nd placer Ed "The Jester" Ettinghausen - after running 717 miles - really walk and jog the 2 miles to nearby LaGuardia Airport for a flight just hours after the race finish?!
Author's Note: after weeks of failed attempts to capture in words some of the spirit and adventure of my recent attempt at the 20th annual New York Sri Chinmoy 6-Day Race, I was at a stop light on Mesa Street in my home town of El Paso, Texas when some sort of divine inspiration struck. I have a very small picture of the late Sri Chinmoy (philosopher, meditation teacher, spiritual leader, artist, running race organizer, and on and on) on the chipped and dusty dashboard of my old Honda CRV. Guru Chinmoy's picture, the red light, the fact that I had just finished my first decent run since the hard race in New York City - all were factors as I recalled one of several poems of his that I once knew by heart but in my old age know only "more-or-less."
The Red Light And The Green Light
I have two intimate friends:
The red light
The green light.
The red light warns me
And cautions me
And finally commands,
The green light inspires me
And encourages me
And finally whispers,
My red friend
Teaches me patience.
My green friend
Teaches me dynamism.
My red friend tells me
My life is precious.
My green friend tells me
My goal is precious.
My red friend
Perfects my will.
My green friend
Fulfils my dream.
Sri Chinmoy, from The Wings of Light