Once again, 164th to 168th street along 84th Avenue in Jamaica was graced by the runners of the Sri Chinmoy, Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race. A Bengali spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy lived in Jamaica and died in 2007, but left his followers to continue his legacy of pushing the limits. This race was initiated by him in 1996 as a 2700 mile race but increased the following year to 3100 miles. It is certified as the longest foot race in the world and lasts for 52 days. Twelve runners from Northern and Eastern Europe, and Australia participated in the event this year and they are ‘disciples’ of the movement.
On Sunday, Surasa Mairer, a 56 year-old Austrian and one of two females in the race, broke the women’s record of 1998 by over 26 miles as she finished the race in 49 days, 7 hours and 52 minutes. The atmosphere was festive as she made her last lap. The tinkling of bells, blowing of conch shell and singing signaled the arrival of a winner as she made her way to the finishing line where hundreds of supporters gathered to share in the moment.
Surasa admitted to a feeling of disbelief. “It’s hard to belief I actually finished. I had lots of doubts before registering for the race,” she said. But she listened to her friend and registered as a last minute decision. “I’m glad I listened to her,” she laughingly said.
Last week, Ashprihanal Aalto of Helsinki was the first to complete the race. He did it in 41 days and it was his 13th finish in a 3100 mile race.
The standard for acceptance into the race is rigid so only few are chosen. When asked why there was no American in the race, Cunningham, an Australian runner who had four finishes out of five and one win in 2012, cited two major reasons. One was not being able to get time off from work. Another reason is the grueling nature of the race. Most of the runners are self-employed and all are returning runners. Incidentally, Cunningham was unable to continue in the race due to foot injuries.
Mario, a volunteer with the Ultra Marathon team and a Registered Nurse from a New York City hospital, stated athletes changed their sneakers and socks every four hours to help decrease blisters and skin tears. They go through at least fourteen pairs of sneakers during the race, and they make adjustment to the sneakers to fit their swollen feet.
Jayasalini, from Moscow and the 2nd place winner in 2014, said “it’s not about being a first place winner but the greatness lies in accomplishing such a feat.”
“Despite the mental and physical demand on the runners, they still smile because it’s coming from the heart. Mentally we have no limits.”
Runners ate and drank on the run as helpers served them on the track, to save time. Runners do lose weight so they were monitored closely and would have their diets evaluated if needed according to members of the team. The sweltering heat and humidity didn’t deter the runners from making 59 or more laps each day to the finish the race in 52 days or less. The noise from the playing field, the children in the park, vehicular traffic, people staring at them, didn’t distract them. They were very focused on their goal.
How does it benefit the neighborhood
According to some residents in the neighborhood this annual event is something they look forward to. The marathon team helpers liven up the neighborhood with their flutes, guitars, and singing as part of their support to the runners daily, as they make their way around half mile of concrete pavement. The determination, resilience, and endurance the runners exhibited motivated some people to search their own life for meaning and inspire them to reach a goal they thought was not achievable. Others feel safe having the runners around from 6am to midnight.
This Self-Transcendence race is run independent of sponsors. No monetary awards are given to the athletes. Apart from having a Tiramisu their reward is a deep personal satisfaction of completing the race by overcoming any limits they had assigned to themselves. Abraham Maslow didn’t accept humans as programmable machines. Instead he found that as humans mature and become aware of themselves they seek extraordinary experience and the runners in this race have sought that final level of self-transcendence.