Running the Self-Transcendence 6 Day Race 2008
It was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life, yet I keep finding myself thinking about new strategies for next year. It’s funny how that happens. Every marathon at about mile 20 I think ‘this is the last’ then somehow I find myself with a new entry form, scanning down past the 10k or ½ marathon options – ticking the full. Next thing, I’m at the starting line in for another experience of a life time. Needless to say 10 consecutive marathons left not exception.
Personal Running History
As a child I never liked running, I was a gymnast and competed in the national championships and even for the Queen when she came to Christchurch. After 8 years though, I didn’t qualify for the next level (my bar routines were always a bit marginal) my friends were moving up, so I discontinued. I tried many things to fill the void (rhythmic gymnastics, aerobics, dance, volleyball, netball, rowing, even touch – that one didn’t last long) until finally I tried running.
I wouldn’t say I took to running naturally, I could sprint well, but running took a lot of work. My first marathon took over 6 hours; this was when I was 18. Now, in four years of running I have completed 8 marathons (with a best of 4.40), 2 ultras (47 mile race, New York) and weekly run around 60 – 70 km’s (with 2-3 weekly speed work sessions).
Inspiration to Run
The race was dedicated to Sri Chinmoy, after his passing in October last year. As a student of his, it was a real opportunity being able to participate in an event he had raised and held so close to his heart.
Also, being the ‘handler’ of one of the greatest endurance racers in the world inspired me to try a multiday. For the last few years I have helped Suprabha at the 3100 Mile Race, which is very inspiring and since she’s a pro and is so positive, she makes it look a lot easier than in really is. I also helped Harita at last year’s 6 Day Race (who came 3rd) and I liked the idea of having a time frame to run opposed to a set mileage.
Team New Zealand
Of all the New Zealanders to get inspired to run the 6 and 10 day races, although I really am all admiration for them, I had to laugh at the gutsy collection of characters out on the course. All running, following Subarata’s many footsteps (founder of the New Zealand Sri Chinmoy Centre’s and runner of many of the early multi-races including the 700 mile race.)
Representing the New Zealanders were Abhaya the Great who I work with at The Lotus-Heart is 64, she isn’t fast but is always out on the course, very determined – easily recognized by her florescent yellow poncho (rain or shine). Niribili File, who holds a few national records for her age group (over 60) – again easily distinguished by her rain apparel (pink coat and bonnet) and more than audible laugh. These two veterans were being looked after by Esme from Auckland. Barney Mc Bride, multiple winner of the Te Houtaewa Challenge, a sixty kilometer race in which one must carry a kumara (native sweet potato) from start to finish. And myself, not a hugely talented runner, inexperienced - but keen to give the multi-days a go! I was the youngest runner at 22 and most probably the youngest New Zealander to ever run a multi-day. Bhuvah from Christchurch was one of the main photographers.
About the Six and Ten Day Races
The Self-Transcendence 6 and 10 Day Races are held together in Flushing Meadow Corona Park, near where the US Opens are held. The course is held on a one mile loop which goes along side the lake around ‘Jurassic Playground’ down to a roundabout and up Sri Chinmoy Street, which enters into the race village and past counters, recording miles 24 hours of the day. On points of the course you can see The Unisphere and lots of wild life, surprising for New York City (I saw a baby turtle, musk rats, raccoons, something that looked like a beaver, lots of squirrels – this is all very novel for New Zealanders). The race village is created from scratch by Bipin and his crew, consisting of Kiwi’s Hayden and Aaron, equipped with kitchens, showers, medical, dormitories and campsite. I had a tent, as did Lauren who helped me. This was a good thing having separate tents, because we could both rest better plus Laurens main worry was that I would smell because I would be detoxing (which of course I didn’t!).
I clocked up 70 miles on the first day which was part Plan A (I ended up finishing the race on Plan F –F for Finish) I was recommended to get bigger shoes because your feet swell. It seems obvious now but I shouldn’t have started size 10’s, needless to say after 20 miles I had 5 sore blisters that needed redressing right throughout the race. At one point on day one, one of the more experienced runners mentioned that I was bouncing a bit and I could try what’s called the ultra shuffle; it’s between a run and a walk. I couldn’t really get it - something I paid for further down the track…
Day two went fairly well considering the conditions. Not only was it rainy, but the course had suffered a lot of flooding (as well as my blistered soggy feet) and it was cold and windy. I just dipped below my 50 mile goal.
This morning I went to bed at one and got up at five. My first lap is always a bit slow and stiff, but I noticed particular stiffness in my right knee. As the day progressed, my knee continued to get more painful, I walked all day and my knee became swollen. As a homeopath Lauren recognized it as bursitis, I tried various remedies and treatments. I even resorted to alternative remedies such as rolled cabbage bandaged to the knee. I was more than resistant to this treatment at first, but have to admit it felt really good.
I continued to walk and make lots of friends on the course. I was going quite slowly which was the hardest part for me, letting go of all my expectations, especially after all the effort and costs leading up to the race. But I got a lot of encouragement from home and friends in New York. There were 16 countries represented in the race, so there were lots of interesting things to talk about – if I could keep up with them long enough and three other New Zealanders. The rain finally lifted.
I saw Meghabuti; MD and Homeopath in medical, who discovered my pelvic bone had slipped down on one side and put it back in – at last the cause of the knee pain was fixed. Also a new chiropractor came out to the race who was excellent, I felt so much more normal after seeing them both. A lot of fluid was still under knee cap so again I spend the day walking. Lauren cut a hole in my size 10 shoes – my toe was rubbing on the end – unbelievable.
I talked to Fred Riemer from Salt Lake City, who has run a dozen multi-days, including the 5 day race in 1987. He told me how in one race he too got injured; to a point where he couldn’t even walk. He wanted to stay in the race though, so he hung the numbers on the scoreboard as the runners came around. He also said ‘Success can be measured in many ways, through remaining cheerful, rather than high mileage’. I appreciated his oneness.
I had a guest helper from Washington DC for ten miles, Suprabha – who I mentioned earlier, is one of the most prolific ultra distance runners in the world and 12 times finisher of the 3100 mile race. That was all very exciting. My knee had started looking better and I even got in a few stretches of running. I realised early on, I could make 250 miles if I went right through the night and keeping in mind I had four days of rehabilitation on the other side, Lauren and I were in for the long haul. It was really quite hard and when I finally reached my goal at 10 am I headed for the shower, had a 20 minute kip and managed 4 more laps before the mid day cut off.
On my final lap I became stung with emotion. Seeing the course for the final time, and as many have said before me, the course itself seemed almost sacred. I took my last glimpses of the faded white paint that once marked distances on Sri Chinmoy’s running routes through Flushing Meadows. ‘100′ remained only just legible; a legacy of Guru’s running years. It seemed as though everything on earth is so fleeting, transient. A lesson learnt early. I remember back to Suprabha’s finish of the 3100 and the prayer Sri Chinmoy offered on the occasion.
“Today’s victory we celebrate only to invoke a new goal”. Our spiritual teacher has taught us well, I swallowed my tears and ran toward the finishing line. For now at least - The Goal is Won.
The Goal Is Won
Your days of orphan-sorrows
Are behind you
Not beside you.
Why, then, do you
Your days of excellence-joys
Are ahead of you
Not beside you.
Why, then, do you not
Immediately run and declare:
THE GOAL IS WON.
– Sri Chinmoy.