In April/May of 2006 I competed in the Self-Transcendence 10-day race in New York. The race was held in Corona Park, Flushing Meadows on a one mile loop.
In such a race there are no strictures on how or when one runs – one could spend as long as one liked lolling in bed or chatting to folks under the trees – but it’s the guy who runs the furthest who gets the big trophy and the big satisfaction
I had run many ultra-marathons before, and two multi-day races. I knew I couldn’t rely simply on my spontaneous inclination to run to get me through this vast undertaking – my nature did not work thus. A plan, a routine, a regimen was required.
I planned out precisely what I wanted to achieve, in terms of miles run and rest taken, in each hour of the ten days. I divided each day, as I had in my two previous six-day races, into two running segments. The race started at midday. I would run till midnight, take three hours off, run from 3 am to midday, take three hours off . . . and repeat – ten times. It gave me 18 hours of running and six hours of sleeping – each divided into two sections of nine and three hours respectively – in each 24 hour period.
Photo: Taking a break for some contemplation during the ten-day race
This explains the structure of what follows.
What follows is a discursive account of my experiences from April 26 to May 6 in the course of the race. It is divided, as were my ten days of running, into 20 parts – one for each of my 20 carefully planned 9-hour running sessions.
Ultra-marathoning is a place where transcendent aspiration bumps hard up against solid physical, mental and emotional facts.
One of my fellow competitors, Trishul Cherns, had previously run the longest race in the world – the mind-boggling 3,100 mile race. He related to me one day, as we trotted along together, how someone had asked him what it was like to run that race. He had replied to his Russian interlocutor – ‘It is all joy and delight’. Soon afterwards, he told me, word was all over Russia that running the 3,100 mile race was all joy and delight. He paused in his account and added . . . ‘Can’t they take a joke?!’
We laughed. We knew, we who were in the middle of the painful process of a multi-day race, that the rosy speculations of those on the track-side did not encompass the full reality of long-distance running – the blisters are as much a part of it as the bliss, the jolting pain as the joy.
The pages that follow are not a romantic account of the glorious self-transcendent beauties of ultra-running. These exist without a doubt but so do the blisters, so does the chaffing, so do the doubts of the troubled mind. These are all here chronicled, but find beneath the gloomy surface, glimpses of the profound and inspiring realities that lead the runner on his way.
Read on gentle companion. Join me on my odyssey. See it as a cautionary tale or an inspirational account. Maybe some day we shall race together in some other athletic undertaking; certainly let us share together our stories and our encouragement in that greater and far longer race towards perfection and the vision of the divine.
What follows is a complete - and discursive - account of my experience in April/May 2006 competing in the Self-Transcendence Ten-day Race in New York - the highs the lows the prayers and ponderings of a man ten days on the path.