If you keep going . . . you finally get to the end.
Precisely 240 hours after it began, the race ended.
I trotted the last couple of laps with an old guy doing the 6-day race who chatted about how he had told his colleagues at work that he was going to a health camp where he ate delicious food, slept and . . . exercised all day. It was an interesting interpretation.
Whatever people have done, whether they have won a gold medal or had their wife killed in an unexplained explosion, the reported always pokes the microphone under their nose and asks – ‘How do you feel?’
How did I feel finishing the race? I crossed the line for the last time. I went and sat alone in my tent. I felt a great sense of quiet, of vastness, of achievement, of satisfaction, of gratitude, of joy and oneness with humanity. I went to have a shower - and cursed under my breath about people who spent too long in the shower, used all the hot water, had people reserve their place in the queue! Ten days of suffering; one minute of an elevated state . . . and then the mundane kicks in!
Suitably clean, and over my grumbling about the shower, I ate that last meal with my running colleagues and headed for the awards ceremony - that final seal upon our efforts.
Race founder, Sri Chinmoy, looks on
as Rupantar La Russo presents Barney with his trophy
I read some time ago Dean Karnazes' inspiring book, Ultramarathon Man. In it he addresses the reasons why he runs and what benefits he gets from doing so.
Often, people can’t understand how running can have such power. They say it’s little more than a slightly ambitious version of walking. True, running is a simple, primitive act. Yet in its subtleties lies tremendous power. For in running, the muscles work a little harder, the blood flows a little faster, the heart beats a little stronger. Life becomes a little more vibrant, a little more intense. I like that.
I also like the solitude. Long-distance running is a loner’s sport, and I’ve accepted the fact that I enjoy being alone a lot of the time. It keeps me fresh, keeps me - oddly enough - from feeling isolated. I guess a lot of people find it in church, but I turn to the open road for renewal. Running great distances is my way of finding peace.
The solitude experienced while running helps me enjoy people more when I am around them. The simple, primitive act of running has nurtured me. I’ve become more tolerant, more patient, and more giving than I ever thought I could be. Suddenly the commonplace is intriguing, and I’ve learned to dig the little things in life, like being squirted in the ear with a water bottle by a five-year-old child. This is what running has taught me, making me - I hope - a better man.
So Mr Pizza Delivery Dude, here you have the answer: I run to see how far I can go, I run because it’s my way of giving back to the world by doing the one thing it is I do best.
I run because I’ve never been much of a car guy. I run because if I didn’t, I’d be sluggish and glum and spend too much time on the couch. I run to breathe the fresh air. I run to explore. I run to escape the ordinary.
I run to honour my sister and unite my family. I run because it keeps me humble. I run for the finish line and to savour the trip along the way. I run to help those who can’t. I run because walking takes too long, and I’d like to get a few things done in this lifetime.
I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.
It is true. Running makes you a better person.
If there is one thing that the ten-day race taught me, it was the idea which was printed all along on the back of one of the tee-shirts I wore.
To me, life is not
A leisurely walk
But a constant
It was an idea that became real for me in the long, dark hours shuffling around that mile loop. I returned from the race realizing that there are many things to be done in life and that they should be done now and done with dedication and commitment.
But in the end, let us forget about how I felt, what benefit it had, how it affected me, what I learned, why I did it. Let us leave such questions to the philosophers and the theoreticians in their comfortable chairs.
Years ago I was working at the Blue Bird Cafe with Aklesha Morison. It is a cafe owned and operated by members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre. No doubt this fact colours people’s perceptions of the place and its workers. Whatever the reason, Aklesha was waiting table when a customer looked up with anguish and asked – ‘Why does God allow suffering in the world?’ Perhaps she saw Aklesha not as simply a waiter but as some illumined being to solve her personal philosophical problems.
She was probably disappointed.
His reply? – ‘I don’t know. I . . . just work here.’
Let us leave all the philosophical pondering to the scholars of ultra-running. Let us just run. It is ‘where we work’. To run – that is our job.
I draw no conclusion on the significance of running for ten days.
Let us just run.
Run on, run on!
Not far – just till we reach the horizon.
Links:The Self-Transcendence Ten Day Race was founded by Sri Chinmoy
Details of the race - results, photo galleries and such like - can be found at the race webpage - 2006 Self-Transcendence 6 & 10 Day Races
Click on the book cover above to link through to Dean Karnazes' web page.
The aphorism quoted above which appeared on the back of my tee-shirt, is number 18,736 from Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 19 which can be found at Sri Chinmoy Library dot com
Visit the Blue Bird Cafe - they might not provide insight into existence, but the food is great!