Alas, Every day I do so many things deliberately wrong. It is hard to believe that God still loves me and needs me.
Guru Sri Chinmoy
He has been the first runner to arrive every morning and the last to leave every night. He takes one break a day and I have never heard him complain or speak ill of others. This is his 4th time here at the 3100 mile race. Today he will transcend himself and run a personal record.
Smarana has run this race every year since 2002. In this his 7th 3100 mile race he will set no outer records. He has proved himself however, to be a brave and stalwart champion. Last year he set the Austrian record here. Today he will be victorious nonetheless.
Stutisheel is just 113 miles away from the finish line. He will finish tomorrow.
In a moment these two champions will step forward from the starting line one last time. What they have endured over the last 49 days, to be able to stand here, at this sacred place, on the verge of victory, we cannot ever know. In just a few hours more, we will see them cross over this line one last time. In our hearts, we will feel the glow and thrill of their victory. We can and must salute them, and honor the inspiration, and the strength that brought them both here, for it lives within our own hearts as well.
For a brief time at the start they run together. They each congratulate the other on their achievement. They have not competed one against the other. They are brothers and have supported each other the entire way.
I run first with Pranjal, he tells me, "it has been a long, long, way." He also adds with his usual humor, "it is a good time to finish, I am out of Snickers candy bars." I remark that he has always been first here in the morning. He tells me that it has been harder and harder getting up each day. He says, "When you have no choice you wake up."
I tell him I am amazed at what he has been able to do here. He in turn praises runners like Asprihanal and Suprabha who have done it many more times than he. He says, "imagine doing 65,000 laps here, it is unbelievable." When I ask him why this whole thing has been taking place here for so many years, he says, "it was important for Guru."
I am curious what it will be like for him when he finishes. He says, "the moment you leave the course, you are no longer inside. You step out of the protection circle. There is a distance." He says even runners who have finished and come back to visit the others no longer can have this experience. It is only for those who are here and running. As for next year, he says, "I would like to come back, It is here that I feel that I am alive. Everything is so intense."
He says that unless you run the race yourself you can't imagine how hard it really is. "There is a lot of suffering, but still people come back." But there is an inner reward that transcends the physical pain. "You change completely. After you finish you realize what you really get by running it."
He talks about the others who have been his comrades over the many weeks. He knows that it is particularly difficult for those who cannot run and are forced by circumstances to walk. In particular he mentions his fellow Slovakian Pavel, and Smarana who has been walking for many days now.
As for his finish he is not overly excited about it. He is clear, when he says, "the road to the goal is more important than the goal itself." As for if he has any particular talent to do this, he says, "If I can do it anyone can do it. Before coming to the path I was the worst runner."
He describes the barriers that the mind creates when facing difficult challenges of all kinds. He holds his cupped hands out in front of himself as he describes his point. He says, "we must go beyond barriers and find your own capacities within, and then bring it up."
I ask him about any unique experiences he may have had here over his years doing the race. He tells me about his second year when he was really struggling to finish. The cut off of 51 days had been extended to one extra day. His last day was hot, and he was touching the bottom of his strength he says. He tells me, he got to a point when he said, "I can't bear it anymore."
He was coming down the straight that leads to the Grand Central service road when he saw a poster advertising a concert that Sri Chinmoy was about to give. He tells me that suddenly he was drawn in to the picture of his teacher on the poster. At that moment a white pigeon flew down and landed in front of the lamp the poster was on. He clearly heard his master's voice say to him, "you are doing it for me." He was able to finish in time.
He plays the cello, comes in third in the 2 mile race, and counts laps. Asprhanal seems to be able to do everything.
Pavol doing some midday foot maintenance.
Pranjal on one of his last laps.
At last the finish line, and the champion need run no further. His goal is complete. He has run a time of 49 days, 10 hours, and 44 seconds. He smashes his previous best by 2 days and 5 hours.
A victory song
He is congratulated by Smarana who will share the day with Pranjal but not the moment.
A champion stands at the finish. Honored by Igor Pokojny, the Counsel General of Slovakia. Pranjal is one, who can safely say, he has not only transcended himself but also pleased his spiritual Master
Victory will be soon but there is music now
Ara has come especially this sunday to help the runners and see the finish of the two runners. The man beneath his fingers, Stutisheel will finish tomorrow.
Fernando is just curious. You don't see this magic everyday everywhere. Just every day all the time at the 3100 mile race.
The mystery of the strange footwear has been solved. These contraptions are special walking devices created by Smarana. I am not sure how much duct tape to rubber is involved. Somehow he has to use it on his left foot.
Smarana, every time we have run together has been deeply introspective and discerning in describing his experience here. In the last few weeks it has been evident that it has been an incredibly difficult challenge for him this year. He says that each year the race has taken him to deeper levels within himself, but of this year, "This is the toughest race for me."
He describes that for those who run marathons they know at least they can fall down at the finish line, but here, "you have to go on and on. You have to be so focussed." For himself he has been forced, because of injury to walk. Still he has to make the required laps each day, and this makes it even more intense.
But this is not without its up side. He says, "it makes an opportunity to get things out. It makes you turn over every leaf. Everything is brought to the fore." It is clearly evident that running the race is a process that involves much more than the physical. He feels that his pride is the first to be given an abrupt awakening under these circumstances. It requires him to be more receptive and appreciative of grace when it comes. It means that there is as much a letting go as there is a push for him to succeed.
Each year he feels the experience becomes deeper and more profound. He is becoming more aware of his inner strength, poise, and also his reliance on his spiritual teacher to show him the way through this tremendous challenge. Over the race the flabby parts of your consciousness are burned away and there is a toughening up aspect as well. Ultimately everything about your being becomes more defined and solid. He says, "you feel inner strength and poise."
He says that multi day running has been an integral part of his life for many years now. It was after a poor experience in a 1300 mile race that he felt his pride was smashed and that perhaps he should not continue to run. It was then he say, "I got a dream, and Guru told me how to run outer races. Rupantar will tell you the rest."
He said that this year he came with an attitude of taking it easy, and to enjoy the experience. He feels that this created some conflict, with perhaps, what the Supreme in him really wanted him to do. He says these forces, "collided." Of last year there was no collision. At that time, he was asked by Sri Chinmoy to break the Austrian record, which he did.
Also last year, he willingly volunteered to come back this year. He says, "I feel grateful that Guru has chosen me to do it and he has given me the capacity. This is a great great opportunity."
Smarana crosses the line for the 7th year in a row, in a time of 49 days and 15 hours. Sandhani says to him, "You did it with so much dignity." And there is something more, something not said. He did it because he promised his teacher, Sri Chinmoy, that he would do it. He did it, because he has the capacity, and as well, the heart of a champion