Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In the Still of the Night

There are just a few rare and brief moments, when you can step out on the course of the Self-Transcendence race, and see and hear no one. And if these moments are truly serene, then no cars will be whizzing past on the busy expressway nearby as well. If you were to plant yourself, under some dim street light, in even the remotest corner of the course it is never long, before a shape will soon start to emerge out of the gloom. The sound of running shoes shuffling or springing forward, will come to your ear, and you will know for sure that this place, even in darkest hour of night, never stops moving, sleeps little, and dreams of only pushing forward. We who visit briefly, need time to touch the pulse that beats so strongly here. The movement that the eye sees here, is incidental to the current of life that is surging so powerfully in all who run and work and contribute to making this magnificent dream come into being.

The time has just drifted past midnight.

Sandhani and Sahishnu are the late night race directors and they will soon be relieved. Sandhani tells me that all the runners this year came with respect for Sri Chinmoy. He tells me that any uncertainty the runners might have had, as to the race going on, disappeared when they got here. In fact, it is the second biggest field ever. He tells me that he feels Sri Chinmoy's presence here powerfully. I ask him why he continues to do this job, that keeps him up so late into the night. He laughs at this, there is no doubt or question as to his being here, "it is my sadhana. Doing this is my first, and foremost love. I embrace it gratefully and do the best I can."

I ask Sahishnu how he is, he tells me, "I am freezing." I don't blame him, he has probably been here more than 5 hours and the temperatures have dropped into the 40's at this time of the night. He also showed up at his restaurant this morning at 7, and it will be well past 1 in the morning before he can go to bed. He is the one to keep track of all the results. One of the counters has mislaid some of the precious lap sheets, and he will have to find them before he goes home. He tells me, that until the whole race is put to bed, he can't relax.
He is very proud of runner Madhupran. On the horrendous rainy day, he tells me that he ran 84 miles. In the first 48 hours of the race he slept but one hour. Who knows how many hours Sahishnu will sleep tonight.

Pranab is one of the full time volunteer race helpers. He is manning the scoreboard and I have no idea how long he has worked here today. There are few runners, out of the 75, on the course right now, but you still have to be sharp.

Medur has just arrived. His shift will keep him here till about 9 in the morning. He has started counting runners, and is also juggling numbers that get no lighter to handle at this hour of the night. Later in the day, he will also be assembling and putting up the results, on to the race website. He will also receive an email from me about this story. He will then paste this information into the section called, Runners stories, so that you can read this. He really doesn't know how many hours he has spent working on the race. Or does he have any idea when it will be all over. He is just one of the many willing and cheerful people here, volunteering without complaint.

Tibor and Ashprihanal are counting the 10 day runners. It is so late, that it is not difficult to keep track of the runners. They are eating snacks to keep awake and Tibor has just told an interesting story about the most beautiful horse in the world, and the sad story of what happened to it. Tibor and Ashprihanal' s story has a happy ending, when they go home around 9:30. They are also pretty happy right now.

Rupantar is the overnight race director. He has been doing this job a very long time. He has brought out an amazing variety of new snacks and a case of red bull, which over a long night, may prove crucial. He tells me that there is a super field in the race this year. "Its a good race." Like everyone, he is glad that the rain is over. But he says with some amazement, "no matter what the weather is they are out there." He jokes with me now and describes this race as a 5 star event in the world of multi day races. He laughs, "This is how people spend their vacations."

Katsuhiro is still running with his Japanese friend Yoshi. When I left at 7 pm they were running, and they had been together all day. Now it is nearly 2 am. Who knows how many hours and miles they will run together. For Kastuhiro, he will still have a lot of running to do, before he stops on saturday.

Fred and Luis emerge out of the darkness, all wrapped up in heavy jackets. If you are not running, the cold and dampness, of this time of the night, can be raw and tough. Walking with a friend, makes the miles easier, and makes the sun's arrival happen, just a little quicker.

Arpan is working on one last runner before he heads home. He tells me that, "its a long night, a lot of massages." He describes for me, an image of the night time aspect of the race. "When I see people walking in the middle of the night, it inspires me more than people running in the middle of the day." He feels that the effort is so much greater to continue at that hour. "People should be sleeping and its cold." He has been putting off going home for a while. He tells me, "Its hard for me to leave."

Yuri is working on runner Glenn Turner. Yuri is the father of the young girl Alika who was so visible at the race a few days ago. Yuri tells me that he is a licensed massage therapist. His son is with him tonight and has been helping in medical. He describes his particular method as, "energy work." I ask him to tell me about the leg that is now under his hands. He says, "its a perfect leg, just tight."

Gary Cross is heading off to take a break. He put on his own 6 day race, just 2 weeks before coming here. I ask him what he sees in this race that he likes. He tells me, "every body is genuinely concerned. They care for you, and the runners look out for each other."

John Geesler is now firmly into his 6 day race groove. He says the second day was tough, the day it rained. Now however, he tells me, that he is experiencing the 3 day groove, that so many of the multi day race athletes have talked about. He tells me, "It may not be easier, but it feels easier."
Runner Mark Dorion has been at this race many times and tells me that his wife and daughter are coming here for the first time tomorrow.
Andy Cable has driven down from Connecticut, to support the race, and his friends here. He ran the 6 day here in 2007. He came, he tells me, because he wanted, "an opportunity to be part of it." He plans to stay all night and leave, so that he can be at work at 8:30 in the morning. He says of the experience here, that he learned patience from his feet to his head. "Everyone is helpful, they lift everyone else up."

I am there when Bob Oberkher comes past for his 400th mile. If it had happened during the day there would have been a bigger celebration. The bell was rung, and he came over to the counters to celebrate. He is very happy. Everyone is also happy for Bob.

I have been searching for an excuse to leave and cannot find one. I keep taking more pictures and talking to more and more runners.

Then Dipali comes by, and wants to tell me a story that she had forgotten to tell me the other day. It is a story about Sri Chinmoy and his very deep and loving connection with this race every year. She tells me that, one year, during the race, he was at his home, and there was a group of his students with him. It was a relaxing evening, and before they left he told them something amazing. He said, that while they saw him there with them, another inner part of himself was also at the race, inspiring and encouraging, all those who were here. She gives me a smile as she says this. It is one that suggests clearly, that even now, he is here inspiring all who are here, to go on, to go on.

In the ordinary life each human being has millions and millions of questions to ask. In his spiritual life, a day dawns when he feels that there is only one question worth asking: “Who am I?” The answer of answers is: “I am not the body, but I am the Inner Pilot.”

Sri Chinmoy


Anonymous said...

Utpal, your race coverage is a multi-day event in its own right, a treasure of treasures. Thank you for this astonishing labour of love!

Anonymous said...

I thank you, too, Uptal, for this astounding coverage that tells so much about the runners and the meaning behind the race. As proof of an earlier comment, I did, in fact, consider jumping in my car to come and run for a few days, even though I couldn't make it for the whole time. Your interviews and commentary really bring the race to those of us at home.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Uptal for the race coverage. A lot of things come back into my mind from my own awesome race experience on Wards Island 2000: The food and especially the love which all the SCMTeam member bring to support all the racers.
Running wise it was probably by toughest race I did, support wise it was the most easy one.
As mentioned in your report, there, the SCMTeam gives no excuse to quit.

Keep on running
Markus Mueller

Anonymous said...

Utpal you should be working for CBS are a warm, caring, and brilliant reporter. GREAT JOB. See you soon.