Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It is a Golden Opportunity

Today, day 46, belongs to Pranab. By this evening he will be the second person to finish the 3100 mile race. He, who has run the race, 3 times before, will however be the first runner to set a new personal record. In a race in which seconds count like diamonds, he will best himself by nearly a day. There is a lot that can be said about this serious, disciplined, and often funny Slovak champion. Somehow however, his performance here itself, speaks much more eloquently than anything that I can say. At this place, in which courage, strength, and determination are tested with each step, of each mile, over many thousands of miles, he has been superb.

He shows me, what he calls, his 3100 mile toe. My camera does not do justice to the object you see here, which does not in my opinion resemble any of the digits attached to my own feet. He says his big toe, has been like this since day one. He also says it has caused him pain every step of the way. What is more amazing, is that on day 14, he lost nearly an entire day from the course, because of his skin allergy. He came back the next day, after finding a solution, and then ran 69 miles, 3 miles more than the next best finisher that day. In what, that can only be called a spectacular finish, he ran 74 miles yesterday, the most he has run here any day, at this years race. He will only have 60 miles to go today.

There is a conspicuous empty chair at the course this morning. No doubt tomorrow there will be another.

Stutisheel who has less than 400 miles to go walks by the drink table and says, "it must be August, there are bees everywhere."

And if Diganta's mom is reading, she has a little less to worry about. He has run more than 60 miles now for the last 2 days.

And so Pranab steps to the starting line one last time. The man in blue beside him cannot help but think that tomorrow will belong to him. Grahak has just 120 miles to go.

the day begins

There was never any doubt in Pranab's mind that he would come here and run this year. He did not however train, like he would have liked. When he arrived, he was not thinking of records or glory, only of self preservation, and to finish. I ask him as tactfully as possible, if he was not fit, than why would he come here, and put himself to this the ultimate test of endurance. He says simply, "I came because he asked me to come." That 'he', being of course his late Guru, Sri Chinmoy.

Over the 3 previous years, that he ran here, Sri Chinmoy would always ask who was going to come back the following year. It was always framed as a request, but the implication in the question, was more like, 'will you all not come back again.' He tells me that he, without hesitation volunteered last year to come back. He says, "I would be stupid, not to do his last request." And adds confidently, "I knew it was the right thing to do."

The physical reality however, he brought to the starting line on day one, was not pretty. Over weight and out of shape, he says of the race, "It was the last thing I wanted to do physically." But self-transcendence, in even the humblest endeavor, requires self discipline, courage, perseverance, and of course the intangible one, surrender. He tells me about just a small portion of his suffering, including the last 10 days, which he describes as, "lots of pain."

He describes the delicate balancing act he has endured in terms of his mental and spiritual approach to the race. How on one hand he must push and yet not go so far as to be stressed out. How to achieve his very best outwardly and yet to keep track of how inwardly he is responding to challenge and difficulty. He says, "I want to do my best. I want to keep happy but also be focussed."

He describes this focus in relation to the approach used by other runners. He does not criticize their tactics but for himself he wants to run honestly and, "make every lap in a pure way. Every lap, it is a golden opportunity."

He describes, that it is possible to take short cuts. These are not cutting corners outwardly but more like not taking responsibility for your behavior and actions on the course at all times. He suggests, that the correct inner approach, is always there for you. "That thing is just waiting there for you." And, that once you accept and embrace that way, you will understand it is the reason you are here.

For him it is important to, "cry for the the highest. If we don't do this thing we just prolong our time. You are here." His hands sweep wide across the sidewalk we are running on. "You are here, it is a tough experience, but it is the perfect way for Guru to take you through."

He says how each year he has learned and gained much here. "Important things," he says he has gotten here, "every year more and more." Of his Guru he says, "He is present as he used to. It is still under his control, I felt it in the hospital."

Of that difficulty he describes it as an inner block that manifested itself as a skin rash. He says, "The thing I had was my resistance, it had to be broken. It was so obvious this experience." It seems that it was a matter of acceptance and surrender, the outcome being, "everything changed, everything really changed. After this I was running on a different level."

As for Sri Chinmoy's very tangible connection to him and how he runs today, "he told us what to do. He has taught everything. He has told us in so many ways. He is gone from direct reach. It is just up to us to get there. Because he is waiting there."

Pranab's mom Purabi has taken turns with one of his sisters, Padapa, to be a helper at the race. It is a job she takes, with a similar seriousness to her work, as her son does to his running. She is no expert at the needs and whims of an ultra distance runner, but she is a mom, and tries to help in the best way she can. She also tells me, how she tries to help all the other runners. While we are talking she is cutting up bits of carrot to put on to the top of open faced sandwiches.

She says of her experience here, that all has taken place so fast. But also, that being here is transforming, demanding, and at the same time peaceful. She describes an atmosphere here, that for her, is charming. It is created not just by the runners but also by all who come and help, and everyone.

I ask her about the influence of Sri Chinmoy on the race. She describes for me, that how last year, when he came here so often, there was so much excitement when he came and then there would be the down side when he left. When he came she says, "you were in heaven and then it changed to something else." But nonetheless, of his presence and energy, she says, "you can feel it remains here." On a deeper level, "the experience we are having of Guru on the inner level is not so changeable." As for being here, there is no place else she would rather be. She says for her, "it is the most important thing at this moment."

I tell her, that it is a unique situation, that Pranab is in. At first his sister helps, and then his mom. She pauses for a moment at this, and I feel like I have touched a delicate nerve. There is a tear in her eye, and I apologize for being inappropriate, and she tells me no. She describes for me simply, that her whole family cares deeply for Pranab and for this race. She says, that at this moment, when he is about to finish, she wishes her daughter Padapa was here as well, to celebrate and enjoy it with her and Pranab.

And then 13 hours pass, and the mere 60 miles left to run disappear like grains of sand in an hour glass.
It is a big moment for the little country of Slovakia. The Counsel General Igor Pokojny is here with his family to see a new Slovakian record being made.

It happens so quickly, the final few steps to the finish line.

Everyone is proud at what Pranab has done here over 45 days, 13 hours, 39 minutes, and 54 seconds.
There is celebrating

There is singing

The happiness

of the heart
the speed
of the body

Sri Chinmoy


Jan said...

My nephew and I were in New York on Day 29 when we stopped by the course. As we walked one lap to experience just a very tiny piece of what it must be like to run this race, Pranab caught up to us and walked with us for a short distance. We greatly enjoyed meeting and visiting with him and we both want to offer our congratulations to him on his great accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

I am very happy that Pranab is the second finisher! Hurra! Purabi, his mom, is so friendly and is there for all the runners. That is real Purabi. She has a heart of gold, and exactly this is what the remaining runners need now. Am I right or not? Purabi once came to me and said something very nice to me about my recitation.
That kind word stays in my haert.

Unknown said...

These runners are like the great heroes of the Mahabarata. I bow to their courage, determination and devotion. And heartfelt gratitude to you, Utpal, for shouldering the role of Vedavyasa for this great and sacred race.