Eleven racers from around the world are running around a single block in Queens, averaging 60 miles a day to run 3,100 miles in 52 days. The feat of endurance is sponsored by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team.
What does it take to run 3,100 miles? For those of you thinking about trying this Herculean feat for yourself — and hey, who isn’t? — here are some tips for how to get started.
·Have a goal. The racers have to make at least 50 miles a day to stay in the race, but in order to complete it in 52 days they’ll have to do over sixty. Last year’s winner, Asprihanal Aalto of Finland, a.k.a. the “Fine Finn,” averaged 72 per day. This year, Aalto is leading the pack once again.
·“Enjoy it.” When asked how to start training for a 3100 mile race, race director Rupantar LaRusso says: just start running. “Enjoy a 10k race,” he advised, then work your way up to “enjoy[ing] a marathon” and eventually a twenty-four hour race and a six-day race. Most of the 11 runners have been running competitively for ten or more years.
·“Stay on the course.” That’s the “real secret” to this race, LaRusso says. Just stay on the course until your mileage goal for the day is done. The running starts at 6am sharp every morning—some of the runners bike to the starting line—and they run until 11pm or midnight.
·Eat up! These runners average 10,000 calories a day to keep them going. Some intentionally come to the race “a little overweight because they know they’ll lose weight,” said LaRusso. Plus, “there comes a point when you’re not hungry. That’s a problem. An experienced runner knows he has to eat.”
·Don’t skimp on the junk food. “They love ice cream,” LaRusso laughs. It’s actually one of the better foods in a race like this, since runners can eat it on the go, and the high fat and sugar converts to quick energy. Some of the runners drink soft drinks and coffee in addition to “infinite” amounts of water.
·Okay, health food’s important too. Nandana Lynn, wife of New Zealand runner Dharbasana Lynn, says her husband is “trying to go the natural way.” He likes avocados, goji berries, blueberries, banana-celery smoothies, and his home-made energy drink: water, honey, lime juice, and chia seeds—yes, as in chia pets! “Who woulda thought: those chia seed things!” Nandana laughs.
·Go vegetarian. Okay, tofu won’t guarantee that you’ll become an ultramarathoner, but this year all eleven racers are vegetarian. You might consider going vegan or all-natural, too.
·Listen to your body. That means taking breaks when you need them. All of the runners are careful to treat pains and blisters before they become more pressing concerns. A few years ago at this race, a runner experienced foot pain but kept it to himself for several days before finally complaining. It turned out to be an infection, and he had to drop out of the race to undergo an operation on his foot.
·Go beyond your body. Sometimes you do have to just run through the pain. “The flesh and the body do not want to do sixty miles per day. So what is that? That is the mind,” said Mitchell G. Proffman, a chiropractor and amateur marathoner who volunteers to assist, adjust, and sometimes realign runners whose hips and vertebrae take a pounding from the concrete sidewalks.
·Don’t stop there. Self-transcendence means surpassing the goals you’ve set for yourself. “You have a goal; you go beyond it,” said LaRusso. “Today you do sixty miles…for these runners, that’s just the starting point.”
·“Just deal with it.” That’s LaRusso’s advice on dealing with crowded sidewalks, heat, lack of sleep, and every other challenge facing the racers. For example, there’s a public school on the block, and when school lets out the racers have to run up-river, so to speak, bounced around like “ping-pong balls” in the crowd, LaRusso recounts. He doesn’t sound frustrated, though, because “the environment is as much the race as the mileage.”
·Laugh! “You need a good sense of humor in this race,” said LaRusso.
But clearly, one of the most important parts of running a 3,100 mile race is just to be yourself. The runners all make custom adjustments to their sneakers, for example; some cut the toes off, some cut slits in the side, some cut holes behind the heel.
Some drink chia seeds, others drink soda. Some take ten-minute naps in the vans beside the track; others see Proffman on the side for a hip realignment. Some listen to iPods, some chat with the support group.
They are all brutally honest with themselves. They know when to take breaks and when to persevere, what pains can be dealt with and what pains need immediate attention. They know they have to run at least sixty miles a day and they do whatever it takes to get there; Austrian runner Surasa Maier couldn’t even sleep for the first few days of the race, she was so hyped up with adrenaline. On day 11 she had already run 586 miles. That's the meaning of self-transcendence.
“You’re looking for joy, basically,” said Dipali Cunningham, a member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team and holder of the women’s world record in the six-day race with 513.75 miles, who comes to cheer on her friends. “You look at the board and think ‘wow,’” she laughed, gesturing to the sign recording the runners’ current mileage.
But you have to run from the heart, not the mind, Cunningham said. “If you become more childlike in your heart, you find these infinite capacities in there…[You’re] more positive, happier, more cheerful.”