Abhejali swims the Cook Strait and completes the 'Oceans Seven' challenge
By Vasanti Niemz
24 February, 2018
On Saturday, February 24th, 2018, in the wake of cyclone Gita,Abhejali Bernardova, a member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team from Zlin in the Czech Republic, successfully conquered the Cook Strait of New Zealand in rough waters and challenging currents, becoming only the 10th swimmer and 4th woman - and probably the first vegetarian! - in the world to complete the Oceans Seven challenge since its inception in 2008.
The Oceans Seven challenge is the aquatic equivalent to the 'Seven summits' challenge of climbing some of the world's highest mountains. It includes swimming the English Channel, the Strait of Gibraltar, Catalina Channel in California, Tsugaru Channel (Japan), the Irish Channel between Ireland and Scotland, Molokai (Kaiwi) Channel in Hawaii and the Cook Strait. All of the swims are done in accordance with traditional English Channel rules: no neoprene, only a regular swim suit, cap and goggles, maybe some grease, and unassisted (no touching the boat etc.).The first person to complete it was Stephen Redmond from Ireland in 2012, and the first woman was Anna Carin Nordin from Sweden in 2013.
Starting at 8:11 a.m. from the North Island in strong swells that made her seasick for hours, and challenged by rough conditions and strong currents that slowed down her progress almost to a standstill, Abhejali stayed focused and positive and finally managed to complete the swim in 13 hours, 9 minutes and 48 seconds, arriving at the tip of the South Island in the dark around 9.20pm. For over three hours during the swim she was fighting strong currents merely to hold her position and not be pulled back towards Wellington. Finally, however, the sea settled and she was able to break through the currents and touch the shore of the Southern Island. Water temperature started out with 20°C, falling to 17°C near the Southern Island.
The timing to complete these crossings is extremely tight, as the swimmers can only attempt during either the full moon or on the half moon. At these times the currents and tides are at their calmest. With cyclone Gita hitting New Zealand on Tuesday and Wednesday, Abhejali had to cancel the planned swim on Thursday due to rough seas. On Friday the boat was not available. Even on Saturday the seas were still rough. It was hard to decide whether it would be wise to start or not, but the swim went off. Right from the start, Abhejali was challenged by high swells, seasickness and a jellyfish that got stuck in her swimsuit. There were moments where she doubted her decision to start that day - but she never thought of stopping. Had she not been able to start or complete the crossing, her next opportunity would have been two weeks later at the earliest, creating logistical, financial and other difficulties.
Abhejali is not only the 10th swimmer and 4th woman to achieve the Oceans Seven challenge, but also the first Czech swimmer. Whereas over 4,833 people have summited Mount Everest (8,306 summits) and around 1800 people have swum the English Channel, not even 100 have crossed the Cook Strait. It took Abhejali 8 years to complete the Oceans Seven swims. Coming from a running background, her first major aquatic adventure was a 4 person English Channel relay in 2010, followed by her first long solo challenge - the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Swim from Rapperswil to Zürich (26,4 km) in 2011. This gave her the courage and inspiration to go for the English Channel (2011), then on to swim around Manhattan Island (New York, 2012) and from Europe to Africa (Gibraltar Straits, 2013). As a natural next new challenge, Catalina came up (2015), followed by an icy and iconic 2 hours 35 minute Robben Island swim in 9°C waters (2016) which gave her the confidence to believe the cold North Channel (2017) was achievable. Before that, however, Tsugaru (2016) and then Molokai Channel, her most difficult swim (2017, almost 22 hours), were ticked off.
What is remarkable about her swims is not only the achievement in itself - battling seasickness, jellyfish, strong currents, cold water and many other challenges on the way - but also the fact that she was successful on her first attempt in each swim. As opposed to running a marathon or ultramarathon, you never really know with all of these Channel swims when and if the weather and tides will actually allow the swim to take place. Also, the swimmer may be forced to abandon the attempt for safety or other reasons after just a few hours into the swim, or even only a few metres from the finish. A clear asset in all her aquatic adventures has been her ability to keep a positive, cheerfully determined attitude, trusting in the power of Grace from above, the supportive prayers and good vibrations sent from her teammates and friends from all over the world, as well as the inner focus and calmness gained by years of regular practice of meditation. Her meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) was himself a pioneer in the world of sports who inspired many people to believe in their unlimited inner potential and reach unprecedented goals. For his inspiration and service to open water swimming, he was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF) posthumously in 2012.
Abhejali was crewed on her Cook Strait swim by Harita Davies, who in 2017 became New Zealand’s first woman to complete the world’s longest race – the Self Transcendence 3,100 mile race in New York - and who also took part in an English Channel relay in 2014 and has crewed for Abhejali on other swims as a helper and kayaker. Helena Royden, a Czech speaking New Zealander, Stacey Marsh, P. Thorpe and Vera Sevestiyanova were also part of the helper team.
Asked, how she feels after her great achievement, Abhejali simply said: "Grateful and happy." And she is looking forward to more running again - especially in the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run, which she helps organizing.
Video: Swimming the English Channel Abhejali talks about the inner aspects of her challenges - what she gets out of them, how she started, and how meditation helps her in difficult situations.
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Interview with Vajin Armstrong
By Tejvan Pettingerauthor bio »
22 August, 2016
About the author:
Tejvan organises short-distance running and cycling races for the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in his home city of Oxford. He is also a very good cyclist, having won the National hill climb championships in 2013 and finished 3rd in the National 100 Mile Time Trials in 2014.
Recently, Vajin Armstrong of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, won the prestigious Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos. It was his fourth attempt at the gruelling race and he became the first New Zealander to win the international event. See: news item. In this interview, Vajin talks about his approach to sport and running, and how he was influenced by Sri Chinmoy's philosophy of self-transcendence.
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Vajin Armstrong wins Swiss Alpine Marathon
By Nirbhasa Mageeauthor bio »
31 July, 2016
About the author:
Nirbhasa is originally from Ireland but currently lives in Reykjavik, Iceland. He is an enthusiastic multi-day runner, having twice completed both the Ten Day Race and the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race - the longest race in the world.
Vajin Armstrong, a member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in New Zealand won the prestigious Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos with a time of 6:25:23 h, followed by Evgenii Glyva (UKR) with 6:41:17 h and Bernhard Eggenschiler (CH) with 6:44:11 h. The race is considered one of the premier ultramarathons in Europe, with a length of 76 k and a difference of altitude of 2560 m over the course.
Vajin has had many memorable races over the years, including multiple wins of New Zealands Kepler challenge and representing New Zealand in the Commonewalth Trail race. He also hold the course record for our invitational 47 mile race in August of 5:08, beating a record that had existed for almost 30 years. In the below video, Vajin talks with some supporters from the Marathon Team and a fellow competitor immediately after winning the race:
Here is also another nice video from a few years ago where Vajin talks about his training and what inspires him to run.
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Dharbhasana Lynn ... 1st Kiwi to Finish World's Longest Race
By Simahin Pierce
29 November, 2011
On 3rd August 2010 Aucklander, Dharbhasana Lynn 34, became the first New Zealander to finish the world's longest certified race - the Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race (5,000 km) in New York City.
Running up to 18 hours a day for 52 consecutive days and supported by family, friends and well-wishers, Dharbhasana 34, battled blistering 40+ degree celcius mid-summer heat and humidity, along with strained leg muscles, dehydration and fatigue, yet still averaged a remarkable 96 kilometres a day, to finish the world's toughest and most grueling ultra with just 4 hours remaining before the 52 day cut-off.
Organised by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, the race comprises 5,649 laps around a 883 metre city block in Jamaica, Queens New York City.
An annual event since 1997, the Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile ultra attracts top endurance runners from around the globe.
Over the years the extraordinary accomplishments by many of the participants have raised the bar of what is possible ... setting new levels for all humanity to aspire to
Christchurch runner and Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team race director Vajin Armstrong achived the 1st of his 3 consecutive victories in New Zealand's premier mountain race on 04 Dec 2010.
Running the rugged 60 km mountain course for the first time Vajin recorded a fine 05:03:27.
The Kepler Challenge is described as "the jewel in New Zealand's mountain running calendar" and is organised by a voluntary committee with the support, on race day, of approximately 200 Te Anau residents - giving the event a truly community feeling.
The 60km event plus the sister race, the Luxmore Grunt (27km), are held on the Kepler Track in the Fiordland National Park - part of the South Westland World Heritage Area.
Limited to 400 competitors in the Kepler Challenge and 150 in the Luxmore Grunt, both events fill up very quickly after entries open on the first Saturday in July each year.
The events attract a wide range of competitors in both nationality and age groups. For the majority of participants the nature of the event is, as the name suggests, a personal challenge.
In 2010 Vajin finished 1 minute and 29 seconds ahead of 2009 second place finisher Norman Dunroy, who was first to reach the top of the grueling 15.7km ascent, and 4.42 ahead of Martin Lukes (three time winner & five times runner-up).
The current race record of 04:37:41 was set in 2005 by Kiwi world mountain running champion & 2004 Olympic marathoner Phil Costley.
Vajin returned victorious in 2011 [05:01:54] and again in 2012 - finally fulfilling his 'sub-5' dreams [04:55:24] after a hard fought battle with Aussie Tony Fattorini.
Christchurch athlete, student and Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team race director Vajin Armstrong won the "Run to Heal" 5km race in style this morning, cruising to victory in 16.56.
Armstrong, an up and coming member of the Canterbury representative track team, ran to victory in a field of almost two thousand runners, in a race to promote cancer awareness and solutions.
Organised by 1981 New York and Boston Marathons winner Allison Roe, the New Zealand wide Run to Heal race events aim to promote health education and disease prevention in women, in a manner close to the champion Kiwi's heart.
"It's about uplifting and motivating people, and promoting healthy lifestyles" said the former world record holder, business woman and mother of two.
Held in near cross-country style conditions on a water-laden Hagley Park, Armstrong pronounced himself "very satisfied" with his time, despite being well outside his personal best of 15.14 set at the New Zealand National Track Championships in 2003.
Armstrong, the race director of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in Christchurch and full-time sports coaching student, placed fourth in the recent Self-Transcendence Marathon in New York with a time of 2.42:40, and is currently in training for the upcoming New Zealand summer track season.
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There is a lot to be Grateful For
By Dhiraja McBryde
4 August, 2006
In 2001 NZUA President, Richard Tout, asked Barney McBryde if he would contribute an article to the NZUA News on what he had been up to over the previous few months. Barney had been very active in a number of Ultra events that year, and his response was published in the next issue.
"There are only three winners:
The one who competes with himself.
The one who crosses the finish line first
And the one who finishes the race."
At 6am on the Sunday of the New Zealand National Championship 24-hour race I did what I had never done before in a race - I quit. The chances of being a winner had just decreased a lot: I certainly wasn't going to cross the line first. . . and I wasn't going to finish the race either. I sat gloomily beside the heater in the lap-counter's tent nursing my right knee.
It had been a great race. . . until 3am. But then it had been a great year.
It began on the sands of Ninety Mile Beach; the perfect setting. Any ultra is about leaving everything behind and standing alone before the pride of impossible distance. On the Te Houtaewa Challenge- a 60km race along Ninety Mile Beach- there is only the sky, the sea, the sand and nothing else, and all merge on the horizon over which one must run. A tiny dot resolves itself out of the distance and slowly, ever so slowly draws imperceptibly closer until slowly, slowly it becomes some old Maori woman standing alone with a milkbottle full of water and an old china cup. She pours you some water and hands it to you and takes back the cup with a silent smile when you are satisfied. My mother sometimes ends her letters"aroha nui" (big love)- now I know what she means.
The great moments in ultra running for me are all like that- not the heroic dash across the line (perhaps because mine are never heroic) but rather the girl with the daffodils on the aid station in the Rotorua 100km, Catherine Patton's words of encouragement in the race at Owairaka in 1997, the spirit that one feels at any race, the privilege of racing with legendary runners.
And who is more legendary than Ted Corbitt? 2001 was the year, after six years of running, I finally plucked up courage to do a multi-day race. So I lined up at the start of the Self Transcendence Six Day Race in New York. Amongst the 40 competitors was one who stood out- Ted Corbitt, aged 82.
I really only saw Ted's face for the first time at the award ceremony at the end of the race. This was for two reasons. Firstly, because he completed his record-breaking 303 miles hunched forward and leaning to one side, his eyes apparently fixed on the road unfolding before him. Secondly, one only really ever sees the backs of one's fellow competitors. I must confess that although for the majority of the six days of the race I saw his back as I passed him; come Day 6, I saw his back several times as he passed me and disappeared off down the track. To be lapped on a mile loop by a man old enough to be my grandfather- take my age, double it and add ten years- was actually a great honour when that man was Ted Corbitt. At the award ceremony he stood there, his ancient, wise face calm and serene beneath its victor's leafy crown and never said a word as people praised him, applauded him, as the race's creator- in a gesture honouring the man who had so honoured the race by his presence- lifted him overhead with one arm on a special apparatus. What need did he have for words- he had walked the walk, there was no need to talk the talk? If this man is ˜the Father of Ultra Running', as they call him, then this bodes well for the future of ˜his children'. Ultra-running will remain in the pure upper-reaches of the quest for human transcendence.
Musing by my heater at the 24hr race at 6.30am, word came that Jason Holley was back at the track and insisting that I come over to the massage area, that he was going to cure me, and that I was going to carry on with the race. I went, he did, and I did. I missed the distance I had been aiming for, I missed out on reaching 1,000km in races for the year which I had also been hoping for... but I finished the race!- I was a winner!
The fact is that we are all winners in every way.
"You have only one right place
To keep your victory trophy,
And that place is
Your heart's gratitude room"
There is a lot to be grateful for.
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A Miraculous Dream-Reality
By Harita Davies
1 May, 2000
Harita Davies - 6 Day Runner
Harita Davies of Christchurch, New Zealand, describes her experiences as a participant in the Self-Transcendence Six Day Race, 2000, an event which she evocatively calls a shared miraculous dream-reality.
The race was around a 1-mile loop, and runners ate, slept and rested at trackside, attempting to accumulate as many miles as possible within the allotted timeframe. Other competitors amongst a field of 40 athletes included world record holder Dipali Cunningham from Australia, and, most uniquely, 81-year-old Ted Corbitt. In his prime Ted held US records for 40 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles and 24 hours. He is known as the"Father of long distance running in America", and every step he took in this race was a world record, as no one at his age had ever attempted such an event. Whenever I ran past Ted, any feelings of self pity were dissolved in a most humbling wave of gratitude and inspiration.
To run for six days is an endurance test, both physically and mentally. I found that to be able to keep running through physical exhaustion and pain requires tapping into an inner determination and willpower. I found that it was important for me to have inspiration points to focus my attention on, especially when I was particularly exhausted or in pain. The saying,"every treasure is guarded by dragons" is highly applicable to this kind of event, because the sense of inner joy and satisfaction to be experienced is beyond description.
My Sources of Inspiration
My main source of inspiration was the founder of the race, sixty-eight year old Sri Chinmoy, who has dedicated his life to the creative expression of the limitless potential of the human spirit. Sri Chinmoy himself is an artist, musician, author, meditation master and an athlete. He particularly encourages people to run, saying"Try to be a runner, and try all the time to surpass and go beyond all that is bothering you and standing in your way. Be a real runner so that ignorance, limitations and imperfections will all drop behind you in the race."
Sri Chinmoy frequently visited the racetrack to encourage and support the runners throughout the race, taking time out from his own rigorous exercise programme. His recent achievements in the weightlifting world made television broadcasts all over the world, especially his calf raise of 1,050 pounds and an overhead dumbbell lift of 650 pounds in each arm, totalling 1300 pounds! His philosophy of self-transcendence has been an inspiration to thousands of people in their search for inner fulfilment and happiness.
I experienced many different emotions throughout the race, ranging from helpless tears and exasperation to uncontrollable fits of laughter. Yet I always felt such clear-headedness, such simplicity in my mind. The track became my whole world. There was a bond between all of the runners, which was not formed by words; a quick acknowledgement or smile confirmed that we were all running together. I received much joy and strength from running with my friends. Gael Ballantyne, from Auckland, made me laugh with her sharpwitted, down-to-earth sense of humour. I always looked forward to seeing her. Niribili File, also from Auckland, was competing in the 10-day race. I could always count on Niribili to flash me a beaming smile. Dipali Cunningham was the winner of the 6-day race. I loved to run with her as she radiates an incredible life force, which seemed to energise me most powerfully. While running, I often felt the presence of ultrarunner Subarata Cunningham, who recently passed away. When she was alive she was always a tremendous inspiration to me. She lovingly and enthusiastically encouraged me and many other NewZealanders to run. Her inspiration is still very much alive in my heart. Whenever I thought of her, her sleeplessly heroic perseverance and determination seemed to enter into me. I am extremely grateful to have had such an inspiring role model as a friend.
Most runners had a full time helper. My helper, Simona, was an absolute saint. I cannot even begin to image what state I would have been in without her. She took care of the practical side of things, so that all I had to concentrate on was my running.
I ended up completing 337 miles, finishing third amongst the women. It is impossible for me to describe the experience. Now, when I look back, those six fleeting days seem like an entire lifetime. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such an event. Any difficult experiences have faded from my mind. All I remember now is a beautiful little world where the most important thing is to be happy and to share your happiness with anyone you can; where everyone is going far beyond the limitations of the reasoning mind; and where everybody- runners, counters, spectators and helpers alike, all belong to one family, each one playing an equally significant role in creating a miraculous dreamâ€“reality. I cannot wait for the time when every day is like this.
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Subarata's Run of Faith
By Subarata Cunningham
1 September, 1997
Why would anyone want to run 700 miles (1,126 km) in 13 days? Aucklander Subarata Cunningham explains why, and how, she did it...
Subarata Cunningham - Ultra-Marathoner
I've run marathons before, but the 700 mile race I ran in New York last year (1997) really put me to the test- especially as I had to finish it in 13 days.
The race is called the Sri Chinmoy Ultimate Ultras race and it's held every year at Wards Island Park in New York. I started the race with 24 others but only nine of us crossed the finish line. I was the only runner from New Zealand. The race was very hard and at times I ran so slowly I might as well have been walking, but I never thought about giving up. They would have had to carry me off before I'd have given up.
On the first day I fainted twice from fatigue, but I still managed to cover 112km. It was important to set a strong pace from the start, because anyone who didn't cover at least 565km in the first six days had to pull out- they would never have made the distance because it was only going to get harder the further we ran.
Over the next 12 days I averaged daily distances of 80 to 95km. And in my final running 'session', I ran for 28 hours and had only two one-hour breaks because I was running out of time.
Sometimes I could slip into a rhythm and just run for hours, but other times it was really tough going. I stayed positive by thinking about how good I would feel when I finished and about the positive impact this would have on my life. My mind didn't wander much, especially towards the end of the race, because I was just so tired. I thought about basic things, like how many more laps I needed to do before I could take the next break.
I kept my energy levels up by eating small amounts of food after every 1.6km lap but most of the time I wasn't really hungry. I never left the park and slept each night in a tent for two to three hours. Some days we were running in temperatures of up to 30 °C.
In those 13 days, I somehow managed to avoid getting any blisters or shin splints, but my feet killed me. They were very tender and swollen. We all cut the toes and heels off our shoes to reduce the pressure on our feet. After the race, all of the skin on my soles peeled off.
I became very close to the other runners. Those of us who ran for the duration were like a family. We ran together, encouraged each other and joked to lighten the situation.
So why did I run this race?
I wanted to discover what was inside me. I'm a student of Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual guide and teacher who has a following of about 5,000 people. His philosophy is that the spirit is limitless, and that, through self-transcendence, people can do anything they want to if they dare to have faith in themselves.
You rise above physical difficulties. The mind tries to stop you constantly- with Sri Chinmoy you reach down into a much deeper part of yourself to find inner strength. I've learned, and am now a teacher of Sri Chinmoy meditation and self-motivation.
I'm not a great runner but I've been doing it for 15 years and it's the perfect partner to meditation. Running clears your mind and so does meditation- you can run inwardly and outwardly towards a goal of inner peace.
I finished the race in 12 days, 21 hours and 20 minutes. I was totally exhausted, but I felt fantastic- very happy, peaceful and calm.
I may run the race again. Even though it's very physically tiring, there's something inside me that wants to do it again. Finishing it has made me feel very good about myself. There are no obstacles that can't be overcome, and nothing is impossible.
Written by Subarata Cunningham after completing the 700 miles in 1998.
On the completion of this race Subarata became New Zealand's second ranked ultra-distance runner, with her times and distance for the 700 mile race bettered only by New Zealand's immortal Sandra Barwick, a world record holder in the 700, 1000 and 1300 mile distance.