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.
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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Ten Days to Run
By Niribili File
3 August, 2006
Few people look forward to an ultra race. Even fewer positively relish the chance to have ten days of nothing but! Meet one in a million - the indefatigable Niribili File.
Wards Island, New York, 29 April- 9 May 1999, Aucklander Niribili File completes her first 10-day Race.
Yippee! 10 whole days with nothing to do but run- and meditate. The mundane matters of life would be handled by my helper, Eta Field of Christchurch, and she was a tireless worker for the cause.
That was my feeling as I lined up with 7 others at the start of the 10-day race. I confess to a slight nervousness also, conscious of my inexperience. It was my first 10 day, and I was a latecomer to running (started at age 49).
We set off at noon in perfect, mild, spring weather around the 1-mile loop road, winding through the attractive tree-dotted park alongside the river separating Manhattan from Wards Island. The view of the Manhattan skyline, particularly at night, was spectacular- a blaze of light, a view one never tired of. Overhead at one end of the road was a huge motorway bridge which we passed underneath each time around.
On the third day, it seemed that half of New York had descended on our park for picnics, and it was a case of dodging people, noisy motorbikes, and the buggies, roaring up and down until the police got them. Day 5 saw our 14 comrades in the 6-day race joining in, and light rain falling. In the two races combined, 14 different countries were represented.
Overall, the weather was excellent- mild and calm. This, combined with a happy and encouraging atmosphere generated by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team organisers, volunteers and supporters, made for most enjoyable running conditions.
The style of the race is"go as you please", which means no timetable. My schedule was simple: sleep from 11pm to 2am, emerge from my tent at 2:30am and (hopefully) keep going, with a snooze after lunch. Two or three counters were on duty in shifts around the clock and food was available at all hours.
The little cluster of custom-made buildings comprising the"camp" are specially erected each year just for the race, taking a week of voluntary work to put up. Dormitories are provided but most runners and helpers prefer to bring their own tents.
But all was not fine and dandy, and I developed shin splints on Day 2. It took massages (ouch), lots of walking and double doses of painkillers over two days for the condition to ease enough to allow running. There was also the unusual remedy of cabbage leaves with ice packs wrapped around the leg.
After three or four days of (yahoo) running again, blow me down- that old shin splint returned with a vengeance. After yet another trip to medical- at least I gave them something to do- I resigned myself to the inevitable and walked the last three days.
In order to achieve a 50 mile per day average, I cut down on rest and on the last night I walked through until closeoff at noon next day. There was a bad patch or two that night, but the reward was a lovely pink sunrise next morning.
Sometimes a mile would take half an hour, but at least I was putting one foot in front of the other. I can't remember a lot of smiles at that stage of things.
Shortly before"time'sup" on Day 10, my goal of 500 miles was realised and I passed by the counters in a fatigued and slightly disoriented state, whereupon someone from the medical tent carted me off for repair work to my ever increasing crop of blisters.
The race gave me the opportunity to test and transcend my inner strength and my physical endurance level. Afterwards the pain was quickly forgotten, but the satisfaction of completing the race remained. I was still in one piece, albeit minus three toenails and 5kg of weight.
I think I have caught the multiday bug.
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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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Welcome to "Transcendence"
By Simahin Pierce
27 March, 2007
... a section for uplifting stories and personal anecdotes told by and about inspiring New Zealand athletes.
Self-transcendence is the art of challenging one's limitations and striving to better our previous achievements.
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.
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
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.