Though I’ve run for roughly ten years now, I discovered a major truth shortly after starting: distance cannot corral our aspirations. In the words of Arnold Hano, “There is an itch in runners.” What exactly is this itch though? Perhaps it’s the itch to simply keep going, to keep exploring, to keep uncovering that which was previously hidden on an oft repeated route. Continuing to move is how I might summarize this itch. Runners have a tendency to eyeball the next distance and then charge after it with full force and a grand resolve. In short, that next distance will be conquered.
I’ve pondered distance beyond the formidable marathon for the past few years. A 50K race on the trails seems doable as the distance increases from 26.2 miles to 31. The mileage jump is gradual. A 50-mile race is a loftier feat, and a 100-mile race seems obscene and at first glance. Though I believe that I can complete these distances with adequate training and time, a friend recently described a race for me that is exponentially absurd. This looks like a straitjacket kind of race as the total distance borders on insanity. No, it crosses the border of crazy. 3,100 miles of crazy.
For your consideration, I give you the Self-Transcendence Race in Queens, New York. What’s required to complete 3,100 miles in 52 days? According to race founder Sri Chinmoy, self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is how you achieve this daunting task. “The supreme secret or goal will be to transcend our own capabilities. We will not try to defeat others. We will try only to constantly transcend ourselves.” That’s putting it mildly.
According to the race website, finishing 3,100 miles in 52 days means 59.62 miles per day. Moreover, the Self-Transcendence Race takes place on a concrete sidewalk loop of .5488 miles – which translates into 5,649 total laps. I know what you’re thinking as I’ve asked myself the same question. Do runners actually enter this race? They do indeed, and the 2015 winner finished those 3,100 miles in forty days, nine hours, and six minutes. By the way, that’s a world record.
Could I complete a single day of this race, much less the other 51? Could you? Would you? What compels runners to pursue quests of this magnitude? And what of boredom, the mental taxation that takes over after miles and miles and miles of an unforgiving loop? As Sri Chinmoy made clear earlier, self-transcendence is the pathway towards completion of this feat. This seems like a valid rationale, but I wonder if it’s actually motivated by love.
Is it self-transcendence or love that would motivate a person to run 3,100 miles around a city block or take up the Four Deserts Race Series across the Atacama (Chile), Gobi (China), Sahara (Egypt), and Antarctic? In the words of Bernard Edmonds, “To dream anything you want to dream, that is the beauty of the human mind. To do anything you want to do, that is the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits, that is the courage to succeed.”
Maybe the ability to tackle events like the Self-Transcendence Race or the Four Deserts Race is comprised of a combination of character traits, including strength, courage, will, discipline, bottomless tenacity, and love. Without love, passions are not passions. They are chores to check off a list. Running may feel like a chore from time to time, but this is why it must be periodically renewed through the lens of speed, distance, location, or all three.
No distance can corral our aspirations. Running is a chasing down of the impossible, be it the agony of crossing a finish line of that first 5K or collapsing in a heap after traversing the most unforgiving terrain on the planet. And for some, it’s running 5,000 laps around a city block. Sri Chinmoy describes this process as self-transcendence. I believe it is the desire to improve as a runner and demonstrate our love for it in a most remarkable, sometimes jaw-dropping, manner.