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A test for the mind as much as the body
June 16, 2013 9:53 AM   Subscribe

The Self-Transcendence race starts today. It's a run around the block, 5,649 times around the block. Runners cover 3,100 miles, running 6 am to midnight over 52 days, at least 60 miles a day over concrete. The best runners average 75 miles a day. All the runners seem to have the same mantra. The first race was in 1997, “The first couple years, the kids threw things at us.”
posted by Smedleyman (35 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Prev comments: here and here in other ultramarathoning posts.
Piece on former winner Grahak Cunningham
posted by Smedleyman at 9:55 AM on June 16, 2013


From the last link: Two thousand eight hundred and thirty miles to go.

The real question is why dod the kids stop throwing things?

I couldn't imagine covering that must distance in my car!
posted by cjorgensen at 10:04 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been working towards finishing a piece for the last few months with only a few hours sleep a night. I'm very tired and I'm losing sight of why I'm doing it. But I just watched that video, and now I know I can carry on (although now I'm trying to work through a blur of tears).
Thanks.
posted by silence at 10:04 AM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now that is a rat race!
posted by srboisvert at 10:07 AM on June 16, 2013


From filmmaker Jessie Beers-Altman, this is the most in-depth documentary about the 3100 Mile Race made yet. The race follows 13-time finisher Suprabha Beckjord as she aims to complete the 2008 edition of the race. Spirit of a Runner challenges our definition of possibility, as it explores the enduring capacity of the human heart.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 10:20 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, that first link has a list of runners and "(female)" behind all the women's names. There has got to be a way to denote gender in a less "lady chemist" kinda way.
posted by zug at 10:21 AM on June 16, 2013


13-time finisher

That means she has spent almost 2 years of her life running around a single block in Queens.
posted by deanc at 10:26 AM on June 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


What a massive waste of time. If you ran from coast to coast like Forrest Gump you'd at least see the country and have some stories to tell.
posted by w0mbat at 10:31 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to do less of the "laugh at people who are attempting to better themselves via methods which do not appeal to me or which confuse me" thing, but really, asking me not to crack up a little bit at the thought of achieving enlightenment off the Grand Central Parkway service road is just too much to bear.
posted by elizardbits at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Amateurs.

The Kaihougyou.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:40 AM on June 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sri Chinmoy's followers give me a bit of the creeps. Not so much that I wasn't a regular at Victory's Banner back in Chicago - their omelets are pretty tasty. There's something about the whole all the women wear saris, all the men wear thrift store cast off t-shirts, lots of people living in the same house together and work at the same place.
posted by wotsac at 10:59 AM on June 16, 2013


I was thinking, "Is this a Chinmoy thing?" and yes, it's a Chinmoy thing.

They do a lot of these things which is supposed to help demonstrate their mind-over-matter. When Chinmoy was still alive, he would also lift weights, like he would lift platforms with cows or cars on them, 1000s of pounds. They'd take photos and send them out with press releases to the papers, but then if a weightlifting association asked to observe one of these lifts, suddenly they are all, "Oh, he doesn't want to self-aggrandize."

The weightlifting seemed to stay as Chinmoy's own thing, but a lot of members took up the marathon running. Like wotsac said, I sometimes get a vibe off them which makes me wonder what kind of pressure there is to conform.
posted by RobotHero at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel weird about cults. On the one hand, these people seem to be finding some sort of spiritual fulfillment from what they are doing. On the other hand, a cult environment tends to raise questions about coercion and loss of agency. Not to mention the cults that have used their control over their followers to cover up serious abuse.

However, when your cult makes amazing French toast like they do at Victory's Banner, I tend to give them a pass. There are way worse things a cult could be doing.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:22 AM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I appreciate the comments above which express some skepticism and suspicious curiosity about the organization which promotes this event.

I don't appreciate as much the failure to understand the concept of self-transcendence which finds parallels and analogues in meditation, which can be described as being fully present in one's environs rather than exposing oneself to dramatic views, sublime experiences, and exotic locales.

The heart of many meditative traditions is rooted in the mundane and unremarkable rather than the extraordinary and novel, and snickering about the pedestrian character (ha!) of the Self-Transcendence race depends upon a stubbornly ethnocentric world view.
posted by mistersquid at 11:25 AM on June 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


snickering about the pedestrian character (ha!) of the Self-Transcendence race depends upon a stubbornly ethnocentric world view.

No, actually, it depends on having spent a significant amount of time frustratedly sitting in traffic on the GCP and thus being tickled by the idea of people very close by who are having a completely opposite experience.
posted by elizardbits at 11:33 AM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Previously they did this in Flushing Meadows, where at least they were in a park -- and out of everyone else's way.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:37 AM on June 16, 2013


the thought of achieving enlightenment off the Grand Central Parkway service road is just too much to bear.

If you see the Buddha on the road, lace up your sneakers and run that fucker down.
posted by Lorin at 11:39 AM on June 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


75 miles in a day? I could *maybe* do that. I've done half marathons. But sleeping 6 hours and doing it again? My legs would refuse to move.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:58 AM on June 16, 2013


Of course, the Google Street View car was there, too.
posted by swift at 12:04 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Get-off-my-lawnness of the comments here is amusing to me. They may be a cult, but meh. Two things:

1) When you talk about testing the mind, the location seems exactly the point. Running around the same block 5,649 times seems like a totally viable way to drive yourself mad (putting aside the fact that one could do this just by living in the same spot for an extended period of time). It seems to me that dealing with the monotony is part of the challenge.

2) Previously they did this in Flushing Meadows, where at least they were in a park -- and out of everyone else's way.

Again, this misses the actual value to the community. The neighbourhood resident in the video had it right. With these people running around all day, there are always eyes on the street, which makes it much safer.

I don't like Arrested Development, but that doesn't make everyone who does a fool.
posted by dry white toast at 12:22 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel weird about religions. On the one hand, these people seem to be finding some sort of spiritual fulfillment from what they are doing. On the other hand, a religious environment tends to raise questions about coercion and loss of agency. Not to mention the religions that have used their control over their followers to cover up serious abuse.

From an outsider's perspective, all religions are cults, so I don't think this is a terribly useful distinction. I mean, I get it, "cults" are supposed to refer to something "worse" than mainstream religion, but there are big ol' religions doing active harm to people I care about every day, people who are just trying to live their lives.

I'm pretty open to coexisting with a religion which runs around the block and serves pastries. (Note, I have no idea what else these folks do.)
posted by maxwelton at 12:25 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's shallow of me, but right now I'm thinking less about spiritual transcendence and more about how good a plate of neatloaf with gravy and a salad with lemon-tahini dressing at Ananda Fuara would taste. Hm. Lemme just check that BART schedule…
posted by Lexica at 12:31 PM on June 16, 2013


It's kind of a weird thing, for sure... I'm an ultramarathoner and while I totally get running as meditation as a concept, I don't understand this whole scene at all. I once ran 50 miles around a 1 mile course, it is not an experience I'd recommend to anyone, although I guess it was "interesting."

Why not just run down the Appalachian trail? Go on some epic adventure? For comparison, check out Ultrapedestrian Ras, a dude who just did a self-supported 6x crossing of the Grand Canyon, presumably for similar meditative reasons.

... anyway... looking forward to watching the documentary. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by ph00dz at 12:44 PM on June 16, 2013


Running across the country would just be a different kind of race. This one is monotonous on purpose:
Having run around the same block more than 22,500 times, Cunningham is on intimate terms with every crack in the pavement. And even the smallest distraction can turn the mind away from the pain and boredom.

"Guys twist the top of a particular fire hydrant when they run past, like a Buddhist prayer wheel," he says. "The other thing is there is a gate latch that you lift as you go past and it makes a nice 'donging' sound."

Several times I try to get to the heart of the most obvious question - why put yourself through such monotonous torture? But while there is nothing evasive in his answers, it's clear he finds it hard to articulate a response.

"When you finish it's almost like a dream," he says...
posted by mdn at 12:57 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"When you finish it's almost like a dream," he says...

Oh, no, that really was just a dream. You've only just woken up. It's only day three. Get back to work.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:05 PM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've always been impressed and amazed with this ultramarathon, on a variety of levels.

It really does seem indisputable that running 3,100 miles would achieve profound, on a mental/spiritual level. I'm reminded of the runner who, towards the end of one of his races, found himself having an engaging conversation with a floating hamburger.

There's also something humorous and "true" about how this race seems to exist as the overly logical conclusion to all other races. Think you've run a lot? Not as much as these folks. Oh, you don't think this route is particularly scenic? Screw your scenery: after day five, their minds will travel through space and time to dimensions unknown. Who needs purple mountaintops when you're doing 60 miles a day in Unknown Kadath?
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is a certain irony in making a spectacle out of an event that itself seems to have the sole purpose of illustrating that life is utterly pointless; that all human activity is Sisyphean in nature and that transcendence can only be reached by embracing single-mindedly an obviously the Sisyphean pursuit.
posted by mary8nne at 1:46 PM on June 16, 2013


My favorite Sri Chinmoy fact: supposedly he saved Carlos Santana's life when he hit bottom doing Scarface size cocaine doses. Google image search pulls Santana and Sri Chinmoy and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin.
posted by bukvich at 2:47 PM on June 16, 2013


At first, I was highly sceptical of just why anyone would do this instead of just running across the country and getting a change in scenery. After reading the links and watching the video, I think I get why it's a repetitive course.

"Never give up" - words to live by.
posted by arcticseal at 2:58 PM on June 16, 2013


The Kaihougyou.

Marathon Monks

Marathon Monks of Mt Hiei
posted by homunculus at 3:53 PM on June 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cultish, true. But a similar running event, the Kaihōgyō (回峰行), also in several links above, exists in established sects of Buddhism in Japan and has been ongoing in Kyoto for hundreds of years.

Though the daily distances of the Kaihōgyō, at 40 kilometers, are shorter, it covers steep, rock-strewn trails, which are traversed at a brisk run by a monk in traditional clothing and straw sandals. Midway through the seven-year practice, the monk goes on a nine-day period of meditation and fasting.

Many years back, a Japanese TV program profiled the life of a monk, possibly in his sixties, engaged in this practice. There were several stops on the run for ritualistic chanting, and his days were crowded with duties at the temple as well. The 40 kilometer run seemed like an energizing warm-up for a full schedule of activities.

Every day, non-stop, without rest or respite, apart from the nine-day fast. For seven years.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:55 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I noticed an interesting part in the first Kaihougyou Marathon Monks video, about halfway in, where he's putting on his gear. He slips a a large wrapped package in his belt, the narrator says it contains a short sword and a rope, which he has vowed to use in a ritual suicide if he fails.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:57 PM on June 16, 2013


No, actually, it depends on having spent a significant amount of time frustratedly sitting in traffic on the GCP and thus being tickled by the idea of people very close by who are having a completely opposite experience.

Oh hm. I totally misinterpreted!

I like the idea of taking delight that banal contexts can accommodate such vast differences in experience. (I think) I see what you mean, elizardbits.
posted by mistersquid at 10:59 PM on June 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That means she has spent almost 2 years of her life running around a single block in Queens.

As someone who's spent the last five years running around the same 8 by 8 cubicle, I feel for her.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:51 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Runners Show Less Fatigue After 200 Miles Than 100 Miles: New study shows role of pacing and sleep deprivation in endurance.
posted by homunculus at 3:20 PM on June 28, 2013


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