The Ultra Experience

The Sri Chinmoy Centre has been my life, my journey and my home for many, many years. I hope these pages offer a small glimpse into the joy, the grace and the wonder that is Sri Chinmoy.


Story by Kishore Cunningham
Introduction by Animesh Harrington


A VISITOR TO THE BANKS of Melbourne's Yarra River on the morning of April 13 would probably not have taken too much notice of a group of three smiling runners as they ran around a 3.5-mile circuit.

And yet that same visitor, casting a cursory glance across the horizon hours later as he sat eating his picnic lunch, may have started to wonder as he saw the same three once more running towards him.

Indeed, he would have been even more amazed to see the same three pushing the same route at 10 p.m. that evening – or, for that matter, any hour in between. He might well be excused for thinking he was day dreaming.

But to the three determined runners it was stark reality – every pounding step. The fact was that they were running non-stop for 13 hours!

Kishore Cunningham, Prabhir Bothwell and Animesh Harrington are comparative newcomers to the ultramarathon run. Their first was just last year when two of them ran 47 miles – in a little over eight hours to celebrate the birthday of their meditation teacher, Sri Chinmoy. The 13-hour Melbourne effort was to celebrate the anniversary of Sri Chinmoy's arrival in the West on April 13, 1964.

A strange thing to do, run 13 hours for such an event. Though on second thoughts, perhaps not so strange, since Sri Chinmoy, himself an ardent athlete, one-time decathlon champion and now recent marathoner, advises his students to take their sport as seriously as their meditation.

It is hard for most of us to conceptualise what it actually means to run for 13 hours because we are apt to judge a thing by our own personal limitations. On the other hand, nearly every runner knows the feeling of going beyond what he thought to be his personal limit. According to Sri Chinmoy, meditation and running have one basic theme in common: the transcendence of those limitations. His motto, "Run and become; become and run; run to succeed in the outer world; run to proceed in the inner world," has certainly been put into practice.

 

***

Kishore Cunningham sketches his own account of the 'Ultra Experience'.

"Suddenly it all happened again. Out of the blue the idea came to me: to run thirteen hours non-stop."

The concept of an ultramarathon was new and exciting in August last year, when I happened to be in New York for the first Sri Chinmoy Invitational Ultramarathon. Until then, even the thought of a 26-mile marathon had been daunting, to say the least. I had heard of the infamous 'wall' which generally loomed at the 20-mile mark – and I had also heard Ted Corbitt (the pioneer of ultra-distance running) speak about the pain and mental barriers above and beyond the conventional distances.

That was nearly eight months ago. Upon reflection, at the time I felt it was the most gruelling, self-imposed challenge I had ever undertaken. My preparation had been low-key, to put it mildly, with one confidence-boosting 20-mile run a week before the race. I had never even completed the normal marathon distance, and here I was contemplating 47 miles, in what turned out to be eight solid hours on the road.

The benefits of a carbohydrate loading diet prior to a heavy run had been explained to me the night before the race. I have vivid memories of packing a five-day diet into one last supper. And after the race – the sore legs, walking like a cripple as we approached Sri Chinmoy (after whom the race is named, and himself an avid marathon runner), to receive a delicious mango as a prize for finishing. Contemplating the agonies and consoling my burning feet, I reflected on how lucky I was that it was only an annual event.

Suddenly it all happened again. Out of the blue an idea came to me: to run 13 hours non-stop.

Thinking that I was either crazy or inspired, I rang two friends interstate. We would be meeting together for the Easter weekend in April and it would be an ideal opportunity if the run were to take place.

The reaction from Prabhir Bothwell, an enthusiastic runner and Perth fund-raising celebrity, was one of humour and disbelief. He didn't take me seriously until two hours before the run, when he arrived bleary-eyed on a midnight flight from Perth. Animesh Harrington, from Brisbane, made up the trio. Animesh and I had gone the full distance of the 47-miler together, and he knew only too well what we were letting ourselves in for. We had two weeks to prepare!

Luckily April 13th was an ideal day for running, with a cool, light breeze and just enough cloud to keep out the sun.

We started at 9 am from the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, Melbourne. I had spoken to Tony Rafferty a week before the run, and was relatively prepared for the pain. Eight hours had been my previous limit; above this I didn't know what was in store for us. Tony suggested heel cushions for the ten-hour mark "when the Achilles tendons start to get inflamed," and a set of inner soles "to ease the constant pounding as your feet hit the ground harder and harder."

I had been through it all before: the euphoria of the first hours, constantly resisting the temptation to put on the speed, keeping in mind that it was endurance, not distance, we were aiming for. The bubbling and constant chatter ended quite suddenly after three hours. Here we grit our teeth and pushed into the first mental barrier. An indrawn silence enveloped us like a bubble, broken rhythmically by three simultaneous slaps on the pavement and the constant drone of the distant traffic. The ordinary passers-by would have seen quite a normal sight: three weary runners plodding down St Kilda Road and around the Tan.

Inside, time had expanded into an endless battle of mind over body. Occasionally we were distracted by words of encouragement from smiling faces. These were welcome exchanges with the outside world, punctuating one incessant stream of thought: to keep pushing on.

The physical barriers are tough, there is no doubt about it. But a certain basic level of training will see most people through four hours on their feet for a marathon.

Mental barriers are decidedly different. My thoughts would reach back to Tony Rafferty's comment: "Sixty per cent mind and forty per cent physical." The very fact that he had run 50 hours non-stop gave my mind the credibility it was looking for. I also remembered the finish of the 47-miler and Sri Chinmoy's statement, "Now you see what is true for all human beings: we are all truly unlimited if only we dare to try and have faith."

At the ten-hour mark, after grinding around the 3.5-mile course for what seemed like an eternity, there was a noticeable change in both physical and mental sensations. My feet didn't ache any more; they tingled with numbness. And my mind had passed the stage of arguing for and against. In mute acceptance it had gone beyond itself, and looked forward to the blissful relief when the run would be over.

If there had been any doubts, we were now sure that we could see the distance to its end. As we ran through the fading light of day, the now familiar shapes took on new dimensions. The Yarra River lay still and quiet, shimmering under the lights, its symbolism spurring us on into the night. At one minute past 10 p.m. we completed the final circuit. Outwardly we had put an accumulated 222 miles under foot. Inwardly, we had explored universes. You can run a long way in 13 hours!

– End –

 

This article first appeared in Fun Runner magazine in June 1979.

 


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