"I can still hardly believe that I did it"
On 25th August I completed the Self Transcendence Marathon. Now this might not sound like such a big deal to many but for me it was a minor miracle. My last marathon was the New York in 2000, which I completed in a P.B. of 4.56.00. However, physically I struggled to recover from the race and for a few months running was problematic. When I was finally feeling myself again, I went out one morning full of enthusiasm, over did it and promptly got the first serious running injury of my life! The injury was to my hip flexor muscle, although it took me a year and numerous sports therapists to establish this fact. For the first year I couldn't even walk far without pain and virtually all exercise caused problems, so it was a case of pilates (good but dull) or nothing. During the second year cycling became possible and walking easier but running was still a complete no-no. It wasn't until half way through the third year, after months of treatment from a brilliant cranial osteopath, that I was finally able to start running again. Even then I had to be very careful, sticking to short runs a couple of times a week. Finally at the start of this year, I was introduced to the Egoscue exercises which focus on rebalancing posture, putting right bad habits that you have had for years. Through doing these regularly I was able to run more frequently and with less discomfort. At this point, encouraged by Sri Chinmoy, I started to do the Self Transcendence races again. It gave me so much joy to see my very slow times gradually improve over the weeks and I will never forget the feeling of absolute euphoria and gratitude when I completed my first 4 mile race. So it was that in April, with some trepidation, I signed up for the Self Transcendence Marathon due to take place in August. I knew that I would not be as prepared for it as I would normally like (four months is not really long enough to prepare for a marathon when 5 miles seems like an almighty challenge!) but I felt that if I could fit in some long runs over the summer, then I would at least be able to complete the course. Well, the long runs never materialised. For the first time in my life, I seemed to spend the whole of the summer under the weather. What with two infections, an upset back and stress at work, I arrived in New York with a maximum of 7 miles achieved on any single run. Not good! The thought of the impending marathon terrified me and filled my every waking and sleeping thought. In vain did I try to suppress images of the pain I was going to endure on August 25th. But I kept telling myself ' just start, you can always pull out when it gets too tough'. Not starting the race wasn't an option, I had promised I would do this so as long as I wasn't sick or injured, I would be on that start line. The dawn of the 25th finally arrived. Actually we were all up and out before the dawn to get to the 7am start on time. Anyway, I got to the start in time for Sri Chinmoy's pre race message. Unfortunatley I couldn't hear it as I was at the back of 750 runners but I felt his peaceful, meditative presence and as I crossed the start line, I saw his light flooded smile. After the first lap my body settled into the running and before I knew it, I was at the 8 mile mark, from then on it was all self transcendence as I was going further than I had run in nearly 4 years. It certainly wasn't hard to feel inspired as this course has to be the most perfect marathon course in the world. Each loop is 3 miles; long enough for you to feel you've achieved something with each lap, but short enough for you to survive until the medical tent if you get any problems. And boy is it beautiful. The course takes you round a lake, with the water glistening invitingly, and all around is nothing but trees. Only a couple of points are unshaded, so although it was a hot 'New York in August' day, to my knowledge no-one suffered from heat exhaustion. There are drink stations at each mile where you are guaranteed a roar of encouragement and once a lap you get to see Sri Chinmoy's huge smile, I was quite certain that this alone was enough to get me round the next lap. I also had my mother at the main drink/food station and although she claims to have done virtually nothing, her support was invaluable. Pretty soon I was at the half way point, okay so the leader was on his final lap but I didn't care. I knew that I would finish. Yes the second half was going to be considerably slower and I could already feel my body protesting, but I was going to complete the race! In all sincerity, I have rarely been happier. I'll admit that miles 15 to 20 were tough, but once I knew I only had two laps to go it was all joy. When I crossed the finish line in a personal worst of 6.09.00, I had the biggest grin on my face. When Sri Chinmoy called me up immediatley after to take my photo, I had tears running down my face as I tried to offer him all my gratitude. If it hadn't been for his ceaseless encouragement and a good bit of grace from above, there is no way I'd have done a marathon this year. I also had the joy of seeing my sister complete her first marathon (noticeably quicker than me) and my father complete his umpteenth despite an ongoing hip problem. It was a really great day. Next year I will have to concentrate on time again and try to improve on my P.B., but for now, weeks later, I can still hardly believe that I did it. I work in a running shop (Run and Become, Become and Run) and as customers start to ask my time, I will proudly announce 6.09.00. Sure a few may look disgusted, but I know that the majority will share in my joy of completion. If nothing else, none of our customers need ever feel intimidated by our shop as they know they can all complete a marathon quicker than at least one of the staff! I almost forgot to mention the real miracle of the day; although just about every part of my body screamed with pain at some point, my old hip injury remained completely silent. If anyone is looking for a marathon to do next August in New York, believe me, this is the best marathon you will ever find. Shankara Smith London