My 24-Hour Self-Transcendence Race Experiences – Success, Failure and Progress

Part 1: First Time Round - October 2009

I knew roughly what to expect coming into the 24-hour race, but still for me it was going into unknown territory. The farthest I had run to date was in August when I completed the Sri Chinmoy 47 mile race in New York in just under than 8 hours. I struggled with that in the later stages. However, my mindset approaching the day of the 24-hour race was very positive and I had this inner feeling that everything was going to be all right. I had learned some invaluable lessons from the Barry 40 mile track race in March and in the Sri Chinmoy 47 mile race in August. Over a 12-month period I had addressed some significant biomechanical issues and had strengthened key leg muscles with a programme of resistance training in the gym and worked on my core stability. I guess I had done everything I could do and I was ready to step up to the mark. The way I was feeling days before and on the race day was one of surrender, gratitude, determination and absence of fear and doubt. With God’s grace I knew I could reach my target of 100 miles.

Prior to the race I got invaluable advice from Abichal who as always is a great source of practical advice and inspiration. I had a simple race strategy – on every hour to walk for 5 or 10 minutes. I broke the race up into quarters so I would be able to monitor my progress and attempt to achieve 25 miles every quarter. I knew this was achievable. I said to myself constantly, “I can do this”.

Although it is a long race, emotions and experiences become a blur as you are always constantly moving and trying to move forward. I won’t give an hour by hour account of the race as that will only bore you, and to be honest I can’t really remember much. At the start I just felt I didn’t want to be anywhere else other than doing this race, right there, right now. Being on that start line felt so right and I just knew I was going to have a wonderful journey.

Inevitably there were a few challenges during the race, but like Sri Chinmoy said,

“What is a challenge,
If not a friend
In disguise
To strengthen us?”

The recurring challenge I did have were a few stomach problems, but that did not last, and it was more of an inconvenience, and once I knew what the problem was, I was able to resolve it with a hot pot of rice pudding and honey. Ambrosia never tasted so good, along with a weak, sweet cup of tea! I’ve learnt that sometimes the simplest things are the best. The energy drinks and bars have their place, but sometimes they just don’t do the job for me.

By the half way point I had reached 60 miles, and I was feeling really strong and the walk and drink, and just relax and have fun every hour seemed to be working very well. A few of the runners had told me that if you reach 60 miles by midnight you should get your 100 miles. I was aware that I was running further than I had ever run before, and I was rather surprised that I was not experiencing any energy issues, tiredness or even muscular tightness. Throughout the race I was always trying to stay focused and relaxed. When some tightness did arise in my feet, I was aware of what they were, and simply loosened the laces and applied more lubricant on the toes to prevent any blisters. Through the early hours I was inwardly chanting my own personal mantras that work for me and that helped me to remain focused. By the early hours of the morning I was still feeling strong and in a good consciousness. I just felt so joyful and so grateful having the opportunity to be doing this race. I thought at some point I would get bored and need some stimulation by listening to some music, but I didn’t need it. Inwardly it seemed that I had my own inner music playing. That kept me ticking over. I think I reached 100 miles by around 09.15am, so I had achieved my goal of 100 miles. 

However, as Sri Chinmoy wrote,

You can always do more. Today's goal is only the starting point for tomorrow's new dawn. At every moment we are transcending our previous achievements.........our goal should be our own progress, and progress itself is the most illumining experience."

My focus was now to try to reach 111 miles. I had about 2 and half hours to do 11 miles and I was slowing down considerably; I was doing between 3 and 4 miles per hour, so I worked it out that I had to step it up and get moving to reach my new goal, and really experience self transcendence.

With about 10 minutes to go to the end of the race I completed 111 miles. I did it I thought. But there was still time to run further. Encouraged by the lap counters to squeeze in another mile I summoned up enough energy and willed my legs to open up and finished very strongly to finally complete 112.10 miles.

At the end of the film Babe when the sheep pig wins the competition and the crowd rapturously applauds, the farmer looks down on Babe and just says, “That will do pig, that will do”, and smiles. You know that all the pig wanted to do was please his master, well that was how I felt at the end of the 24 hour race. A job well done and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I vowed that I would run the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 24 Hour Track Race next year.


Part 2: Second Time Round – September 2010

In every way.

The determination in your heroic effort will permeate your mind and heart even after your success or failure is long forgotten.

Sri Chinmoy


Second time round competing in a 24-hour race you would think it would be easier. However, every race is different and because of random factors and personal circumstances it brings its own challenges – some out of your control whilst others where you can choose to do something about it. And sometimes you just make the wrong decisions and fail but that’s all part of the experience. As Sri Chinmoy poignantly wrote,

“What is failure?
Failures are the
Pillars of success”

I came into my second Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 24 Hour Track race with more experience, feeling stronger, lighter and more confident. On the downside though I was carrying a few niggles, recovering from shin splints, and feeling tired after spending 5 months on the road running through America as part of an international team relay called the World Harmony Run (read about my experiences in next month’s edition), and legs feeling tired from the previous three weeks after completing a marathon and two days later running a PB in the Sri Chinmoy 47 mile race in New York.

The lead up to the race hadn’t been ideal. Running as part of a relay team in America I hadn’t been able to get any long runs under my belt and my running was feeling a bit one dimensional. I hadn’t the luxury to do specific 24 hour race training in the form of tempo runs and speed work or gym work to get me to a performance that I would have envisaged. From the previous year as I had unexpectedly done so well I might have set an unrealistic target of 200km for this year. I planned to try to run 6 miles per hour for the first half and attempt to run 5 miles per hour for the next 12 hours. In my mind I thought this was achievable. I planned to have a five-minute walk break every two hours. It all sounds so simple on paper!

Under the circumstances what was achievable and what was actually achieved were two different things. During a race, events happen that in order to continue the whole distance it is best to surrender to what occurs and change your tack or mindset. Right from the beginning I had this feeling that it was going to be much tougher than last year. My running a few weeks leading up to the race lacked fluidity and certain muscles were not properly functioning. Things felt out of synch. From the first hour in the race my right glute muscle tightened up and this affected my running form. To counteract this I consciously tried to relax and keep my running as easy and smooth as possible. I maintained a fairly good pace for the first four hours and then I started to annoyingly suffer from blisters. My complacency missed the crucial detail of wearing the twin-layered socks that worked so well for me the previous year. I had instead opted for the long compression socks to assist my shin splints, but they were totally unsatisfactory at keeping my feet blister free. So for the next few hours I had to regularly stop to burst the newly formed blisters, treat them and tape them up and readjust the plasters on the old blisters. They didn’t hurt, but I was just annoyed with myself that I hadn’t paid enough attention to my feet; basic schoolboy error of ultra running. Whether blisters hurt or not you do unconsciously tend to change your running form slightly and that makes your running less efficient – you’re expending unnecessary energy.

By the half way stage I was behind my schedule by 10 miles. I knew I would not be able to make up those miles and the way I was feeling it was going to be a struggle to last the 24 hours. The legs felt tired, not just from the previous 12 hours but I was feeling that all the World Harmony Run running and the two races 3 weeks previous were starting to catch up with me now. I was not firing on all cylinders to put it mildly, and fears and doubts started to enter my mind.

In the early hours of the morning I was really struggling. I was going through a bad patch. There was a fleeting thought that crossed my mind for a second that I should give up. However, the next thought was Sri Chinmoy’s words repeating over and over again inside me, “Never, never give up!” and,

“There is only one perfect road
And that road is ahead of you,
always ahead of you.”

Although I knew I wouldn’t achieve what I wished to achieve, the most important thing was not to give up, keep persevering and summon my determination to keep moving forward.

Looking on the positive, other aspects of the race had gone better than last year. By taking my own food and knowing what foods worked for me I avoided the stomach problems of the previous year. That was a bonus not going to the toilet so often, however on the down side I drunk too much liquid during the night and had to constantly stop to urinate – it was like every 20 minutes for the two hours. That did disrupt my flow (not my pee flow!) and I just couldn’t get into any rhythm. I was finding it so much hard work, and was feeling the race was an ever increasing battle. At one point I remember I felt pretty miserable, low, cold, tired and was really not enjoying it, but I knew I had to remain as cheerful as possible and feel gratitude for being given the opportunity to have these invaluable experiences in this race. Surrendering to these experiences was the best way for me to cope. There was a good reason why I was having these challenging experiences. Slowly running through the night I looked forward to the approaching dawn.

There are aspects of the race that help you to continue and not give up. One important aspect of this type of race that sometimes gets overlooked is the pervading consciousness of oneness you feel. You truly feel oneness with your fellow runners and a sense of progression and dynamism. There are hilarious and amusing moments in the race that lighten each individual’s pain and struggle. There are also the lap counters and helpers that you build up a rapport with who are there to help you achieve the best you can do.

As the race wore on I was walking more than running, but by one step at a time I was glad to get to the100 mile mark. That was a satisfying achievement for me and eventually at the end of the 24 hours I had completed just over 104 miles.  It was a huge effort to get there, but ultimately it was about the progress I had made and my own inner journey.

At the end of a 24-hour race you sense that everyone feels that something really special has happened and each runner has inwardly and outwardly made so much progress. The smiles on the faces and the sense of relief of everyone tell their own stories.

"At every moment
We must value not only
Our successes and
But also the efforts
We make”.

Sri Chinmoy

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