In the summer of 2004 the Sri Chinmoy Marathon team held a global gathering in New York. On August 25th we staged our third "Self Transcendence Marathon" in Rockland State Park.
Sri Chinmoy started the race at 7am then almost a thousand runners set off on the epic 26.2 mile journey. Among them were many members of the Sri Chinmoy AC from the UK - here are their finishing times, pictures and race stories. Congratulations to Dhavala Stott of Edinburgh for winning the women's race in a time of 3:10:57 and for being the fastest British entrant, beating all the men by some distance!
Click on a runner's name to read their account of the race.
This was my first multi-terrain/ hill race and I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension as we neared its remote starting point in the car. Snow lay on the surrounding hills and a watery sun shone through hifh cloud. On the ground, melting snow and sticky mud caught out more than one vehicle as they attempted to park on the steep hillside off the road. The sound of revving engines and voices rose into the cold midday air in an otherwise still and quiet rural landscape. I had travelled down from London to run as part of the Sri Chinmoy AC team with Roger from Cardiff, who would also be running, and Ed from Bristol who would be cycling.
We gathered with the other runners shortly after the finish of the junior race. The race director's breath hung in clouds as he addressed us in a lilting Welsh accent. Most of his words were carried waway on the breeze to the hills before we had a chance to hear them, until the word 'go', loud and clear, generated a burst of friendly jostling and animated chatter as we started off up the first hill.
We gathered with the other runners shortly after the finish of the junior race. The race director's breath hung in clouds as he addressed us in a lilting Welsh accent. Most of his words were carried waway on the breeze to the hills before we had a chance to hear them, until the word 'go', loud and clear, generated a burst of friendly jostling and animated chatter as we started off up the first hill. The ground was wet and stoney to begin with, but gave way to deep mud and splashy puddles as we turned a corner following a farm track into the fields.
Snowy hills unfurled invitingly before us and I wondered where our destination, the mast of the race title, could be. My attentions was soon consumed by mu feet, howerver, as the path headed steeply downhill. The mud was thick and slippery from recent snowmelt and hid loose stones and rocks. In high spirits, we charged down the track into woodland and splashed through a stream at the bottom. From there the gorund sloped up hrough tussocky fields and out onto a road. The gradient continued and I began to struggle somewhat, especially when I waw where the road was leading - to a steep exposed hillside and the bright grey sky above. Once there, the hill reduced me (and many other runners!) to a walk, hands on thighs. We were rewarded a the top vy a panorama of low, snowy hills and distant rain-fraying clouds. The going eased for a while before climbing steeply afain to the mast that marked the 'mearly halfway' point. Skirting the mast my legs felt tired and unwilling, but the sight of a lonf descent cherred me. i passed a cyclist heaving his bike over a stile and he soon overtook me on the descent as gravity pulled us faster and faster over the ground that blurred beneath our feet. I caught hasty glances at the rolling, snow-covered landscape below us to the right as my descent became less controlled and my eyes watered. We turned a corner into a farmyard where the owners had put up balloons and a colourful sign to welcome us (the race, I presumed) to the farm. I had barely a moment to read it and register surprise at the bright, artificial colours after focussing for so long on snowy grass and the mud under my feet. The continuing gradient pulled us on past some bystanders taking photos of the runners, through an extremely boggy field and over a (by this time) welcome stretch of road. A light misty rain fell but with no noticeable wind it did not feel cold. Soon we were passing the 5 mile marker and reached the final hill, the same we had descended near the start. I struggled cheerfully up the familiar route, through stream and mud as fast as my legs would go. Try as I might, I did not seem to be making much headway, but the runners in front of me did seem to be getting closer so I pushed on. Up the final tarmac path to the finish line I was elated to still be in one piece!
pic: Amelia just after crossing the line (photo by Balavan)
Roger had finished in 10th place in 47.55 and Ed had finished second cyclist in a time of 51.18. We managed second team place overall and were generally pleased with our results! Roger had knocked 5 seconds off his previous best on the course, Ed had written well on a testing course for bikes and I was just very happy to have finished, not last, in just under an hour. Whilst the uphills had been punishing, they had brought with them the delights of a few seconds of magical, fleeting beauty at the top and the sheer joy of hurtling back down as fast as you could go. I enjoyed it immensely as had almost everyone else I saw or spoke to.
An atmosphere of relaxed satisfaction filled the gnetly buzzing prize-giveing ceremony. Happily, we ate mars bars and talked and drank steaming hot tea. My lungs felt stretched and clean from breathing the cold, wintry air outside. The race winners collected their prizes and we ambled back to the car as it all drew to a close. A few cars had to be shoved out of the mud on their way out of the field and the sun dipped lower behind darkening woods as we made our way home, sore but happy!
Five of us happened to be in Abergavenny for the weekend - one local keen to get a South Wales league race under his belt and four visitors from Edinburgh and London keen to sample what the Black Mountains had to offer in the way of testing climbs and stunning views. The five protagonists were Roger, Amelia, Tarit, Dhavala and Bhauliya and they were accompanied by Shyamala who nipped to the top of Mynydd Troed with her camera - her shots will end up in our gallery at some point.
Roger was first home in a time of around 1.18 with Tarit (gaining fast on the last climb) just a minute or so behind. Dhavala was third lady and almost came second, being overtaken in the final descent. Amelia, in her first "class A" fell race, breezed in looking as if she lived on the fells but suffered a back spasm later that kept her laid up for a while - no surprises that the tough climbs claimed at least one victim, albeit one who bounced back pretty fast and was back out racing two weeks later in Edinburgh. Bhauliya had a good run but went a little further than planned when the runners ahead of her took a wrong turn and she was led down an "alternative route" - still she looked very happy at the finish.
Organiser Dick Finch put a great race together with three stiff climbs and awe inspiring views so our thanks go to him. He also dished out some prizes to the Sri Chinmoy AC ladies for being the furthest travelled competitors!
Shankara Smith, co-organiser and scoreboard official, describes the race.
For the first time I was able to attend the race from the start. Usually I work at Run and Become during the day and then go on to the race to do the midnight to midday counting shift. But this time I was lucky.
It was interesting to see how the race started easily with a low key atmosphere and then, as darkness descended, became more intense and electric. It was as if with the challenge of running through the night came an extra strength and energy. At this time the rest of the world ceases to exist and its just the runners, counters and helpers and together they create this amazing atmosphere. I always feel it as soon as I arrive at the track in the evening after work and found myself a little surprised in the first few hours because it wasn't there. Then I realised it only comes when it is needed. Ultras are really unlike any other races. The competition is between the runner and the distance not the individual competitors. A successful 24 hour race depends on everyone working together: the lap counters have to communicate with the runners and offer support, encouragement (and accurate lap recording!); the runners support each other and it is not uncommon to see pairs going round together in the middle of the night, keeping each other awake and entertained. Then the helpers and track side refreshment team need to offer not only food and drink but smiles and cheers.
This year my job was score board. It took me about 20mins each hour to update the score board so that the runners could see how far they had gone. Then the rest of the hour was free, so I could check out how things were going in the counting area, chat to the refreshment people, or just watch the runners (quite hypnotic, you can do it for hours!). I got to see the runners like Tarit Stott, digging deep down to find the power to get back on the track after injury threatened muscles or stomach upsets had taken them into the warmth of the medical room. And at about 6.30am we were all rewarded for night of no sleep with the most beautiful sunrise, I have never seen a sky painted so beautifully in pink and blue. Then before I knew it we had reached 24 hours and the race was done for another year.
I have never run a 24 Hour race but I have helped at many over the years and each time the race draws to an end, I feel such happiness and pride in the runners. I may not have run a step but I have been part of the support group and feel I can fully share in the runners' achievements. Its a case of real oneness. Its then that I appreciate why Sri Chinmoy puts such emphasis on these long races. Not only do people transcend their limitations but everyone involved works together and created an atmosphere of enthusiasm, support and respect. All things that this world needs more of right now.
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The Counter's Tale
The 24 Hour Race: A counter's perspective by Bhasini and Arpita of the Sri Chinmoy AC
After a hard day's work in a specialist running shop on the busiest day of the week all you want to do is go home to bed. On a recent Saturday, however, that was not an option. It was the annual Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race at Tooting Bec track and I was counting the runners for the 2nd shift - midnight Saturday to midday Sunday.
After a brief stop at home to shower and put on all the warm clothes I possess, I headed to the racetrack. As I approached I could see the floodlights through the trees illuminating the unique scene on the track. By then, the runners had been going for nearly 10 hours. Some had dropped already, some looked like they were about to and the rest were resolutely plodding on. Relieving the weary day shift counters, I took my place beside my cheery night shift companions, all of whom had also finished a busy day at work. And so the counting began.
Concentration is essential. You can laugh, joke and sing with the other counters but just don't miss your runners. It also helps if you're not too mathematically challenged as calculating multiple lap splits at 4 am can get a little tricky. I made it my aim not to miss my runners even once even though at times they tried to fool me by changing clothes or putting on a hat. Their favourite trick was to come round in exactly double their normal lap split. For example, if they were doing steady 3.30 minute laps, they would occasionally throw in a 7 minute lap just to make me think I'd missed a lap. The excuses were normally something like "I had to change my shoes" or "I was getting something to eat". Once when I shouted "Where have you been?" I got the reply "None of your business!"
And so the night went on. In spite of our regular repetitions of "It's getting light now", "Don't you think it's lighter than it was before?" and "I think it's getting lighter", it remained dark for a very long time. When the dawn eventually came it was magnificent. Striking pink and orange. Suswara (chief lap counter) announced to the counting shed "You can't see it but there's a beautiful sunrise happening behind you" and then panicked as we ran out to watch it, leaving 30 or so runners unattended. (We were back at our posts within seconds - we're professionals after all).
When my fellow night shift counters started to be replaced so they could grab a few hours well-earned rest, I found I was too wired to follow them. Either the inspiration of watching all those runners pushing back the barriers was keeping me awake or it was the coffee, tea, chocolate, sandwiches and biscuits I'd been consuming all night. I was also much too attached to the runners I was counting to even dream of letting someone else take over. I'd been with them this far and I was going to stay with them until the bitter end.
My female runner reached the 100 mile mark and my male runner reached the 100 km mark at exactly the same time. It was a beautiful thing. But for me perhaps the most beautiful moment of the whole event was at 8 am on Sunday morning, when a Starbucks Grande Americano materialised on the table before me. Sahadeva, patron saint of coffee drinkers was responsible, and I offer him my everlasting gratitude.
Finally at midday the gun was fired to signify the end of the race and we all stood to applaud the runners heroic achievements, many of us with tears in our eyes. Physically and emotionally exhausted they thanked us for counting them and we praised their courage and determination. Happiness, gratitude and satisfaction were the prevailing emotions at the award ceremony.
The winner of the women's race turned 63 that day and when we gave her a cake she said, "This is the best birthday I've ever had."
There is a runner who we call "Smiler" because at previous 24 hour races he smiles throughout. And this race was no exception. After the event, looking through the many photos that had been taken, I couldn't find a single shot of him with anything other than a huge smile on his face.
When I left the track that Sunday I was smiling just like him. In the words of Sri Chinmoy, the founder of the event:
Runners are smilers, runners
Theirs are the victory banners
Runners are smilers, runners
A new world builders
Arpita's reflections on just being a helper:
As far as challenges go, running round a 400 metre track for 24 hours must rate amongst the toughest. Unfortunately, this particular running experience is not for me, but I play my small part by helping out in any way I can.
Having worked the usual busy Saturday at Run and Become in Edinburgh, I flew down to Heathrow, endured the hot and stuffy London tube to arrive at Tooting Bec track around 9pm. The race started at 12 noon. It's such a sharp contrast between the hectic rush of the day and arriving at the track.
The patter of runners' feet as they run lap, after lap, after lap, after lap, after lap creates an oasis of calm. Not what you would expect from such a gruelling race, and make no mistake, these runners are all pushing themselves well beyond the comfort zone. However, the oneness between the runners and helpers all working towards the same goal: to create the perfect race for each runner, really gives this race its unique atmosphere.
Runners include the immortal Don Ritchie, the amazingly sprightly 71 year old Geoff Oliver and the ever cheerful poised Dan Coffey (73 years old) and Peter Zuidema, from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, Holland. The women include the again immortal Hilary Walker as well as Jill Green (63 years old) Susan Clements and Helga Backhaus from Berlin who chat away while they run effortlessly round the track. It seems a pity to select some runners and not others because each runner has their own story and their own inspiration, but I do so only because some of these runners are familiar to me from previous years and others definitely deserve a mention.
My husband, Tarit Adrian Stott definitely deserves a big mention from me as I know the time and commitment, which he gives to his running but this year he wasn't at his fittest and had just come to see what he can do! Famous last words from a competitive ultra runner! He managed 100 miles, which in the circumstances was great. He would probably say otherwise!
Behind the scenes the calm efficiency of Ongkar Tony Smith, the race organiser; the encouraging cheerfulness of the counting crew; the caring service of the refreshment crew all combine to make a flawless race. No ultra would be complete without a timekeeper and a statistician and Don Turner as usual worked selflessly behind the scenes to provide his customary excellent services. Also Ian Champion, the Race Referee, with tireless perfection ensured that as runners reached their 100 miles (a significant goal in any 24 hour race) they were recorded.
This race is truly legendary and definitely leaves you inspired to train more for whatever your particular goal is, whether it's two miles or "beyond the marathon".
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Dan Coffey's account of the 2003 Race
Thanks to Dan who has penned this excellent report on a memorable race.
Sri Chinmoy A.C. Self Transcendence 24 Hour Race 2003 (11&12 October)
Dan Coffey, ultrarunner & much valued friend of the Sri Chinmoy AC.
This was a continuation of the race last held in 2000, cancelled in 2001 due to 9/11; the following year postponed to allow the 100 mile track race to honour Don Ritchie's world mark of so many years ago - 25 I believe!
This race was first held at New River Stadium, North London for two years before being moved to Copthal Stadium where Don Ritchie ran an astonising 166 miles; then moved to Kingsmeadow Stadium, Kingston where the recording marshall's tent was blown away in very windy conditions; moved to Tooting Bec where it has been held ever since; it might be worth remembering that on the last occasion it rained for the first 23 hours of this event. What would this year bring? I was mulling over these thoughts as I sat lost in the one way raffic system at Streatham with just under an hour and a half to go and still wondering whether there was any truth in the magnificent write up in Runners World re the Hull 24 hour event in July that that was the only 24 hour race being promoted in the UK this year.
However I had total faith in Ongkar Tony Smith, Race Director, who had invited me; he surely would not have left me lost in a one way system if there was no race as erroneously reported! Finally I extricated myself from the system and promptly got lost again; now reslved that I would only stick to the track as I could only go two ways without mch chance of getting lost. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I had packed a silva compass in case I got in trouble on the track, at least I would be able to spot magnetic north and work it out from there! At last I arrived at the track and parked my trusty steed then prepared myself for the coming onslaught; was greeted by many very fit and young looking competitors including the President of the RRC Don Ritchie MBE. I asked him how he would go and he replied that he would be taking it easy as he was getteing on; I believed him, what a mistake!
Also spoke to David Green about whether numbers were required front and back - he was not sure as this was his first atempt at this kind of race. Fortunately Ongkar had arranged a short but informative briefing about half an hour before the start which answered most of my questions as every race is different. After a week of windy weather I was certain that it would be a continuation of the same but Ongkar Tony Smith had promised good weather and he was a person who kept his word. There was no wind on the Saturday just bright sunshine and warm too; this could not last. It did not, as the night became cold, damp towards dawn, and the night seemed to go on for a very long time. The birds got up at dawn, sang their songs and prmptly went back to bed but finally a new day dawned, the Sun finaly got up, so did the wind and a chill breeze but we wereon the way home by then and nothing could stop us!
Noon arrived and it was all over yet again; if only I had had a few more hours what I could have achieved: at least another mile!
Firstly the lap counters, I had only two, to my knowledge, for the whole time and I had total confidence in them and remembered to thank them. This is the most arduous of tasks as one has to be always alert and polite to a runner who is tired and does not know whether they have been noticed or not. Then those good folk who work behind the scenes preparing hot food and having it available almost at the drop of a hat with a welcoming smile. The magnificent support staff who supplied me with endless cups of tea when I could not digest anything. PS I must remember to get the recipe for bean bake, it smelled so appetising and I was able to manage tw spoonfuls of an excellent meal (I did not waste any as Ken Shaw, Father of the 24 hours event who had turned up to lok after me was able to finish it up and still give very vocal support to all the other runners).
The handlers for the other runners who were always available to urge one on as you passed their "patch" - always the word of encouragement even though one did not know them and this went on for every hour of the race. If you have never done an ultra then this is where you will find true comradeship, friendship and real honesty. Lastly but not the least, mention must be made of the Race Director who updated the leader board every hour and organised the four hour turnround with the help of the race referee Ian Champion, RRC, who kept a very sensible eye on the event the whole time. Finaly the official timekeeper Don Turner, also RRC, who with his assistant made sure that the clock was always running and ensured all the intermediate distances including the most important 100 miles times for the fortunate ten runners rigtht up to the end, and then measured all the final bits of laps around the track for the last minute or so.
The Reader might be forgiven at this stage for wondering what the runners, walkers and shufflers were doing all this time so now I will finish with a resume of activities on the track. The RAce Before the first four hour change of direction it was apparent that Don Ritchie and eof Oliver were not out for an afternoon stroll, with Garth Peterson who believe3 was third in the earlier Hul event they were establishing their credenials. All comparatively young runners, Gath (RRC) 40, Don (Moray R) 59 and Geoff (100 Km Association) a mere 70! Several other runners were to feature in the final analysis including Brian King and Timothy Rayney who bided their time.
Just in case the reader thought that this was a Man's race I must draw your attention to Sandra Brown (Surrey Walkers Club) who walked the whole way and topped 100 miles yet again. She has now done well over 100 24 hour events so is just getting the hang of this event (a few weeks earlier achieved her best position ever in the classic Paris to Roubaix walk, finishing in 6th place!). Also Jane Janman (RRC) another Hull contender who quietly just gets on with it. There were so many individuals who achieved their own greatness whom I should mention but if I do
I will undoubtedly miss out someone who quietly achieved their own personal target and should have got a mention; suffice to say that to me it was an honour to be permitted to take part in such an epic adventure of courage and for some delving into the realms of the unknown. This is why it is called the (Self Transcendence Event). One thinks that it could be possible and then allows the body and mind to prove that it is really possible to achieve. There is a truly magnificent feeling afterwards of achievement.
Of course one hurts both during and after the event but this fades into insignificance on a personal result. Consider Don Ritchie who looked to be on course for somehting fantastiv yet had problems with his feet but still won the event with 117 miles plus. Consider Geoff Oliver who set a new world best for 100km for an over 70 year youngster with 11 hours 02 minutes 02 seconds and then went on to set a 12 hour world age best; I do not know what other records he broke on the way but it must be quite a few! He finally finished up 6th with a distance of nearly 106 miles.
Consider Tadeusz Syty cannot speak a word of English (from Poland) yet achieved an impossible 100 miles when it looked impossible; this was his third Sri Chinmoy race and his third 100 in this event! I will stop here as he was the last century maker in tenth place but this does not in any way belittle the achievements of all who competed and I apologise to all those not mentioned; you were carefully noted by one who now moves with the grace of an ancient sailing ship, becalmed, because I cannot go any faster.
Once again on behalf of all the competitors very grateful thanks to those magnificent folk who gave of their time and talents to enable us to participate in the sport that we love .......and this also includes the Physios, who were available to help when desperately needed.