In my previous article listing the most difficult ultramarathons in the world, I branded the participants of said ultramarathons as ‘admirably crazy.’ And on that list was one ultra in particular that I would like to give it’s participants a new name.
Admirably crazy doesn’t quite fit the difficulty and the sheer questionability of this race at first glance (i.e., “What? How? Why? Wait, what?”). Give me until the end of the article to reveal their brand. You’ll understand why once I explain this race to you.
Before we dive into the details – Let’s answer the question: How long is the longest ultramarathon? The longest sanctioned ultramarathon is the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 at 3,100 miles long. The race takes place every summer in Queens, New York, and is the longest certified footrace in the world. Participants have only 52 days to complete the race, and can only race from 6 am to 12 am each day. The course is a .55 mile long square sidewalk block.
That’s well over 5,600 laps throughout the entire race – and I thought a 10K on the track was a lot of laps (25 laps).
If you’ve got those same questions that I have (see above), keep reading– perhaps you’ll be inspired to take on the 3,100-mile race, or perhaps your own version of a self-transcendent race.
History of the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100
This race wasn’t always a brutally epic 3,100 miles. It was founded by Sri Chinmoy, started in 1985 and was originally 1,000 miles long through Flushing Meadows Park in New York. Two years later, Chinmoy thought the challenge should be increased: he introduced a 1,300-mile option and created a set of three ultramarathons, with the other two being 700 miles and 1,000 miles.
Ten years and many records later, including a world record in the 1,300 mile race (set by Georg Jermolajevs of Latvia in 1995, 16 days and 14 hours), Chinmoy thought the race could be more difficult– that runners could truly seek self-transcendence in a longer race. He increased the distance to 2,700 miles in 1996.
Jermolajevs returned and won the new race, claiming victory in 40 days 11 hours (66.7 miles a day). Suprabha Beckjord was the first female finisher in 43 days, one hour.
Distance increased in 1997 to 3,100 miles
And even that wasn’t long enough, Chinmoy increased the distance again in 1997 to its final distance of 3,100 miles. And in that inaugural year, Edward Kelley of California finished in a time of 47 days, 15 hours. Beckjord returned and finished the race in 51 days two hours.
All of these runners, both new and return competitors, became a testament to the true intention of the race– to go beyond what’s thought to be impossible, and to seek self-transcendence.
When Chinmoy passed in 2007, the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team became dedicated to upholding his vision– thus, the Self-Transcendence 3,100 continues to this day.
The history of the race is just as much the progression of the vision, difficulty, and distance, as it is about its participants. Only a small handful sign up for the race, but as you go through the history of the finishers list, there are many repeat participants. So much so that hardly anyone can consider this race a “one and done” type of deal, as can be many peoples’ attitudes toward an ultramarathon.
Suprabha Beckjord wins the 3,100 mile race 13 consecutive times
Take Beckjord, for example. She’s completed this race 13 consecutive times– and not 13 times throughout the distance changes. 13 consecutive finishes for the 3,100-mile race alone, many of which she claimed victory and even the world record in 1998. Not only does she hold that record for consecutive finishes, she also was the oldest finisher in 2009 at age 53 and, you guessed it, she won that year too.
The beauty of the race for her? “It’s a pilgrimage,” she said in response to being asked about the concept of mind over matter in the race, “running is a way to quiet your mind a bit, and to feel happy just to be outside.”
Another Self-Transcendence legend and Chinmoy student, Ashprihanal Pekka Aalto, describes this race as meditative. In an interview with Redbull, Aalto states that “running long distances is a good way to train your mind.”
Aalto, who was given the spiritual name Ahprihanal by Chinmoy, is no stranger to multi-day races. He’s competed in over 20 of them, often winning them. He’s run 14 editions of the 3,100 race, and at one of which in 2015, he claimed the world record in a time of 40 days and nine hours.
That’s over 70 miles a day.
Documentary Film – The 3100: Run and Become
Of course, a race of this athletic magnitude with such positive responses couldn’t go undocumented. The 3100: Run and Become documentary follows what are called “Aprirants of the Highest,” that “parallel” the lives of two participants of the race, one of whom being Aalto.
The documentary, which was released in 2018 and is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, follows both the Self-Transcendence 3,100 as it takes place and the lives of these Aspirants. On the documentary’s website, the race is described to promise “personal expansion and, indeed, participants come from around the world to shatter their limitations and discover a deeper sense of self.”
The film explores more than just the race and the intentions behind it– it explores why we set out for these incredible distances. It explores why humans are essentially runners.
Watching the documentary will definitely bring us closer to understanding those questions regarding the race, but there’s still much to consider– like, who is Sri Chinmoy, and what was his intention with this race?
About Sri Chinmoy and his vision for the race
Sri Chinmoy is a spiritual leader from East Bengal (now Bangladesh), India who taught athleticism as a form of meditation– not just long distance running, but also swimming and weight lifting. He moved to New York to bring western people a “message from within,” and from there he developed lectures on spiritual topics around the United States.
Chinmoy was an advisor to Olympic gold medal sprinter Carl Lewis, and Lewis credited Chinmoy for his uplifted spiritual involvement. Chinmoy was a devoted spiritual leader with many students and followers of his teachings, many of whom were athletes who sought to push beyond their physical limitations in the pursuit of self-transcendence.
And that became the purpose of the multi-day races, and why they’re held on such a small course.
The race is just as obscure as it is simple– run 3,100 miles within 52 days on a singular block in the summer, between June and August. Perhaps the obscurity lies in the question why– you’re not seeing any spectacular views, traveling geographically far, tasked with tackling difficult and varying terrains, or forced to be alone in a perhaps unforgiving wilderness or desert.
It’s just around the block over 100 times a day for around 2 months. So, I’ll attempt to analyze that “why.”
From a personal (and meager) standpoint, the 10K on the track has always been my favorite event because of it’s monotonous, meditative quality. It’s in the continuous, never-changing repetitions that you find this odd mental clarity that you can’t find on a point-to-point race (unless that point-to-point race is on an invariable course).
I’ve never known myself as a runner and a person more than in a track 10K, regardless of the outcome or how I felt.
Meditation is regarded as simply the state of being– the act of practicing the present moment. So it makes sense that running is a meditative practice, and why so many are drawn to that spiritual side of running. Have you ever been on a run and hit that flow state, where you’re not thinking about anything and you feel like your feet are barely hitting the ground? Those fleeting yet blissful moments are those successful meditative moments.
Those are the moments almost every runner strives for. How can these runners find such moments during such a long, grueling race as the Self-Transcendence 3,100? The truth is, they may not. And that’s not the point. The purpose, the why of the race, is in the name: self-transcendence.
Monotony requires soul-searching– you’re never more confronted with the task of getting to know yourself than when you’re doing nothing or a singular thing over and over again, alone with your thoughts. That’s the essence of meditation– you learn about yourself by being, not by thinking.
That’s not to say these runners aren’t thinking. I’m sure at points they’re going through their grocery lists in their heads, counting how many laps they’ve done, seeing how many times they can land on that one crack in the sidewalk without trying to. The Self-Transcendence forces the act of being– during the race, there is nowhere to be except there, in the moment, round and round the block.
So with that, I said I’d come up with a new brand for these participants. But granting them a describing term seems to go against the true intentions of the race. Perhaps there isn’t that defining quality in any ultramarathon, marathon, or race participants.
Maybe none of us are “admirably crazy” or anything bearing said likeness– we’re all just runners, with our own reasons and intentions.
Would you participate in the Self-Transcendence 3,100? Do you know someone who would? Share this article with them, and maybe consider signing yourself up– you never know what you might find out about yourself on a half-mile block.
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