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Running 3,100 Miles, and Following Their Leader Every Step of the Way

New York Times, USA
July 1, 2004
Corey Kilgannon • Friday July 2, 2004

Followers of Sri Chinmoy honor him and seek spiritual transcendence in various ways. A dozen followers are doing it this month by running around a city block in Jamaica, Queens, for seven weeks straight, 18 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to midnight.

The eighth annual Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100-Mile Run – which its organizers call the world’s longest certified foot race – began on June 13 and is scheduled to finish on Aug. 3.

The runners jog around the Thomas A. Edison Vocational Technical High School, a distance of roughly a half-mile. So participants must log an average of 60.7 miles daily over 51 days to finish 3,100 miles. That’s 5,649 laps, or well beyond the distance from New York to Los Angeles.

Mr. Chinmoy visits the race course each morning to bless the runners and check their daily mileage totals.

The participants go through sneakers so quickly that there is one race volunteer assigned to resoling shoes. To avoid excessive weight loss, runners eat while running, consuming sticks of butter or heavy cream or avocados.

The race course is lined with fences, pay phones, fire hydrants and construction crews. Volunteers staff refreshment tables. Laps are logged with a clipboard for each runner.

Suprabha Beckjord, 48, of Washington, D.C., the only woman running, is the only person to have completed the race in each of the past seven years. Running and sipping from a cup of water with lemon, salt and maple syrup, she said she began running ultra-marathons to honor Mr. Chinmoy.

The race is “a firsthand expression of God’s compassion and grace,” said Ms. Beckjord, who owns a gift shop called Transcendence-Perfection-Bliss of the Beyond.

Arpan DeAngelo, 52, of Queens, who has run in more than 100 standard 26-mile marathons, says he passes the time by chanting Mr. Chinmoy’s mantras, verses from the Bible and the Vedas.

“I don’t call it a race, I call it a pilgrimage,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to transform our lives. The race is such a monster that it teaches you a deep spiritual principle, which is to live in the moment. You can’t look at your mileage or who is front or behind you.”

Suffering from shin splints, Mr. DeAngelo was tended by Meghabhuti Roth, 51, a Minneapolis doctor on hand. Dr. Roth massaged Mr. DeAngelo’s legs while chanting mantras about healing with God’s light.

“I’ve seen runners here get 104-degree fevers and then heal themselves,” Dr. Roth said. “The race really becomes a meditation because the mind just shuts off. Part of the spiritual journey is just hanging in there.”

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