So long you’ll need to book two months off work to complete it, it takes a unique type of character to take on the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100-mile race.
Ultra marathons have transitioned almost into the mainstream, but even some of the most hardened ultra runners balk at the distance.
Competitors have 52 days to run the entire distance, averaging out at almost 60 miles a day. They can get through up to 20 pairs of trainers along the way, must consume 10,000 calories per day, and often survive on just a few hours of sleep a night with the course opening at 6am each morning and closing at midnight.
Perhaps the most daunting part of the experience, though, is the fact the race is run around a single half-mile block in the middle of a rough neighbourhood of Queens, New York next to 12 lanes of busy traffic. William Sichel from Scotland, a vastly experienced ultra runner who has set a total of 750 records, said he “found the mental stress intolerable at times”.
The race takes its name from the Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, who founded the event in 1997.
Sri Chinmoy taught an unusual method that combined meditation with sport. He was a sprinter, distance runner and weightlifter himself, and believed sport to be a powerful way of focusing the mind.
The idea behind the race is that it gives competitors the opportunity to "transcend their own previous capacity", "gain spiritual insights" and "overcome the entire world's preconceived notions of possibility".
A lot of runners meditate to get through the 52 days, some saying they go to a “special place” while others report out of body experiences.
The unpredictable weather adds another difficulty. Some days can get as hot as 38 degrees and others can be washed out with torrential rain, providing very different physical and mental challenges.
Putting the body through such an ordeal is hard to comprehend for most people, and some just don’t have the stomach to deal with the round-the-clock eating that is needed to sustain such a high level of activity.
What’s particularly striking is that the runners look like normal people. They don’t have the slender athletic frames that top African marathoners do. In fairness, the athletes do purposefully come in a little overweight but, as the race name suggests, the most important quality runners can possess transcends the physical. Its an ability to enjoy suffering.