The world's longest certified road race is now heading into the last 3 weeks - a good time to publish this 2008 interview with Suprabha Beckjord from Washington D.C, who jointly holds the record for the most finishes ever during this race.
How did you get started as an ultra-runner?
I started running when I joined the Centre 29 years ago. I started by running a little bit and gauging my progress by counting the telephone poles. My first race was a 4-mile race and then I did marathons and our annual 47-mile race in August. I didn’t feel I had a special capacity, but when I heard that there would be a 200-mile race in celebration of Sri Chinmoy’s 200-lb lift, I got inspired to try it out. I had such a beautiful experience at that race. After that, I did a 50-miler and a 24-hour race. Then a 5-day race and a later a 7-day race. After that I moved to 1000 miles.
What does self-transcendence mean to you?
I love this aspect of Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy, mainly because he always demonstrated it in such a beautiful way himself, in all aspects of his existence — not just athletics. In the 3100-mile race, my goal every year is to transcend. My first three years were my fastest; since then I have been transcending my capacities in different ways. Just getting over the fact that I couldn’t finish within the time limit was one way. Going beyond my mind’s limits makes me happy.
Sri Chinmoy was so appreciative of the 3100-mile runners—their courage, perseverance, cheerfulness, and so much more. How do you feel this race is in influencing future generations of humanity?
At my gift shop in Washington DC, there are quite a few customers who know I do this long race, and they get a lot of inspiration from it. It seems to them like an impossible task, but then they see that I can do it even though I’m just a pipsqueak. This race helps people to open up their minds and see what is possible with our heart-power. At the end of the first 3100-mile race, Sri Chinmoy mentioned that when he drove along the race course he was reminded of the soul’s journey.
Do you have a favorite meditative aphorism, poem, or song that you recite during the race?
One favourite is this one: “I do not measure God’s blessingful Gifts. I only treasure them.” That’s one of the daily prayers Sri Chinmoy gave during the 2006 race. Another one is a song that Sri Chinmoy wrote for Enthusiasm-Awakeners (a group of singers that sing at the course at 6.30am every morning): “All Your Grace, All Your Grace, My soul and I are able to join in Your birthless and deathless race.”
Sri Chinmoy once responded to a question you asked about the race by saying (in part), “Always take it as a garden, not as a street, not as a big block.” Do you find that you’re able to visualize that when you’re running on this urban course?
That answer was unbelievably beautiful and I try to feel that all the time; it really helps to take me out of the mind and into the heart. To focus on time and laps is torture, so I try to focus on the joy of running and feel that I’m in a garden.The course doesn’t bother me. Some reporters can’t believe it — they see it as so monotonous — but I enjoy it. On one side of the course, I feel like I’m running along a country road. Many of the runners are very fond of a huge pine tree at one corner of the course.
This race and the other Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team ultras make up a real community. In what ways do you all interact and support each other?
There is so much harmony and oneness. It’s not the kind of race in which runners go fast and constantly look behind them to see who’s catching up. We definitely make up a team and there is a lot of love and support among the runners. The runners who have done the race before are looking out for the new ones, and we are all an extended family — the runners, the supporters, and the Marathon Team. There is such an intensity to these races, and at the same time there is so much peace. That creates a bond.
The 3100-mile website says, “The serious athlete must have tremendous courage, physical stamina, concentration and the capacity to endure fatigue, boredom and minor injuries.” Which of these do you find the most challenging?
Well, we all experience minor injuries. All kinds of physical ailments come and go. I just try to give them no importance when they come. God’s Grace carries us along. Without it, I would never reach the goal.
Some of us who come out to the race course wonder what we can do to encourage the runners while not disturbing their focus and serenity. What is most helpful to you all when people visit the race?
I have to say that the most helpful thing is just for people to come visit us. All the runners get a tremendous lift just from seeing people come out to the race. Of course, it is great to have the Enthusiasm-Awakeners group and others sing. Everyone expresses themselves in their own way, and that’s wonderful. When the people who live nearby come by on their daily runs, I get a thrill. Last year, many outside people came to the race because they saw us on the website. There were two girls who drove from Pennsylvania just to observe, and some people came from Brooklyn to bring us ice cream.
In 100 years, how many runners will participate in the 3100-mile race?
Wow! On this present course, Sri Chinmoy felt that 15 runners was the right number. In 100 years, there will be several thousand! I think a lot of people will be inspired to try.
Suprabha was interviewed by Vasudha Deming on 27 May 2008.