Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sri Chinmoy 24 hour run (Sydney, Australia June 15-16, 2013)

I'd seen the name Sri Chinmoy many times in association with various endurance runs that involve running a short mindless loop for insane distances. Apparently he was a spiritual leader born in Bangladesh in 1931, orphaned at a young age, who became a spiritual leader then immigrated to NYC in the 1970's, was an inspiration to musicians (like Carlos Santana) and athletes (like Carl Lewis) and politicians (Gorbachev and Mandela), eventually nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. He was vegetarian, didn't drink/ use drugs, celibate (though if you met him after marriage, you weren't required to become celibate) who knew the meditative and "self-transcendence" value of ultra running and established the Sri Chinmoy marathon team.

I knew I had to find a run to do if I was going all the way to Australia for a meeting, and this is what fit on the calendar. I had done only one 24 hour run before at PacRim 2010 and at that time only intended to run 50 miles under 12 hours. This time I had the stated goal of 100 miles under 24h.

I spent the bulk of my first day in Australia scoping out the public transportation to the Blacktown International Sportspark, a former Olympic training grounds, where the race would start Saturday at 10 AM. It is about 2 -2.5 hours each way if you don't get on the wrong train. Stopped for a coffee and bottle of coke, nearly $8! Race day awoke at 4 AM, started carefully applying body glide, tape to feet, packed drop bags. Debated whether to take my BP pills or not, and decided to take a double.

You had the option of either 24h or 12h to run as many times as possible around a 400 m track. There were only 39 runners in the whole race (>25% were over 50 yo), which was apparently the Australian National Championships, meaning most everyone there was fast. Immediately I set up a borrowed table between a runner named Karen who did 100M in just over 21 h despite an injury, and the eventual women's winner, Larissa (who did 193 km that day). A walker, Sharon, who is the national walking champion along with her husband Justin who broke the walking record that day,190+ km/ 24 h, gave us her race report from the recent world champtionships in the Netherlands. They advised a strategy of taking it easy in the daytime heat (Sydney has palm trees, it is 70 degrees even in the shortest day of the year this week) and cranking it up at night, when it is in the 40's. They swivel-hip walk faster than I can run and barely look like they are exerting themselves. They just look like normal people aside from all their leg muscles. I got the usual, incredulous, "you came all the way here for this?"

Had 90 minutes to set up my own personal "aid station" which is what I could carry in a backpack. Changes of clothes, Hammer perpetuum (which raised some eyebrows at airport security), coca cola, salt and vinegar pringles, gu's, extra body glide, PB + J sandwich/ 2 bananas. Karen, who had also taken a train, had 2 bags and at least a dozen flasks of different liquids already set up. Everyone knew everyone already."You do a lot of these? (24h races)" It seems the races are a bit fewer and far between compared to WA. I think they thought my goal of a mere 100 miles was cute, but Australians are very low key and polite.

It was a beautiful sunny day, a bit warm (upper 60's) for a compression shirt but I knew the chafage savings would be worth it. I didn't know the runners so couldn't tell who would eventually win... sometimes a runner would take a break for hours then come back fresh, and end up winning after 24 h. Some seemed really strong at first and quit after 12 or 18 hours. Some walkers wearing tropical shorts eventually ended up going a lot farther than I did. I swear, I wish I could walk fast. The eventual winner Trevor ran in a tank top and shorts (until the very end when it was low 40's and you could see your breath) insanely fast but would take long breaks in between, never looked tired even at the end.

I took it easy; I gave myself full license to do as poorly as my body dictated, but quitting early was not an option because there were 14 hours of darkness (5 days from the shortest day of the year) and there was nowhere else to go at that hour anyway. The thing about "self-transcendence" runs is, apparently they do not allow runners to socialize unless they are walking on the outer tracks, it is illegal. So I turned on my tunes early and just people-watched. I used to think the idea of a 1 mile loop was monotonous, but surprisingly this 400 m track (about 3 minutes running easy pace) was actually not bad, the repetition was meditative and even changing directions every 4 hours was somewhat jarring after awhile. The hardest part was wrapping my head around the idea of 403 laps, or when brain dead at midnight considering that I still had over 150 laps to go and 7 hours more of darkness. The sun went down by 5 pm, and it got cold fast. Was under 10 hours at 50 miles but started to crash and burn right away; I do not do well after dark, even with the blazing stadium lights on. I took a caffeine tab but it may as well have been popcorn- no effect.

Started to struggle even before 8 pm. There was a volunteer in a green hat (learned later his name was Milos, actually I think he was crewing for his GF who was running the 12h run, which started at 10 pm), who knew all the runners by name and every loop yelled words of encouragement all night. He was tireless, trying to get me back on my feet after my numerous cat naps, fetching hot drinks or once even pulling me out of my chair. It's amazing, how even the simplest words of encouragement are gold to someone who is feeling so shitty and confused.

Also saw a fellow MM #1883, Jc who was on vacation and on his quest for 7 continents (he only has Africa left, already did 50 states and 100+ marathons), just doing 50k of the 12 hour run. We discussed various MM we know, he kept me company during my "zombie" hours, his wife and friend cheering us each loop. Everything at the aid station tasted like curry and was vegetarian, which was fine until the bowels let go. They asked me what they could get for me, soup? porridge? coffee? tea? but I was too confused to answer.
I had to do 403 loops of 400 m to meet 100M. Even at 20 hours I thought I had a chance. Was texting Rob and Ocean with what I'm sure was incoherent babble at rest stops. At 21 hours I knew that though it was still mathematically possible to do my sub 24 100m, but I did not have enough gas in the tank, so sat in my chair sticky and freezing for a 45 min cat nap.

The sun started coming up around 21 hours. It was still freezing cold. I had no goal but to keep moving, and just walked. Then in the last hour I decided to run again, finished at 370.3 meters, or 91 miles. They gave us sandbags labeled with our numbers (which looked like dope) to drop in our last lap so we could get credit for every last metre, which they measured with a wheel. Apparently I missed the awards ceremony where all the finishers got trophies (even 6th place). Picked mine up later from Jc.

The 2 mile hilly walk back to the train station was a true death march. Bought a greasy burger so wouldn't bonk in the 2 hours back to the hotel. There was no food there and I nearly cried with the thought of walking to the mall for a sandwich. After a shower and 6h nap, my BP is the lowest I've ever seen, 96/56.  but little chafage and the feet look good and ready for next weekend's Wellington marathon.

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